Feats in Finance
Haas alumni innovate on Wall Street and beyond.
By Francesca Donner
Jasvinder Khaira, BS 04, had been at the Blackstone Group for just over two years when he received an offer he couldn't refuse: the opportunity to work on Blackstone's initial public offering.
The Blackstone Group, headquartered in New York, is a private equity fund with just under $92 billion in assets. One day Hamilton E. James, Blackstone's chief operating officer, who goes by "Tony," dropped by Khaira's cube. "He said he wanted to talk about something privately," Khaira explains.
Khaira learned that Blackstone founder Steve Schwarzman had plans to bring the company public – a move almost unprecedented in private equity. Khaira would work directly with James, Schwarzman, and three others to form a core six-person team that would bring the plan to fruition. Supporting them were dozens internal staff and scores of legal, accounting, and outside financial advisors.
About six months later, Khaira was on a two-week "road show" halfway across the globe giving presentations to hundreds in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Kuwait. The entire IPO process – including preparing Blackstone's offering, dealing with internal compensation, and determining a valuation for the company – took one year.
Khaira, then 25, was an analyst at the time.
"At first it was frightening," admits Khaira. "But Tony and Steve were supportive and that laid the stage for me to take on additional responsibilities."
In March 2007, Blackstone opened its IPO at $31 a share.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," says Khaira, who just received a promotion to associate.
Although Khaira joined Blackstone right out of the school, he hadn't always known that he wanted to pursue a career in finance. An internship with Goldman Sachs's investment banking division, however, inspired Khaira to apply to the Haas Undergraduate Program to get a "background and core education" in business.
At Haas, Khaira began to think like an investor. "In Steve Etter's class, we undertook tangible issues, not just arcane math problems," he says. "And we grew our understanding of what fundamentally makes a business attractive. It wasn't just stocks on a page."
Khaira's story is one example of the hundreds of Haas School alumni with successful careers in banking and investing.
Parizad Olver, BS 01, a 28-year-old hedge fund investor started out in investment banking after Haas. Olver credits the school with giving her professional direction. "Haas helped me determine where I wanted my career to be headed," she says.
"For me, Haas was an absolutely unique opportunity to really get an MBA-level education while I was still an undergrad," Olver says.
Although Olver eventually moved into hedge funds, she believes that investment banking was a "good training ground" for her current position as a vice president at the $43 billion Fortress Investment Group, headquartered in New York. Fortress raises, invests, and manages private equity funds, hedge funds, and publicly traded alternative investment vehicles.
The 2001 University of Texas International Business Challenge Case Competition in Austin, Texas, introduced Olver to the art of public speaking. "The competition brought me a sense of confidence," she says. It's a confidence she dips into regularly as in her current job she "speaks in front of a large number of people at least a couple of times a week."
"A lot of undergrads have no idea what they want to do, but when you're at Haas, there's a sense of motivation and direction," says Olver. Since she went to Haas, she says, "I don't feel like I have to go back to school to move forward career-wise."
Behdad Eghbali, BS 98, a partner and co-founder of Clearlake Capital Group in New York, agrees. Clearlake's investment approach integrates private equity, leveraged finance, and special situations in industries including business services, communications and media, energy and power, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, and technology.
"There's a sense of camaraderie, and people who end up getting into Haas are a lot more focused," Eghbali says. UC Berkeley students must apply for admission to the Haas School Undergraduate Program.
"It helps that you have to hustle and struggle to earn your place at the school," he adds.
At the graduate level, too, many students enhance their finance knowledge, landing them in top positions across the country. Finance was the number one job function for the MBA class of 2007, accounting for almost 36% of jobs for the class. Nine percent of that class went into investment banking.
"In recent years, we've seen a rise in terms of students' interest in buy-side firms," says Abby Scott, executive director of MBA Career Services.
She adds that Haas School alumni have been going in sizeable numbers into investment banking since 2004. "When there's deal activity, when mergers and acquisitions are hot, then we see more students going to do jobs in investment banks," she says.
Raja Khanna, MBA 04, is a good example. Khanna works as a senior associate at Lehman Brothers in its investment banking division, specifically within the industrials group. Lehman Brothers is headquartered in New York.
Khanna chose Haas over other schools for its welcoming environment. "I fell in love with the campus and the environment," he says. "The people were not cutthroat; they were laid back. It was a great place to grow and get a degree because it was not a cookie-cutter school."
From 2002 until 2004, it was "very hard to get into investment banking," Khanna says. "Coming out of the recession, in 2002 and 2003, Wall Street saw a lot of layoffs." But Khanna marketed himself by "calling friends and alumni and knocking down doors."
Now that he's on the other side of the table, Khanna sees a lot of Berkeley MBA students coming to Wall Street. Berkeley MBA students gain valuable exposure to Wall Street through student treks organized by the finance club in collaboration with MBA Career Services.
He says the students that visit have a good reputation. "Berkeley produces people who work well in teams, who are bright, and have a great personality," Khanna says. "And a great personality is a very important skill to have in investment banking."
Khanna also participates in an investment banking mentoring program, which puts Haas students in touch with alumni on Wall Street. "It's an informal way to talk to someone in the industry but not in the same firm," he says.
In addition to the treks to Wall Street, six Full-time MBA students each year will be selected as Investment Banking Fellows as part of an entirely new program launched this year. The investment banking fellows receive a partial scholarship funded by the CJ White Fellowship Fund and a subsidy for school-organized treks, such as the trip to Wall Street and to Hong Kong. The students are also matched with an alumni mentor working in investment banking.
Allan Holt, MBA 76, has been with the Carlyle Group since 1991. Since then, he's risen from principal to his current position of managing director and co-head of US Buyout. Before US Buyout, he oversaw Carlyle's Global Aerospace, Defense, Technology, and Business/Government Services investment sector.
The Carlyle Group, based in Washington, DC, is a private equity firm that manages over $75 billion worldwide across buyouts, venture and growth capital, real estate, and leveraged finance.
Holt graduated from Rutgers in 1974 and enrolled directly at Haas. He has fond memories of the school. "I liked my professors and the program," Holt says.
It took Holt some trial time to find his way into the private equity business. His career trajectory took him to Coopers & Lybrand (now PriceWaterhouseCoopers) and MCI, among others, before he found what he loved best.
"I love the private equity business; I enjoy doing deals," he says. "I've been fortunate to be part of a firm that has grown from 20 people in one office in DC managing one fund of $100 million when I started to more than 900 employees in 33 offices in 21 countries, now managing over $75 billion."
And if Holt or his fellow Haas School alumni need help with their next deal, they know they can always call upon the Haas Alumni Network with its legions of members in banking and investment for help.
"Five or ten years down the road, if I change careers, or I need help with an idea, I am confident I can call on my classmates and they'll remember me and return my call, and help me, or connect me to others," Raja Khanna says. "I have no qualms about calling any of those people, wherever they are."