Is it easy building a career in Private Equity and M&A in the UAE? It takes years, but you can make it happen!
Anshul is the Vice President at Alcazar Capital, a Private Equity firm in the UAE. He is an alumnus of IIT and IIM. M&A and Private Equity was the space that gave him excitement.
- Anshul Garg went for a post-graduate degree that most Indian engineers swear by; an MBA, that too in finance & strategy.
- He is the Vice President at Alcazar Capital, a regional private equity firm based in Dubai, UAE, with a strong operating and value creation track record.
- Within corporate finance, M&A and private equity were the domains that excited him the most.
- Lately in UAE, heavy recruitment is going on within the venture capital and private equity space.
Does Engineering pair well with Finance?
I come from a family of engineers so to continue the tradition, I pursued mechanical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Guwahati.
With a strong inclination for number crunching and the analytical bend of mind developed during engineering, I subsequently wanted to focus on the business side of things and hence I went to pursue the post-graduate degree that most Indian Engineers swear by; an MBA.
I did my MBA in Finance & Strategy, from the Indian Institute Of Management (IIM), Kozhikode.
During my MBA I did my summer internship in Strategy with Airtel and I think that’s where my desire to pursue a career in finance was born.
Starting off with Investment Banking
Once I graduated from Business School, I was keen on starting my career in investment banking. And it gladly started with Nomura, a leading global investment bank, headquartered in Tokyo, Japan.
I joined as an Investment Banking Analyst and was working with the London team. It was a client-facing role, wherein I had to commute between Mumbai / London as and when required.
As an investment banking analyst, you need to be great at research, with high attention to detail delivering quality outputs, and managing tight deadlines.
It is stressful, but that leg work helps you down the line as and when you grow up the hierarchy.
During those two and a half years at Nomura, I was advising clients, be it on mergers & acquisitions, fundraising, or divestment.
Now the thing was, in investment banking, there is no responsibility post-closing of M&A transaction, in terms of building synergies and scaling up the business.
I wanted to explore those areas.
Opportunity in the UAE in M&A
Now I had two options, either stay in Mumbai or explore a new country. In 2016 due to Brexit, the economic picture of the UK was not looking so exciting. But I saw a big opportunity in the Middle East.
At that time, UAE was a growing untapped market.
So, when I started evaluating, the UAE seemed like a smaller market in comparison to India or the Western world. But the upside was, in that small market, there was a huge demand for talent.
I wanted to make a name for myself in the financial industry and felt that my talent would be well appreciated here.
In 2016, I moved to the UAE and landed a stint at Avivo Group - a healthcare portfolio of a leading private equity firm. I joined their Corporate Finance team as a Private Equity Analyst.
One of the reasons why I chose the UAE, was because of its income tax-free lifestyle.
From M&A to joining a Private Equity firm
After joining Avivo Group we acquired new assets in the healthcare space. We wanted to create a sizable business that could be listed on the London Stock Exchange.
We worked with various investment banks to do the valuations, build the equity story, do road shows, build investor traction, and eventually do the IPO.
In private equity when you are doing M&A deals for your company, it is your responsibility to make the right bet, merge and make it work. The amount of due diligence that goes into decision-making is way higher in a private equity setup than in investment banking.
All of these made me want to move to private equity.
My second stint in the UAE was with the El Seif Group. It’s a large diversified conglomerate based out of Saudi Arabia.
I was working in the corporate strategy and M&A team where my responsibility was to drive inorganic growth through M&A and JVs.
The vision of the El Seif Group was to grow faster in certain geographies. I understood their vision, and we developed a five-year corporate strategy, which involved certain M&A deals.
Within two and a half years, we executed those M&A deals and transformed the businesses through a strategic turnaround.
After a while, I asked what next?
Every company has a certain budget for M&A, and once that budget is met and your corporate objectives have been fulfilled, the next step is to scale up the business that you have acquired through operational oversight.
Again, I took a conscious decision to stick to M&A / growth investing based roles and landed in Alcazar capital. It is a private equity firm based out of Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC).
It has been an exciting journey so far.
Role of an analyst and vice president in Private Equity
A typical day for an analyst and a Vice President is totally different.
As a Private Equity Analyst, I had to read lots of reports, make sense of it, translate them into a PPT, and then analyze the financials of different clients.
As an associate, you have to review the work of the analyst, plus you have to read those reports again because you have to do the financial modeling, and based on that your VP will ask a certain number of questions.
Then, as a VP you have a bigger team to manage. You will not be doing the desktop research, but you will be reviewing the work done by analysts /associates and work on deal structuring and stakeholder management.
Your managing partner will ask you about the deliverables, and if something is wrong, he will hold you responsible. Hence the amount of responsibility is way higher for the VP.
Surely analysts and associates put in more hours, and do the grunt work and it's not easy.
The VP summarizes all the work for the managing partner who can pitch it to the client, or the VP pitches directly.
Why is UAE hiring heavily in the VC and PE space?
The amount of hiring within various corporates has been unprecedented in the last eight to nine months. I haven't seen this much recruitment happening within VC or PE space since I landed in Dubai.
There are some logical explanations for this.
Because of the oil dividend in the Middle East, sovereign wealth funds have surplus cash that they want to invest and secure the future. And for that, they need the right set of people in their investment teams.
So lately Abu Dhabi has been recruiting aggressively for that reason; whether you talk about ADQ, Chimera Capital, Mubadala, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, or Abu Dhabi Investment Office.
The second biggest change that has happened in Dubai is the expansion of the venture capital ecosystem. Nobody there imagined that UAE will have so many startups coming in.
Therefore, a lot of venture capital funding is coming to UAE and Saudi Arabia (KSA) specifically.
The reality of building a career in M&A and PE
Landing a job in private equity, straight out of college is highly unlikely, because it's a very specialized field and requires special skill sets and a deep knowledge base.
You need to have the right kind of people who can groom you. You need to research a lot because there is an information overload right now.
I have seen people working in strategy consulting at Deloitte, McKinsey, and eventually getting bored. They want to move from core strategy work to private equity or venture capital space.
And inversely I have seen people working in investment banking, making millions of dollars a year, and still being unhappy. Eventually, they switched back to Corporate M&A, because it offered a decent work-life balance.
For a fresher, investment banking, private equity, and venture capital, looks most interesting. But let me tell you that it is not for everyone. A huge amount of stress, long working hours, and bigger responsibilities come with these roles, they are not as glamorous as you think.
Networking is crucial for progressing in your career
Your best bet should be, knowing the right set of head hunters, which surprisingly is the process that worked for me.
Head hunters have direct access to corporates. But they are very specific and selective about recruiting new candidates. If 99 % of your profile matches their expectation only then will you get a response.
As you can see, the competition is really stiff.
The second, and most fruitful option is networking.
Knowing the right people and being at the right place at the right time also worked for me, otherwise, I never would’ve landed in Alcazar Capital or any other organization for that matter.
Lastly, the easiest way for you to gain an upper hand in this hiring spree is to bombard your CV on various job portals, for the algorithms are not so favorable sometimes.
They will only pick certain keywords in your CV so be careful while writing your CV and make sure that you customize it.
Challenges one faces while building a career
Let me tell you that I didn't reach this position overnight. It took like seven years of hard work on my part.
In the process, I got rejected by a lot of companies, and rejection hurts, I know that.
But in hindsight, it made me improve on my skills and myself.
Understand that rejection is a part of life, and it should be taken positively.
I thought going out of my comfort zone, networking, and talking to senior managers was a waste of my time. But deep down I was afraid that they will judge me for my silly questions.
Get these preconceived notions out of your head, and make an effort to be worthy of others' time, it reaps dividends.