July 30, 2014 was my last day at Chicago Growth Partners. I spent three years working for the firm during which I learned a lot and grew up, both professionally and personally. Now, I was off to business school, taking the next step in the traditional private equity career path (banking or consulting for a couple of years, two or three years with a private equity firm and then business school). I lived my post-college life in two- or three-year blocks, almost always knowing what I would be doing next 12-18 months in advance. Except now, it was different, as I didn’t know what to expect at school and certainly did not know what I would be doing when I would graduate in two years.
I find it hard to describe business school eloquently, so I’ll try and be succinct. Expensive? Yes. Not only do you pay for it, but you also forego income for two years. Fun? Certainly. Think summer camp for adults. Challenging? For the right reasons. It is a crash course in prioritization and time management. Stressful? Probably different for everyone, but I think everyone has at least one nightmare about graduating and not knowing why they went back to school. Educational? Of course. Classes can be great, but you also have a lot of time to just think. To think about what matters most, how you want to spend your time, who you want to be. Worth it? To be determined.
Except for the chosen “sponsored” students, the job search is the bane of most students’ existence. Not only do have to you figure out what you want to do and where you want to do it, you must find a firm that likes you as much as you like them. Dating seems easier.
I knew I wanted to work in technology and that I wanted to be west of the east coast. For my internship, this meant Microsoft and Seattle. I had a great internship with Microsoft – the people were very smart and driven to succeed; new CEO Satya Nadella was leading the turnaround and making hard decisions while trying to leave his mark on the company’s culture; for the first time in my short career, I got to work with a product that people bought at stores and used every day; the Pacific Northwest is beautiful in the summer; and I got to spend time with some family that lives in the area.
Despite a fantastic experience, I returned to campus at the start of second year confident that I wanted to be in Chicago (my wife’s parents) or Denver (my parents) and working in finance. I missed the pace and variety of the day-to-day projects. I liked working on a small team, trying to close an investment. I missed working with management teams, whether creating a financial reporting package or doing an add-on acquisition. I liked meeting and working with people in different industries. The lawyers, accountants, lenders, consultants and management teams offered variety of interaction on a near daily basis.
Meanwhile, my former colleagues had spent the past couple of years launching ParkerGale. I had kept in contact with each of them, always asking how things were going, trying to assess the possibility of them needing someone at my level when I would graduate.
Like most students, I spent the fall interviewing, going through the emotional highs and lows of receiving an interview to not hearing anything for weeks, months and now a year. I feel obligated to say that firms should at least have the courage to tell you that they are not interested in hiring you. You do not have to call me to tell me, but at least email. Closure is a good thing.
After several months, I got the call that I had been waiting for. Devin called to say they would like me to rejoin the team and work at ParkerGale. I was excited at the time, and now after a couple months back with the group, I am even more excited.
I get to be a part of a growing firm, and can have an impact on how we grow. At my first check-in with Devin, I asked what I could be doing better. His answer was simple but empowering – “make us better.” There are a lot of things we are figuring out for the first time, and I have the opportunity to shape how we do things rather than repeating what has been done for the previous 5, 10, or 15 years as often happens at established firms.
I get to live in Chicago, a city built on Midwestern values with unbelievable restaurants (if dining out was a hobby, it would be #1 on my list). We are a city that cheers for each other (Go Cubs!), celebrates each other’s successes (Go Blackhawks!) and picks one another up (maybe next year Bears!). The winters can be brutal, but that just incentivizes us to enjoy the rest of the year that much more. And I get to be close to family. I certainly took it for granted before going to school, but a couple of years away was a perfect reminder of how nice it is to be a short drive or flight away from family.
And, I came home. In fact, it almost felt like I never left. Instead of the traditional handshake on the first day, I was given a hug. We immediately asked about kids and spouses. Sure, a lot had changed – we were in a different building, I had a different office, we had new portfolio companies, and they had gone through the process of launching a new firm. Despite all the change, I was comfortable because the people had not changed. And I am thankful for that.