Sunday, 31 March 2013

Breaking In: From IT-support to PE Fund Manager

Wait, what? After all my raving on how it is near impossible to break into IB from back office financial analysis, now I’m talking about freaking IT support intern to Private Equity Fund Manager?

All right, calm down. You see, the key words in the above sentence are “near impossible”.  This is the story of a guy who made this seemingly impossible story turn true. He went from being an intern in IT-support to Investment Banking Analyst to where he is today – running his own PE fund.

Read on to find out if fairy tales exist in real life.

Since I don’t have the liberty of disclosing who this guy is, for the sake of clarity I’m gonna call him Mr. A. From the onset, I want to make it clear that Mr. A was qualified. And how! He began with an engineering degree from India, got interested in finance and commerce and did CA, then went overseas to do an MBA and a Masters. One would think that this long list of qualifications itself would be enough to get him into IB, but no. Not even close.

That’s because while he had a double Masters, it wasn’t from what is called a ‘target school’, meaning, a business school which banks recruit from. And as for CA, it’s nearly worthless overseas even for an accounting job, and utterly worthless for everything else. So even after being so qualified, all Mr. A could land up with was an internship in a bulge bracket bank in the IT support division.  That’s all his engineering degree and double Masters were worth even in the pre-2008 world – an IT internship. So prospective monkeys, if you think IB is competitive in India, say a prayer for all those trying to get into IB in the developed markets. But Mr. A was so determined to get into finance that he took it anyways, because, in his own words, “He wanted to be as close to ‘it’ as possible”.  ‘It’ being Wall Street – the bank he was interning with was located bang in the middle of it.

Thus began a 3-month internship in the famous bulge bracket bank, just so for the sake of being close to finance in the hope of breaking in. As an intern, Mr. A would be providing all kind of IT support to the core IB analysts, specifically a securitization team. So during the day, he would be answering calls for loose wire connections, bugs in the software, installing and formatting, etc. But at night, he would be poring over the work of one analyst called Mike. As Mr. A admitted sheepishly, being in IT, he had access to all of Mike’s files, before quickly adding, “But not to do any mischief, I just genuinely wanted to learn”. So fascinated he was with the work involved in IB that he took up a bachelor crash pad close to the Street and literally spent all his waking hours in the office.

Oh and did I mention that in the meantime, Mr. A received full time offers in IT from other places which were prestigious in their own space? Yup, and they were offering him a full $25,000 more than what he was getting in the internship. But Mr. A, being the determined monkey that he was, told them “Thanks, but no, thanks”. He actually told them that this internship was literally his last chance of breaking into IB, and even though as yet it seemed like a distant dream, he was not ready to give up on that dream yet.

Coming back to finance, Mr. A was doggedly pursuing everything he could related to IB. He took to taking coffee to Mike in the morning, just so that he could have an excuse to talk to him. Once he got the hang of things, late at night after everyone left, he would work on Mike’s models in a separate file in an attempt to try and make it better. The next day, he would show his work to Mike and more often than not, Mike would incorporate Mr. A’s work in his own models.

By now, Mike had come to rely on Mr. A heavily and would discuss issues in the model with him. One day Mr. A was working on a model late at night, when Mike’s boss walked in. Surprised to see Mr. A, he asked, “What are you doing here? I thought you worked in IT?” Nervously, Mr. A answered, “Yes, but I am highly interested in finance and I just try and learn everything I can in my spare time.” So the boss said OK, and went his way. A week later, the same thing happened again. This time the boss started chatting with Mr. A and mentioned that there seem to be some bugs in Mike’s model. Mr. A replied, “But boss, I had debugged all those issues a few days ago, you might have seen an older version of the model.” Now the boss was curious, “Wait a second, are you telling me that you are doing Mike’s work for him?” And Mr. A said, “No no, this is Mike’s work only, I’m just trying to learn as much as possible.” At the time, the boss said nothing and went away.

About three weeks later, the boss called Mr. A into his office and asked if Mr. A would be willing to work for him. As you might guess, Mr. A jumped on the offer and was inducted into the securitization team within a month.

From there on, the sky was the limit. Mr. A went on to work at some of the biggest banks in the world, was in a key role in a team that went to managing a meagre amount in low millions to $6 billion in 6 years, and today is the Fund Manager of his own Private Equity firm. Oh and the boss who helped him out so long ago? He is on the Board of Directors of this PE firm.

So there you see, it IS possible to break into IB from back office. But now you also know what it takes to make the jump. It ain’t for the faint hearted. The questions is, do you have it in you?


  1. This is interesting. How about if someone with Strategy / Planning / Product experience both on Buy and Sell side of around a decade, internationally, with an MBA from Ivy league school, wanted to break in PE in India? It will be interesting to see if there are any entry points with that experience into PE. My number is 9535188778, would be great to discuss.

    1. I'm afraid that without more information, I really can't say much at this stage. Very generally speaking, it's possible, but would be considerably difficult to jump to PE after having worked in an unrelated field for so long. Your best bet would be to look at operational private equity investors, i.e., those who undertake operational improvements/turnarounds post-investment. Here your work in strategy and planning would overlap with the requirements in PE investing.

      I'm unfortunately not reachable on phone at the moment, but you can contact me on if you would life to discuss further.

  2. I am working in a public sector bank after 3 years of IT experience which I got on account of an engineering degree from not-so-well known college.
    Please suggest me which course/certification can make a difference to my career

    1. Sandeep, I'm afraid I'm not very knowledgeable about careers in IT. If you have any specific query related to careers in finance, I might be able to help you out better.
      I must add that switching from IT to finance would be an extremely difficult task. The person in the above article was also a qualified Chartered Accountant before he went into IT.

    2. I am actually in the commercial banking division after joining as a PO of a public sector bank.I am not a part of the IT sector anymore.
      I actually want to excel in banking and finance and maybe later would like to join a foreign/private bank,what should I do to make this possible?
      I can't go for MBA due to some limitations thats why I am asking you to suggest if there is any other course that I can do with my job to excel in my career?

    3. Sandeep, apologies for the delay. You could take a look at CFA - you'll be able to stand out from the crowd once you are through L1. However, while it's not as expensive as MBA, it's still not that cheap.

      Bear in mind that CFA is highly inclined towards investment management and not commercial banking. I believe there are a number of diplomas and certifications available in that field. I'm more focused specifically towards investment banking and private equity, so you could instead reach out to some senior executives in commercial banking who could provide you with guidance specific to your situation.