WCM 2022 Canada Conference Recap
Perspectives from Finance Professionals Working in Canada
This past March, WCM hosted our annual Canada Industry Conference. Over 150 students took part in 7 different events with over 13 finance professionals! In case you missed out, you can find some highlights from the panels and guest speakers below!
Guest Speaker: Lisa Conway (HBA ’09), OMERS — Director, Growth Equity
Lisa Conway joined OMERS Growth Equity in 2018. As a Director with the Growth Equity team, Lisa focuses on the development of investment themes, sourcing and executing on new opportunities, and actively managing current investments. In 2020, Lisa was named one of Venture Capital Journal’s “40 Rising Stars under 40” in the global venture community. Prior to joining OMERS, Lisa spent nearly a decade as an M&A investment banker, beginning her career at Genuity Capital Markets in Toronto and most recently advising on Media & Communications transactions at Blackstone and PJT Partners in New York. Lisa also spent time working in PJT Partners’ London office. Lisa graduated with an HBA degree from the Richard Ivey School of Business at Western University, where she was a recipient of the Ivey Scholar Award. Lisa serves on the National Ballet School of Canada’s Foundation Board as well as on the school’s First Positions Patrons Committee. In addition to New York and London, Lisa has also lived in Switzerland and Hong Kong.
Having spent a large portion of your career in Investment Banking, how has that contributed to your skill as an investor?
- In the US there is a formal system to go from IB to PE to an MBA and beyond. For me, I really enjoyed my Investment Banking career and so I stayed in Investment Banking longer than most. This was because I worked with great teams on some interesting deals. Then, when I moved to strategic advisory, the tools I developed helped me tremendously because I had the analytics skills and negotiating skills which were transferable to investing. These skills along with being a generalist investment banker allowed me to learn quickly once I was in a new sector on the buyside.
Could you tell us a little bit more about Growth Equity at OMERS?
- OMERS is a massive Canadian pension plan that has many different investment sectors. In the past few years, OMERS has created the Growth Equity team to serve the gap between traditional OMERS Private Equity and Venture Capital. These checks are between $25mn to $150mn for high-growth tech-enabled companies. Areas of focus include Fintech, Education-Tech, Enterprise SaaS, and Health-Tech. Investments are like Venture Capital but aimed at companies that have already demonstrated success. Growth Equity is typically the last round of institutional equity.
Would you be able to talk about what the typical screening and due diligence processes look like?
- The way our teams are organized is that people are assigned to one of the four sectors that we focus on. Teams will first conduct due diligence by talking with industry professionals and completing related research. After, they’ll look for companies in the OMERS network that address investment themes and hit metrics that they are seeking. They will then determine if the company reaches the “strike zone” — do they meet OMERS’ thresholds (unit economics and revenue), is there enough TAM, do we like their management, what is the check size, etc.?
Were there any memorable investments that you would like to tell us about?
- In covid, we led Skillshare, an online learning platform, into their series D. This was interesting because they were represented by Citigroup. We thought that this would be a competitive deal and that there would be added complications due to COVID, so the deal may not be actionable. We ended up doing the deal but did not meet the management team until late into the process.
How do you balance between optimism for early-stage companies with potential skepticism?
- In Growth Equity, what ultimately helps with optimism is to build out a forecast to create expectations. The companies we look at have been around for around 5 years, so they have real data that we can use to forecast and determine whether the investments are attractive. In Venture Capital, the companies may have less than $10mn in revenue so it’s hard to know whether they’ll continue their success. Venture Capital finds value by backing management teams. Growth Equity companies are also able to switch between focus on top-line and profitability, so if there is skepticism, this acts as a safety net.
What were your interests coming out of undergraduate?
- It was broad, I had done comparative literature prior to Ivey so I had a wide background. What led me to Investment Banking was the finance classes at Ivey, as I found them super interesting. I also spent a lot of time speaking with HBA2s who had experience in Investment Banking. What brought me to Growth Equity was the fact that the Bay Street market is very different than Wall Street. There are only a few buyside roles in Toronto. Beyond that, the culture at OMERs and the innovation at OMERs were what confirmed my interest in the team.
What advice do you have for students in deciding what career to pursue?
- My advice is to lean on the courses that you take in university to decide what fields you are interested in. Beyond that, leverage your network, speak with friends and families in the field, and connect with upper years who will help you understand what working in a field really looks like.
Do you have any advice when it comes to recruiting or interviewing? What sets the best applicants from others?
- I think having a genuine dialogue is the most important thing. Rather than regurgitating the same dialogue, make sure you have your story down of who you are and what your interests are which allows you to come across as natural. The younger generation has a bad rap of being entitled and wanting a work-life balance. While this isn’t a bad thing, it’s important especially when you start, to show that you have hunger, commitment, and work ethic.
Guest Speaker: Brandon Speck (HBA ’12), Credit Suisse Canada — Head of Equity Capital Markets
Brandon Speck is the Head of Equity Capital Markets Canada for Credit Suisse. He is based in Toronto. Brandon joined Credit Suisse’s Canadian Investment Banking team as a summer analyst in 2011 and began working at the firm full-time in 2012. In 2014, Brandon moved to Credit Suisse’s New York office. He worked across several industry groups within US Equity Capital Markets before assuming his current position in 2017. Brandon received his Honours Business Administration (HBA) with honours from the Ivey Business School.
What interested you during undergrad that pushed you into investment banking and ECM?
- I always knew I wanted to go into finance as my dad was in the field. I took BMOS in my first two years at Western, had AEO, and was on WIC. Yet, I didn’t hear about Investment Banking and didn’t have any finance internships until my third year after becoming interested due to taking the Finance class in HBA1. I spent a lot of time doing mock interviews and having coffee chats to prepare for the recruitment process. Some advice for recruiting: don’t get too concerned with technicals, people will hire the person that they like most, so once you meet the minimal hurdle for technical it quickly shifts to your fit within the firm.
Were there any extracurricular activities did you do at Ivey? Do you have any advice for students to help them build their resumes?
- The Feasibility project in BUS2257 and Ivey’s collaborative environments helped develop my individual confidence, negotiation, and public speaking skills. Investment Banking is a totally different job as you move up the ranks. At the lower level, technical skills play a bigger role, but as you move up the ranks the relationship aspect is what matters more. The connections you make at Western, and Ivey are incredibly important. It’s a small street so make sure you’re not burning any bridges. Overall, the most important lesson is the work hard play hard balance
What do you think it is that helped you stand out in your early years at Credit Suisse, and what advice do you have for students to do well in their summer internships?
- Having a great attitude is the most important thing. It’s hard to maintain a positive attitude at times but if you can do it, it will differentiate you from your peers. Take initiative. For example, proactively go to your staffer if you have the capacity. Pull research reports once a company puts out its quarterly report and send it to everyone. Do the boring tasks that no one wants to do, but don’t sacrifice quality for quantity and print off your work, and highlight changes to make sure you get all the comments. Also, ask a lot of questions. Take time to network with everyone. An easy way to do this is to offer to buy senior members a cup of coffee. Finally, don’t be afraid to participate! You can bring a lot of value as you’ll be nearest to the model.
What differences did you find between being a summer analyst and being a full-time analyst?
- A lot of things are very similar. Your responsibility and people’s expectations are what change. You go from being in a learning mode to people expecting you to deliver quality work on time.
Can you walk us through what you do in ECM and how is it different than other industry groups?
- In industry groups, you’re assigned to specific companies and transactions. Your job is to do a deep dive on whatever company or transaction you’re working on. For ECM, the coverage groups will come to you and let you know how much equity needs to be raised. The ECM group will then determine the details of the equity raise such as timing, type of equity, price, etc.
What are some tradeoffs between working in NY vs. Toronto?
- Work-life balance is the main difference. The hours are worse in NY, and the cost of living is higher, but the deal flow is higher as well. From a cultural standpoint, the culture is very similar between Investment Banking in Toronto and NY. The Credit Suisse ECM group in NY is known for having a great culture so that helped. At the end of the day, it depends on who you work with and who you work for. NY has a mindset where you’re in for two years and then you leave, but this hurts the culture. In Canada, a lot of Credit Suisse employees have long tenors within the firm.
Where does Credit Suisse fall in Canada’s Investment Banking field?
- Credit Suisse really doesn’t compete with the Canadian banks. The Canadian banks are very strong and offer lending whereas the global banks do not. The Canadian banks have larger teams and work on bigger deals. Credit Suisse works as a great partner to the Canadian banks where the firm handles the distribution abroad and brings foreign investors into Canada. Global banks have varying strategies. Credit Suisse has a large presence in Toronto which many of the other global banks don’t have. Credit Suisse remains invested through Canada’s episodic deal flow while other firms pull out. Credit Suisse has been around for the long term and has amazing relationships with clients. For example, Credit Suisse is the only bank that has done every single Shopify transaction.
Can you tell us an interesting deal you’ve worked on?
- Canada Goose and Shopify were landmark deals. Recently, Triple Flag (precious metal company) tried to go public in 2019 and failed. Credit Suisse got brought in to work on the second attempt and so the team took a lot of time learning what went wrong the first time around. They needed to show a clear path of progression and earn the trust and respect of potential investors. We eventually helped them raise USD$260mn.
What have been some of the most interesting or surprising changes to the investment banking industry?
- There has been a shift in work-life balance and Credit Suisse has added protected weekends, tracking of who is in the office, and a hybrid model. The shift to a two-year analyst program instead of three allows for the basics and fundamentals to be created and should lead to more retention across banks. Deal flow has shifted from resource-related deals to Tech, ESG, and Healthcare related deals. Credit Suisse Toronto is a nimble office so the shift has been pretty streamlined.
Any last advice you have for students?
- Know your technicals, stay current on trends in the market, have a stock pitch both long and short, and try to proactively reach out to firms you’re interested in to get information. Once you start, stay confident but humble, and find at least one good mentor who you trust.
Guest Speaker: Adam Cobourn (HBA ’07), Onex Partners — Managing Director
Adam Cobourn is responsible for Onex Partners’ efforts in the Healthcare sector. Since joining Onex, Adam has worked on the due diligence and execution of Onex’s investments in Newport Healthcare, Sedgwick Claims Management Services (formerly York Risk Services Group, USI Insurance Services, JELD-WEN, and Tomkins. Adam serves on the board of Newport Healthcare. He also serves on the Campaign Cabinet of The Hospital for Sick Children. Prior to joining Onex, Adam worked in the Investment Banking division of Credit Suisse in Toronto. Adam holds an Honours Business Administration degree (with Distinction, Ivey Scholar) from the Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario.
As you continue up the ladder in finance, the nature of the work tends to change. How has your role at Onex evolved and what experiences built on your investor skillset?
- In the recruiting process, the criteria for junior roles are different than the criteria for internal promotions. The first few years in finance are very analytical, but as you move up towards middle management, you begin to quarterback and manage projects. You aren’t necessarily looking for deals or preparing the first draft of the model, but you need to manage the multiple work streams while supervising the juniors and their work. As you move to a senior role, you’re evaluated more on what you do externally, transforming from an analytical role to a relationship role, which can be a difficult transition. As you progress, even more, you are in an origination role where you need to be talking to the right people and be plugged into the activity in your coverage group.
Being one of the largest firms in Canada, what types of deals and criteria does Onex Partners look for in investments?
- Onex was started in the 1980s under Gerry Schwartz and followed a model similar to Berkshire Hathaway but with the intent of selling the portfolio businesses. In the 1990s came the professionalization of the private equity space with permanent third-party capital and commitments. So, if you were looking to buy a business you already had capital ready to deploy. Moving into the early 2000s, Onex opened its first fund, Fund 1, at roughly $3B, the most recent fund, Onex Partner Fund 5 is now $7B. Onex now also operates a second fund under ONCAP, a credit platform, and a wealth management platform called Gluskin Sheff.
For yourself, what motivated your move from the sell-side to the buy-side, and how did the workload change?
- Adam really enjoyed Credit Suisse but had a pre-existing interest in investing. Also, the private equity space in Canada wasn’t developed. Onex was the only large player, and a recruiter reached out to him, and he was able to successfully land the role. Comparing the Canadian Investment Banking culture to the United States one, in New York, it is typical to leave after your first two years given the developed buy-side market, which is not as prevalent in Canada.
As you work up the ladder to a more relationship role, were there any memorable deals you took part in?
- One of his first deals, Adam was an associate at the time, was the acquisition of JELD-WEN. The company was a family-owned business with billions in revenue and hundreds of millions of EBITDA. They were on an M&A spree acquiring business in numerous industries, but primarily in hospitality. Once the 2008 financial crisis happened, the business was heavily impacted and suffered under their heavy debt burden. Onex structured a preferred equity deal with a coupon downside protection and equity upside. Adam worked heavily on the valuation and operating model. The company had strong core assets that could be divested but were being run ineffectively. The thesis was that with the downside protection, there were numerous levers to push returns, acquire distressed competitors as tuck-in acquisitions, implement a massive operational improvement project, and benefit from a cyclical recovery. In 2017, the company went public, and they sold their final shares last year at 3x returns.
Is it typical for Onex to be heavily involved in the operations of their portfolio companies?
- With all the companies they acquire, a board will be created, and one to two Onex employees will sit on the board. In some cases, Onex members will be heavily involved with the company, typically helping with M&A.
What are some skills that you found transferable between your roles?
- Analytics, project management, and relationship building are key. Another overarching quality that leads to success is innate curiosity — the ability to enjoy soaking knowledge. In private equity, you have to become an expert in the company or industry you are investing in.
How do you stay motivated on stays if things fall through and you have to start from zero?
- It’s the nature of the job. It depends on the fund, but in large-cap private equity, you’re doing around one deal a year, so you look at numerous companies but typically only pursue a few.
When you were coming out of undergrad, what were some of your interests and where did you see your career going?
- Adam was always interested in investing but really enjoyed learning about businesses. The most impactful experience he had was operating a student-run painting service. Here, he learned how to hire a team, marketing, sales, project management, and more, ultimately gaining skills in entrepreneurship that were transferable to private equity and investing.
Sell-Side Career Panel
- Anthony Mastromarini (HBA ’20), Investment Banking Analyst at TD Securities
- James Silva (HBA ’21), Investment Banking Analyst at Morgan Stanley
- Athena Guo (HBA ’21) Investment Banking Analyst at BMO Capital Markets
- Kazim Naqvi (HBA ’20) Equity Research Associate at National Bank of Canada
On Where to Start Your Career
It’s a good idea to start your career on the sell-side because it provides you with great training and plenty of optionality in the future. You can stay on the sell-side and have a fantastic career, or switch to another path like private equity, corporate development, or investor relations.
On Long-Term Career Plans
Take the time to talk with professionals working in fields that you are interested in. Most people are receptive to taking a call to chat about their careers. Search for Ivey alumni on LinkedIn and request a coffee chat. The goal is to find out what works best for you.
On Decompressing & Dealing with Stress
Block out time in your calendar to talk with friends or go to the gym. It’s necessary to manage your health. Furthermore, make sure to spend your meal budget on healthy food and define clear boundaries between your work and personal/social life.
A personal brand is really important, so tell interviewers about your life outside of finance. During interviews, feel free to draw on stories about your hobbies, what you do with friends on the weekends, and your volunteer experience. At the end of the day, your personal brand is simply you.
On Setting Yourself Up for Success
Before your first day on the job, send emails to all of your coworkers, from analysts to VPs, and ask to go and grab coffee with them. This shows a ton of initiative and builds the team’s trust in you right away. You can even schedule a session to talk about something specific, like productivity tips for Excel and PowerPoint.
Buy-Side Career Panel
- Caitlin Robinson (HBA ’21), Investment Analyst at CPP Investments
- Stefan Losberg (HBA ’17), Senior Associate at Whitehorse Liquidity Partners
- James Newman (HBA ’20), Analyst at Fengate Asset Management
- Melissa Belbeck (HBA ’13), Principal at Whitecap Venture Partners
- Arun Vinayagamoorthy (HBA ’20), Investment Associate at Polar Asset Management
How have your career plans changed? Did you envision yourself here?
- Melissa: The world in 2013 was a very different space. I work in Venture Capital — we invest in early-stage start-ups. That wasn’t a thing — you basically went into consulting or Investment Banking back then. The landscape within Canada and within technology has changed immensely. So no, it isn’t an area I imagined, but my path led me here.
- Caitlin: This is where I expected to be, but increasingly, there are opportunities to go directly on the buyside from graduation compared to when I graduated.
- Stefan: I had a traditional path working in Investment Banking at TD from Ivey. But where I am now, at Whitehorse, it’s PE secondaries, which is a more niche and growing segment within PE. In university, I had no idea what secondaries entailed, but I am super excited about where I am today.
- Arun: I didn’t expect to end up in this spot — but I consider myself lucky and fortunate that I did end up here — it combines the two things I wanted to do — entrepreneurship and investing. So, combining risk-taking and a structured work environment.
- James: It’s where I was hoping to be, even earlier than I expected. I found infrastructure a very natural progression from my real asset’s undergrad.
What shifted you from Investment Banking to where you are now?
- Arun: If you look at startups, there’s a concept called product-market fit. For people, I think there’s a career personality fit where certain careers demand certain skillsets that are a fit for some, but not for others. And in that concept, I thought investing was a better fit for me, because it was an intellectual pursuit, it’s creative, and generally higher risk with higher accountability. I found that more of a fit for what I wanted. Investment Banking wasn’t a fit for me because of the attention to detail and structured work environment.
- James: Two main reasons — first, the work is a lot more interesting, as you’re the one investing, so you need more conviction and to take more intellectual endeavors. Secondly, the hours are more predictable, and often overall less, as well.
What is your attitude towards risk and how do you manage it?
- Arun: Polar is a $9B multi-strategy hedge fund. Our goal is absolute returns with low volatility. That means, regardless of the market, investors in Polar expect us to make money every month or year, in a low volatility manner. How Polar is mostly judged on is how are they performing in risky environments? Like right now when the S&P is down. Are we still able to generate positive returns? That’s the goal.
What skills are more important in Private Equity than Investment Banking and how have your day-to-day responsibilities changed?
- James: In Investment Banking, you focus on valuation. Whereas in Private Equity, I have to do that legal diligence and what the implications are on the actual deal. Most of the Private Equity shops in Canada are lean — on a given deal, it’s mostly me and my director. So, you need a more independent work ethic, more conviction in your financial models, and because of that, it really benefits a personality that focuses on independent work without formal direction.
As finance has traditionally been dominated by males, what are your thoughts and advice for women breaking into finance?
- Melissa: Especially in the Venture Capital world, women's representation at partner ranks is sub-10%. I’m almost always the only female in my board meetings. But your mentors and people you look to for help do not have to be female. So don’t limit your reach outs based on gender. And secondly, my macro-observation on women in Venture Capital is that the reason they leave is because of a struggle with confidence. You need to go to your partners and recommend that you invest in a company. There’s a lot of risks, and when you don’t necessarily see other women, it can make the problem worse. So, just get the reps in, build conviction in your ideas, get used to presenting them and forming opinions, and that’ll help a lot in the buyside industry.
- Caitlyn: Being a female is your superpower — a lot of people want to mentor you, a lot of programs are there to help, and there has been improvement in the area with female leaders and mentors. Coming out to events like this is the first step and embracing these programs. Be ambitious, be driven, and don’t be intimated.
- Arun: Polar partnered with the Ivey Business School to create a program for women in asset management that combines in-class learning and you get mentored. It’s during the summer and paid, so that’s an opportunity, so feel free to reach out to me.
Could you speak on your career goals and perhaps the exit opportunities in your career?
- Melissa: This is the first time in my life I’m not thinking about exit opportunities. My goal is to be a partner at Whitecap. A lot of folks in Venture Capital end up starting their own start-ups and funds, as well.
- Caitlin: Right now, I’m thinking of what groups I want to try out next. So, credit investing, direct PE, infrastructure, etc. — those are my direct plans and goals. One thing I know I want is to also work abroad.
- Stefan: I want to be developing my decision-making skillsets. In Investment Banking, you develop a lot of technical skills, but where I am, at Whitehorse, every single day, we have a culture built on decision-making and input. So, in my career, I want to be consistently challenged while making those decisions and having the opportunity to speak my voice. In terms of exit opportunities, we’ve grown from 10 to 110 people. I haven’t thought about exit opportunities — the key thing is learning and expressing my opinion on a day-to-day basis.
- Arun: I haven’t thought about exit opportunities, and in terms of hedge funds, the exit opportunities are entrepreneurship or perhaps other asset management firms. For myself, investing is an infinite game in the sense that there’s no limit to how far you can take it. I want to pursue it to the extent that I can, to the best of my abilities, and if I can’t, I’ll go into entrepreneurship. I’m quite flexible on what that means as an end result.
- James: I definitely see myself being in this role for quite some time. In infrastructure, if someone wanted to make an exit, the options would be more of an operating role, starting a development firm, or going to a different infrastructure role.
How are you able to focus on your personal life in a demanding industry?-
- Melissa: It’s hard, especially in your first few years out of school. When thinking about your path, it’s important to ask questions and really understand what the balance is like when you’re accepting a new job. Being upfront about what you’re looking for is important, and venture capital is a really good lifestyle. If you can avoid client-facing roles, that helps a lot.
- Caitlin: I like to add things into my calendar, 15 minutes of walking in the morning, or going to work out — so working in small ways to balance my personal life. Things ebb and flow — when you’re on a live deal, you’re really busy, but there are also other times when that’s not the case. It’s really important to ask questions and get a feel for the culture of the place you’re working. But I think in the first few years, you might even be taking more hours than you need to. It might be really intense at the start, but as you continue, it gets better.
- Stefan: You do have to put your foot down at a certain point and think about what makes you happy. For me, that’s fitness-related, so when I’m really busy, I say hey, I need to go to the gym for an hour, etc. And that’s really common for people in finance — they do a good job of carving out time. And wherever you decide to work, the people are so important. I’m very fortunate to work with similar people who understand this.
- Arun: I’ve been in jobs where I’ve hated my life, and vice versa. The difference between the two is people and culture. To give an example of what makes my life better now versus prior jobs, you’re allowed to do things that you want to do personally, as long as you also get your work done.
- James: What a lot of people don’t realize is you can really utilize your downtime a lot better from WFH. If you’re waiting for someone’s comments, you can take a nap, do some chores, or work out. That makes your work-life balance easier. If you have the luxury of choice when you’re recruiting, never sign with a sweatshop. I know a lot of friends who went into finance, worked terrible hours and left as soon as they could. Look for a place you could do that lifestyle consistently for years on end as a long-term career. It’s a lot easier to keep up with my friends not in finance as they’re not working those crazy hours. Take the effort to have a call or grab a coffee with them if you can.
In one sentence, what is your one piece of advice when it comes to recruiting in finance?
- Melissa: Personalize your outreach — we get a lot of spam. When people take time to time to send a thoughtful message, I’ll almost always take a call.
- Caitlin: Read the news every day.
- Stefan: Be proactive and try to be two steps ahead. If you want to work in Investment Banking, work backwards — what are the 5–10 steps you need to do to get there and work every day to chip away at that goal.
- Arun: Just do your own thing. When I was in HBA1, it was a very natural thing to compare yourselves to other people and create timelines in your head. Forget all of that and introspect and play your own game.
- James: Working in finance is not necessarily a personality trait, and you don’t realize how important cultural fit is to a firm until you actually work with those people for a long time.
Those were the key takeaways from our 2022 Canada Industry Conference!