Friday, March 11, 2011

Unraveling in the war for new private equity talent

Kevin Roose at Dealbook writes of A Grab for Wall Street’s Rising Stars Before They’ve Risen

"Some of the world’s largest private equity firms are in a tug of war over top talent. But the competition isn’t over brand-name executives commanding eight-figure salaries. Instead, firms are fighting for the affections of bankers barely old enough to rent cars.

"This month starts the private equity recruiting season, an annual Wall Street ritual in which young analysts from leading investment banks like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are wined and dined by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, the Blackstone Group, TPG Capital and a handful of other top-flight firms. The industry is gearing up earlier than ever this year, with some firms already making offers for jobs that won’t start until the fall of 2012, a full 18 months from now.

Five years ago, it happened in September, then July, then May, then April. This year, it’s March,” said a senior partner at a large private equity firm, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the hiring process.

Young analysts typically fulfill two-year contracts at their banks before making the switch to the more prestigious, higher-paid world of private equity. It’s a common move often referred to as “two and out.” Many of these analysts, referred to as “pre-M.B.A. hires,” are contacted by private equity firms only months into their first post-collegiate jobs, and some are as young as 22.

“There is a shortage of stars, and that gives a strong incentive for a given firm to be the first,” said Adam Zoia, chief executive of Glocap Search, whose clients include leading private equity firms. “But everyone sensible — the clients, the banks, the candidates — believes it’s in no one’s interest to start this early.”

"Top firms have traditionally made informal agreements to synchronize their recruiting drives. It is a delicate monthlong dance that can include cocktail hours, meet-and-greets with executives and interview marathons sometimes referred to as “Super Saturdays.” This year, many of the largest firms scheduled events in April, approximately the same time as last year.

"But in early March, word spread that Bain Capital, the $65 billion private equity firm, was holding interviews and making offers to top candidates, according to several people familiar with the matter. Bain’s competitors — some of which moved early in previous years — were forced to scramble. They quickly rearranged schedules and, in some cases, canceled planned recruiting events in order to make their offers as soon as this week.

Every year, we talk to the other private equity firms and actually pretend we have a vested interest in being reasonable about this,” said a private equity executive who oversees his firm’s hiring efforts. “And every year, some jerk kicks off the process a month early.” The executive, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering rival firms, called the analyst recruiting process “one of the last vestiges of completely rogue behavior” in the well-heeled world of private equity.

"Bain declined to comment.

"The early recruiting process has serious limitations. Private equity firms are essentially wooing young analysts with less than a year’s experience, giving them little time to learn crucial skills like building complex financial models to value companies. Few have also received the annual performance reviews necessary for identifying top talent.

The kids we’re talking to got out of college last summer, spent six months in training, entered the job in January, and have done exactly nothing since then,” the executive said. “So we’re asking them about their transaction experience, and they’re talking about what fraternity they were in.”
"Competition is fierce. According to industry insiders, more than a thousand analysts are expected to apply for perhaps 50 spots at the largest buyout firms this year. Coming from a so-called target group can help an analyst’s chances — Goldman Sachs’s technology, media and telecom group and Morgan Stanley’s mergers and acquisitions group are thought to be the cream of the crop — but there are no guarantees.
"In perhaps the clearest sign that the recruiting frenzy has hit a boiling point, several smaller private equity firms have hired star students or well-connected ones straight out of college. Industry experts say they don’t expect that trend to spread to mega-firms like K.K.R. and Blackstone. But even longtime private equity players, like the executive managing his firm’s hiring process, admit that the competition has made anything possible.

It’s a land grab,” the executive said. “And it’s a land grab for completely undeveloped property.”

HT: Eric Budish, the market design guy at Chicago, who writes "Back in my former life as a wall street guy this recruiting process was in spring of the second year (of a two year gig... )

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