The challenge provides a unique approach to education and networking for finance students.
It is an annual three-day competitive programme held between the Private Equity Institute at the University of Oxford and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago that allows students access to leading investment banks and private equity firms. The challenge also includes mentoring from industry professionals, networking opportunities and the chance to work on real life case scenarios. It culminates in a presentation session in which the two teams put forward investment proposals based on real life companies to an investment committee of highly experienced industry figures.
‘This is a pioneering approach to networking and learning,’ said Andreas T. Angelopoulos, Associate Fellow and Programme Director of the Finance Lab at Oxford Saïd. ‘It is exclusively designed for students from each of the schools, who are looking to develop their careers in private equity and investment banking, to broaden their skills and experience and share expertise and learning from the USA and Europe.’
To participate in the Challenge, which alternates between Chicago and Oxford, Oxford students must have first taken part in the ‘Bridgepoint Private Equity Challenge’ sponsored and run by Bridgepoint in association with the Private Equity Institute, which encourages competitors to find the smartest assessment of leveraged buyout opportunities in the UK. Angelopoulos chose the team of five from more than 200 students that participated in the Bridgepoint Challenge, and mentored them for five weeks in the run up to the Oxford Chicago Global Private Equity Challenge.
Oxford’s team included Arber Gjoka (MBA 2017), Niclas Huck (MBA 2017), Artem Katilov (MFE 2017), Maximilian Müller (MFE 2017) and Felix Tan (2016 BA Economics and Management). This year’s investment committee were Humphrey Battcock, formerly managing partner at Advent International, and a board member at Cambridge Innovation Capital Cambridge Innovation Capital, Blair Jacobson of Ares Management, Alexos Nicholas of Dentsply Sirona Plc (ex Managing Director of Madison Dearborn Partners), Khaled Said of Capital Generation Partners and Daniel Wagener of Bridgepoint.
‘Sitting on the investment committee was a fantastic experience for me,’ commented Blair Jacobson. ‘I really enjoyed engaging with the students, listening to, and challenging their investment proposals. The proposals themselves were thoroughly researched, exhaustively analysed and convincingly presented. It reminded me of our own investment committee at Ares!’
Chicago Booth’s participants were Mary Beth Brosnihan, Timothy Hildebrand, Robert Kaplan, Taylor Malone and Aakash Tulsan, who based their proposal on thermal systems manufacturer Gentherm.
‘Presenting at the Ox-Chi finals was incredibly exciting. It was such an honour to be able to represent Booth at the challenge,’ said Mary Beth Brosnihan.
Niclas Huck described how the Oxford team worked tirelessly to put together a robust investment proposal. ‘We extensively researched our target company – low-cost fitness provider The Gym Group – as well as the sector it operates in,’ he said. ‘To develop our investment thesis for this asset, we constantly challenged each other’s core arguments to make our proposal bulletproof. The different professional backgrounds and experiences in our team were extremely helpful to that process. The mentoring we received from Andreas Angelopoulos and Jeff Henriksen, as well as the prior experience we gained during the Bridgepoint Private Equity Challenge were also critical factors in our success.’
The pitching competition took place in a lecture theatre at Saïd Business School in front of a packed audience of students, faculty and practitioners, as well as delegates from Chicago Booth. Both teams gave confident presentations, and backed up their statements with slide shows brimming with painstakingly researched data.
‘The investment committee had decades of experience and they were looking for an objective recommendation, not a sales pitch,’ explained Felix Tan. ‘So while we needed to defend our chosen company from the different risks that the investment committee would bring up, we also needed to take a step back and acknowledge when the risks were real. This careful balance is incredibly difficult to strike.’
After each team finished their presentation, they faced a gruelling 40 minutes of questioning from the investment committee. ‘The judges had an average of 20-30 years of experience in the industry so we were expecting the questions to be intense,’ said Arber. ‘I believe our strength was to handle the questions in a structured way, and use the opportunity to confirm our confidence in our recommendation.’
The Chicago Booth team described how three prior rounds at Booth, as well as a presentation to Madison Dearborn Partners and Water Street, meant they were well prepared for the committee’s questions. ‘With all the work we had put in, we discussed remaining positive on our stance yet not becoming defensive or showing any frustration,’ explained Tim Hildebrand.
While the hard work and dedication of both teams shined through in their presentations, it was the Oxford team who won the competition, and they were announced as the winners during an evening dinner at Exeter College.
‘The experience for the students is more than the challenge. It is a unique three day private equity intensive programme that gives students access to the best education and network opportunities in finance and private equity, globally,’ explained Angelopoulos. ‘Students attended a Private Equity seminar, competed in the PE Challenge in front of an Investment Committee, attended the Private Equity Forum and went on a London trek networking or learning from Oxford and Chicago alumni.'
By partnering with Chicago Booth, we are able to offer students from both schools the opportunity to connect our students and alumni with professionals from leading private equity firms, investment banks, and faculty in Europe and USA.’
‘It was a great experience and I would strongly recommend it,’ said Chicago Booth team member Robert Kaplan. ‘Not only do you get the opportunity to work through deep due diligence and modeling necessary in the private equity world, but you get the opportunity to compete in a live setting with extremely reputable professionals pushing you on your assumptions.’
Reflecting on the challenge, investment committee member Blair Jacobson stated: ‘Success in the investing business is partly based on seeing and evaluating as many opportunities as possible and the competition gave the participants a real-life opportunity to put their skills to work. I think the participants are all qualified to have careers in the private equity sector and their future is indeed bright.’