My deal was simple. I would report directly to Armin, the Senior Partner and no one else. I would be responsible for all of the serious M&A work. Doing valuation and analysis. Working the structure of a deal. Developing post acquisition strategy and predicting what sort of gains we could expect to see by implementing our strategies. I was to be paid more than I had ever made in salary before. In three months we would talk about equity. The other partners were primarily concentrated on financial due diligence and deal generation or business development.
What Armin needed, he said one of those early nights over a venison dinner, was some relief on the analysis, negotiations and mechanics of deal making. I was nearly stunned by the level of responsibility (and by extension the workload) and I immediately felt badly under qualified. Despite this, I kept my mouth tightly shut and spent a lot of time nodding as if the entire thing made perfect sense to me. Of course, I would be immediately prepared to assume a level of responsibility traditionally reserved for partners.
It was a pretty lean shop from a body perspective. Armin had his hand in both the majority of deal flow generation, where he utilized his substantial contacts both in New York and Europe to pull rabbit after rabbit out of old hats, and in structuring and negotiating the final deals. He always seemed to be flying off somewhere to meet with one or another CEO, invariably an old friend from somewhere or another. I was to begin accompanying him immediately to get a feel for the deal flow side of things. To learn the practice of the schmooze, of which Armin was the master.
The rest of the time, at least in the early months, I would be spending on his estate, working through the way he liked to operate, the kinds of valuations he trusted, the verticals and industries he was interested in. Learning the ropes, if you will. Drinking the Kool-Aid.
Even as a small firm with only 4 partners and 3 junior people including me, we had quite a bit of help. Armin had one of his speed dial buttons painted red. That was the direct number to our Wall Street attorneys. We used them liberally, given our own limited resources. With that red button Armin probably put the kids of one or more of the senior partners in one of the top firms on the street through college all by himself.
Life on "The Estate" was strange. I had expected to spend most of my time in the firm's Manhattan office, sitting in a cube and running spreadsheets. I suppose I expected to be wined and dined a little bit, it being one of the rumors in b-school that such things went on for the first three months to lock in a worker bee before crushing work and total indifference to "work-life balance" was brutally applied by the firm. Instead, I found myself living on what could have been a five star resort and quickly becoming Armin's "right hand."
I spent the first week working on a valuation for a small, privately held, environmental company we were considering purchasing. There was no guidance. No analysis plan. Simply a mandate. "Tell me how much I shouldn't pay," Armin said to me one day, laying the materials in front of me.
My "office" was actually the "English Study" (fireplace, wood paneling and all) in the main house of the estate. In truth I was afraid to even write on the desk and instead took notes on my laptop most of the time. I have to say, nothing seemed more foreign to me than the site of a modern laptop and an AT&T phone on that old, leather topped antique desk.
Every day, as soon as 5:30 came around, the butler would appear with a plate of smoked salmon, a fishbowl sized burgundy glass and a bottle of red wine on a silver tray and announce "Mr. Armin has asked you to join him in his office at your convenience," while he poured with great flourish what almost seemed an excessive amount of wine. (I say "almost" because I am a big wine drinker). I would finish up the salmon and whatever I had been working on and walk across the house, wine glass in hand, to the far wing, where Armin's office, a much larger version of the study I sat in, was.
He would stand whenever I walked in, gesture to one of the massive armchairs in front of his desk, and poll me on topics ranging from the wisdom of investing in small steel companies to the state of the German economy. That sort of free-flowing discussion would continue until 7:30 when he would head off to the kitchen and put the finishing touches on whatever meal he had been preparing on and off since noon.
I would drift off back to my office and finish up whatever was left of my work before the butler arrived again and announced "Dinner is served," once again filling my wineglass. It was hard to feel like I was working, though the hours were actually pretty intense.