Surprised by a Great Week of Finance and Consulting

Coming from the non-profit sector, I was skeptical that I would find any personal benefit in the sessions focused on finance and consulting, but I was pleasantly surprised by the presentations in our second week and was left with several valuable impressions for my career.

Since choosing to do an MBA, I have been searching for the elusive career that somehow bridges the gap between for-profit and non-profit. I am looking for a field that values the social impact and ethics that drive many non-profits, but simultaneously has the sustainable resources, efficiency, and talent characteristic of most successful for-profits. This week, two possibilities occurred to me in my quest for this non-traditional path. The first was related to our visits with two private equity firms; the second realization came at Ernst and Young.

My understanding of private equity firms was in many ways affirmed by our visit to General Atlantic. With a focus on massive companies and generally safe bets, General Atlantic invests no less than $150 million at a time and moves a total of $2 billion each year. The sole purpose of such a fund is to earn a return for wealthy member investors and to take a percentage along the way. Zephyr Management, however, challenges this approach to private equity. While still focused on earning significant returns on their investments, Zephyr has made the strategic decision to remain small and agile, investing no more than $5 – $7 million at a time, and primarily in developing economies where most others would not think to invest.

It came as no surprise that this strategy was succeeding for Zephyr, but what made a lasting impression on me was the CEO’s commitment to ethical standards and his apparent drive to affect positive change in these underdeveloped regions. Like me, he described a life journey spent looking for ways to work with disparate nations of the world, and ultimately he found that lasting impact among the poor came through economic development. Zephyr is facilitating this development through business investments in regions ranging from Sub-Saharan Africa to the islands of Southeast Asia.

While working at a private equity firm such as Zephyr could be a rewarding experience, I realize I may not have the requisite skills for such a career as of yet. However, it occurred to me while at Ernst and Young that a few years spent consulting could provide a valuable set of skills transferrable to a wide range of career paths. Of particular interest to me is the number of non-profits and government agencies for which Ernst and Young provides advisory services. Because this is the sector I am most familiar with, I feel I could contribute to and continue to grow in a position of this kind. Whereas the idea of becoming a consultant hardly appealed to me before, I see now that it could be a very beneficial–if only strategic and temporary–career move.

Overall, the quality of this week’s presentations, and the insights I gained from them, far exceeded my expectations. And, who knows, the results may have lasting effects on my career and life decisions.

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