Booth team at Oxford Chicago PE Challenge
The annual Oxford Chicago Private Equity Challenge brings together students from Chicago Booth and Oxford Saïd for a three-day program based on real-world companies. Photo courtesy of the University of Oxford.

Stepping Up to the Challenge

A unique student case competition between Chicago Booth and Oxford Saïd gives the next generation of PE leaders a global perspective and a boost from industry professionals.

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Students from Chicago Booth and Oxford’s Saïd Business School locked horns at the recent Oxford Chicago Global Private Equity Challenge, an annual three-day competitive program held between the Svider Private Equity Program at the University of Chicago Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Private Equity Institute at the University of Oxford. The program allows students access to leading investment banks and private equity firms, and includes mentoring from industry professionals and networking opportunities. Participants work on real-life case studies, and the program culminates with the two teams presenting investment proposals based on real-world companies to an investment committee of highly experienced industry figures.

“This is a pioneering approach to networking and learning,” said Booth alumnus Andreas T. Angelopoulos, ’02 (EXP-7), associate fellow and program 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 United States and Europe.”

Chicago Booth’s participants were Full-Time MBA students Mary Beth Brosnihan, Timothy Hildebrand, Robert Kaplan, Taylor Malone, and Aakash Tulsani, who based their proposal on thermal systems manufacturer Gentherm and were advised throughout the program by Chris McGowan, adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Chicago Booth and faculty advisor to the Oxford Chicago Global Private Equity Challenge.

“Presenting at the Ox-Chi finals was incredibly exciting. It was such an honor to be able to represent Booth at the challenge, culminating what turned out to be many months and countless hours of hard work,” said Brosnihan.

“I have learned tremendously from the team and Chris McGowan during the entire interaction,” said Tulsani. “As an international student, I was able to understand how US mid-market PE evaluates investment theses and how it thinks about recession while evaluating investments.”

Oxford’s team included Arber Gjoka, Niclas Huck, Artem Katilov, Maximilian Müller, and Felix Tan. On this year’s investment committee were Humphrey Battcock, formerly managing partner at Advent International and a board member at Cambridge Innovation Capital; Blair Jacobson, ’99, of Ares Management; Nick Alexos, ’88, of Dentsply Sirona Plc (former 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 Jacobson. “I really enjoyed engaging with the students, listening to and challenging their investment proposals. The proposals themselves were thoroughly researched, exhaustively analyzed, and convincingly presented.

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 on 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.

After each team finished their presentation, they faced a grueling 40 minutes of questioning from the investment committee. “The judges had an average of 20 to 30 years of experience in the industry so we were expecting the questions to be intense,” said Gjoka. “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 Hildebrand.

Water Street, a Chicago-area private equity firm, has generously agreed to underwrite the Oxford Chicago Global Private Equity Challenge beginning in the 2018–19 academic year.

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,” 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.

“By partnering with Chicago Booth, we are able to offer students from both schools the opportunity to connect with professionals from leading private equity firms, investment banks, and faculty in Europe and the United States.”

“It was a great experience and I would strongly recommend it,” said Chicago Booth team member Kaplan. “Not only do you get the opportunity to work through the 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.”

Fellow teammate Hildebrand agreed: “Seeing what everyone looks at as top priorities will help shape my thinking as I evaluate future deals.”

Reflecting on the challenge, investment committee member 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.”

—By Thomas Pilsworth
April 10, 2018