I'm the new Associate and here's my story

If there’s one thing I learned about ParkerGale in the five weeks I’ve been a part of this team, it’s that the partners here take pride in being scrappy and creating things on their own. In that sense, it comes as no surprise that there was no announcement post for me, and instead I was tasked with creating one for myself – that’s just how things tend to go around here. So here goes nothing. I’m Cass, the green and eager new Associate on the ParkerGale team.

This probably comes to no surprise, but private equity has never been a very transparent industry, especially on the hiring front. I’d like to introduce myself, chat about where I’ve been and (eventually) what I plan to do here. I hope to shed some light on what this job entails by using this forum and our podcast from time to time to talk about the Associate role in a PE fund.

What I did before

It’s safe to say that I do not come from the traditional background. I did not attend an Ivy league school and somehow managed to sidestep the two-to-three-year sacrifice in a typical investment banking role. I do not mean for that to come off as either cowardice or disdain – I know plenty of very hardworking and smart people in investment banking careers. But, despite not choosing the typical path, I believe that I am still hardworking and smart. I took a chance on perusing an atypical career path to get here, but the folks at ParkerGale took a chance on me, too.

I graduated from the University of Illinois in May 2012. Since we’re on the topic of non-traditional, here’s a confession: I don’t have a finance degree. My degree is in accounting, also known as finance’s boring older cousin. Though our football team is nothing to write home about, the accounting program at U of I is rather renowned, and I was easily persuaded that it was the degree for me. By senior year, I realized that finance jobs were actually cooler – but according to my college tuition, it was a little too late to start over. I tacked on an English minor to keep me sane while studying the ways of credits and debits.

Even though I wasn’t in the finance program, I kept an eye out for opportunities to get some exposure to finance any way I could find. The Illinois Venture Capital Association (IVCA) sponsors one or two college students each summer to intern at PE funds in Chicago, and I lucked out. I landed an internship with Prairie Capital, a middle market PE firm in Chicago, in the summer between my junior and senior year. I will confess that I Googled “what is private equity” the same week as my interview, but I somehow managed to make myself sound convincing enough to get the gig. It was an incredible experience and made me eager for a career in mergers and acquisitions, but with an accounting degree, the question was how.
The answer was the Big Four. You probably know of the Big Four accounting firms: Deloitte, Ernst & Young, PwC and KPMG. What a lot of people don’t realize is just how much breadth their service offerings actually have. I found a job that married my accounting background with my desire to work in M&A in KPMG’s Deal Advisory group. I spent over three years at KPMG, essentially working for or with private equity firms in various roles. For the majority of my career at KPMG, I worked in due diligence, helping middle market private equity firms (those much like ParkerGale) better understand the financial details behind the companies they are looking to buy – avoiding traps that could cost them money and finding angles that might help them win a deal.

How I got here

The short answer is networking and serendipity.

The longer answer is as follows. I heard about ParkerGale back in fall 2014. I was catching up with a contact I met during my time at Prairie Capital, and he told me that he had been working with a new spinoff PE firm that had just started fundraising. He was intrigued by their easygoing personalities and unique approach to investing; he only had good things to say about the team (and – how refreshing – one of them was a woman!).

A year later, I grabbed coffee to catch up with someone I had met through the IVCA (the organization my internship was through). We discussed my career and aspirations, and she kindly offered advice and her perspective on the M&A industry. Shortly thereafter, I received an e-mail from her about an opportunity at ParkerGale opening up. She also gave (unsolicited) glowing remarks about the team, their personalities, and the type of work they do – and I was sold.

Shortly after, I met Devin and Kristina for lunch. They were casual and kind; conversation felt natural. Over two more weeks, I met the entire team – from Corey the CFO to Sharon and Ginny, the executive assistants. I also met with Dr. Steve Julius and took a personality test (they somehow didn’t revoke my offer after seeing the results and apparently everyone at ParkerGale and all their management teams have taken this same test as check on how our working styles mesh). Everyone was important and had a voice in the matter of my hiring, and knowing that alone left an impression on me.

What I expect to do at ParkerGale

I expect that there will be various hats that I will have to wear here, from more administrative-type tasks to “holy-cow-they-are-actually-letting-me-do-this?!” ones. My short-term goals are to get familiar with the portfolio companies that ParkerGale already has (ATP and OnePlus) and help with the sourcing of new ones – from market research alone at my desk to meeting new people in industries and places I know nothing about yet. I expect that there will be multiple things I am juggling at once and I’m sure I will drop the ball a time or two, but will hopefully my mistakes won’t be major and I will learn from them.

So far, one of the biggest changes in my day is how much other business concepts come into play. It turns out that there is life beyond just the numbers. I plan to read a lot more and research a lot more about subjects I admittedly don’t know much about –  in areas like marketing, finance, and even psychology.

Why ParkerGale

A lot of my friends and family are puzzled that I left a job and a really large and well-known firm to go work with a handful of people. Conceptually, I understand their confusion – but the decision was a no-brainer for me. I wanted to work for people who were smart, kind and honest. I wanted to be in an environment where I could grow in many different directions with people who had the patience to help me do just that. I wanted to work hard for people who not only understand the value of hard work but also understand that I’m learning this private equity business as I go along. Perhaps I just have some desperate need to leave my mark on the world, but I feel like at ParkerGale I have a chance to build something that matters. And so here I am, and that’s what I hope to do. It’s nice to meet you.
PS – you can check out my introductory podcast with Devin on the PE Funcast here.