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Tag: private equity

Prime the pump

I knew that management consulting was a generalist calling, but I had no idea how generalist.

On Friday, I overheard one of my coworkers talking to his supervisor about the work he was doing. They were conducting some basic strategic diligence for a private equity client (translation: making sure the company the private equity firm is thinking about buying is strategically sound). They spoke of innovations in some sort of new plastic to prevent it from leeching into the liquid it contained. Thinking this was some sort of materials or chemicals company, I asked him what industry the target was in. I was surprised to discover it was breast pumps!

I later learned that, apparently, breast pumps are actually a very well-tracked industry as there are really only three drivers for it:

  • birth rate (the more births, the more breast pumps)
  • disposable income (the more income, the more breast pumps)
  • “innovation” (marketing? new “form factors”?)

And thus I learned what the recruiting team meant when they said that I would learn a lot on this job.

(Image source)

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Project Bunnyrabbit

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Consulting, for better and for worse, involves a great deal of secrecy. On the one hand, it means my firm pays for each consultant to have a company laptop (Thinkpad T60) with encrypted hard drive and a 3M privacy filter. On the other hand, it makes it extremely difficult to talk about my work, or to request information.

My firm, for example, makes it a point to never mention client’s names. Even with our dealings with senior management (at the VP level), treating information on a “need to know” basis would be considered a very loose policy. This may seem odd, but makes sense seeing how we are oftentimes discussing potential acquisition targets and potentially sensitive issues (e.g. laying off a division). If such information were to leak, it could lead to a particularly tricky situation for management (e.g. if the division which was to be axed caught wind of this), or, worse, lead to an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The bar for confidentiality is set even higher for private equity clients. Because private equity firms basically make large bets on companies by either buying up entire firms or divisions (e.g. like how Cerberus bought all of Chrysler from Daimler-Chrysler, or how KKR bought up all of RJR Nabisco) financed by borrowing all the money, their success depends strongly on getting the best deal for an acquisition. This means that if even the slightest word got out that a certain company or strategy was under consideration, there is a big chance that the acquisition price will go up or a competitor will move to neutralize that strategic opportunity.

It’s no small wonder, then, that in private equity cases, and in situations dealing with potential acquisition targets, case teams at my firm follow the strictest of privacy guidelines. We even take it to the next level by assigning each acquisition target a code name, making it a practice to never use the actual target name, not in slides, not in written correspondence, and not even in face-to-face discussions.

This may seem absurd, but it’s happened on more than one occasion, that two separate case teams at a firm will be working with two different private equity groups, but both be considering the exact same target. Going this extra mile insures that confidentiality is protected, and conveys to the clients that we as a firm take their priorities very seriously.

On a lighter note, though, case teams occasionally use more “colorful names” — “Project Bunnyrabbit” comes to mind as one example from my firm — leading to very bizarre conversations, which, when overheard, sound absolutely ridiculous:

CONSULTANT 1: Yeah, Bunnyrabbit looks really good.

CONSULTANT 2: I agree. Especially this past year, it did really well compared to its peers.

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