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The Hero’s Journey of Finding a PE Business Development Role

This abbreviated article originally appeared on Mark’s personal blog

“What makes you a hero is not your triumph over adversity but your ability to transform the minds and hearts of others as a result.” (Marcia Reynolds)

Preface

The Hero’s Journey is a template for story structure derived from the comparison of mythology and folklore across history and cultures. The concept was popularized by Joseph Campbell and involves a protagonist who goes on an adventure, is victorious in a decisive crisis and comes home changed or transformed. It’s no coincidence that some of our most favorite stories incorporate the foundational elements of the Hero’s Journey such as Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings, the Matrix and Star Wars. On my quest to identify a senior business development role at a private equity fund, I found the Hero’s Journey construct to be a cathartic and inspirational model for interpreting my experience along the way. For those of you on a similar journey or that may face one in the future, my hope is that this piece may serve as an elixir to aid you on your path.

The Call to Adventure

Every great story begins with a call to adventure — a conflict or challenge presented to the protagonist to which he or she must respond. In my case, a natural leadership succession at the sole LP that had supported my firm for over 20 years led to a change in strategic direction and its decision to not invest further in private equity. This decision had nothing to do with our firm’s performance, which has been strong, but meant that the LP would not re-up for another fund. While fundraising with a new set of limited partners is under consideration, there would at a minimum be an extended period of no additional investments. This revelation was the final node of a bad news triad that also included a global pandemic and the sudden and tragic death of one of our firm’s Partners at the age of 45. Had I been able to cry “uncle” to the universe or been in possession of a white flag to wave, I would have done so. After reckoning with a series of emotions akin to the Five Stages of Grief, I had to accept that after nearly 12 years of employment with my prior firm, I would need to find a new home.

Tests, Allies & Enemies

Once the hero accepts the call to adventure, he or she must then “cross the threshold” which means that they voluntarily depart the comfort and certainties of their prior existence and enter the realm of the unknown. It is in this new, uncharted territory that the hero formally embarks upon their adventure and begins their transformation. In this new arena, the hero faces tests of strength and will and is introduced to both helpful allies and treacherous enemies. The following are the tests, allies and enemies that I encountered during my journey:

Tests

Obstacles that thwart progress and put your determination and strength through a trial.

  1. Below Market Offers. An offer that’s beneath your requirements can be dangerously seductive because it represents a bird in the hand. Stick to your guns and remember that there’s a lot of power in a polite “no”.
  2. Patience. Steel yourself to wait for (i) positions to become available and (ii) the time it will take to navigate a firm’s hiring process, which will be comprehensive. Both will likely take longer than you would expect.
  3. Zillow. If you are contemplating a relocation, understanding the housing market via Zillow & other resources is important, but this exercise can produce an emotional attachment to a given geography or position. Stay objective.

Allies

Those who encourage you and offer advice, resources, connections, and empathic listening.

  1. Recruiters. Once you are on a recruiter’s radar, they are your best and most intuitive asset for open positions. Just remember that seats don’t open up often, and you will be entering a talent auction to get them.
  2. Other BD Professionals. It may seem counterintuitive that other BD professionals would want to help given that they are your competitors, but the PE deal sourcing community is remarkably inclined to help.
  3. Financial Sponsors Coverage & Other Investment Bankers. If you’ve done a good job building reciprocal relationships on the banking side, FSG bankers should want to help. They often know of open seats ahead of the market because their counsel is frequently sought early by funds & recruiters seeking to fill a BD position. They can also be excellent references. Ditto for execution-focused bankers with whom you’ve developed a strong rapport.
  4. Current & Former Colleagues. People with whom you’ve been in the trenches can be an excellent force multiplier to your networking effort. They have first-hand experience in working with you and can often open otherwise hidden or locked doors.
  5. Others in the M&A Ecosystem. Includes attorneys (e.g. fund formation, M&A), placement agents, accountants, insurance professionals & other providers to PE firms. If you don’t have a connection to someone at a PE firm in which you are interested, these people can help.
  6. Spouse / Significant Other. People whose lives are directly affected by your career decisions are the best sounding boards to inject critical objectivity into your search.

Enemies

Those that imperil the stated objective and threaten to weaken resolve and/or the vitality to continue.

  1. Yourself. As the saying goes, the mind is an excellent servant but a terrible master. Don’t listen to the voice in your head that tells you all sorts of things that can discourage perseverance.
  2. Those That Don’t Understand Your Value. Every firm is on its own journey to embrace the value of dedicated deal sourcing professionals. Some will not be as evolved as you would like, but don’t take that personally.
  3. Firms That Attempt to Impose Their Limitations on You. Some firms have resource or other constraints that impede their ability to bring you in at the appropriate level. This has nothing to do with you. Remember that your value is independent of any of that.
  4. Firms with Incompatible Cultures. Over a lengthy courtship, behavioral patterns will emerge. Look for consistency of action & follow-through. Pay attention to any red flags — remember, this is when people should be on their best behavior.
  5. People Who Tell You to Change Your Objective. Once you have conviction about what you want, do not listen to people who effectively tell you to throw in the towel and consider pivots. Only you can make that decision.

Over the course of your search, you are all but guaranteed to encounter people and situations that fall in each of the categories above. Look for little victories along the way to embolden your process, and just remember, more than half the battle is to…

…NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP!

The Reward & the Road Back

Upon accomplishing the goal, the hero is not only rewarded both materially and metaphysically but they are fundamentally changed. With the rewards of achievement both in hand and within, the hero must return back to ordinary life and integrate within it as a changed person. The Hero’s Journey archetype refers to the knowledge gained from the quest as an “elixir” that can be shared with those who need it. Thus, the true reward is the ability to help others which is why I wrote this blog.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect any opinion, position, or policy of any firm with whom the author has been or will be affiliated.

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