The following series features interviews with Black dealmakers and trailblazers in the private equity and finance community. To help us spotlight professionals making a difference in their career pathways, please email Greg Kilpatrick at [email protected] and Gerald Thomas at [email protected].
Q: What attracted you to PE?
Joshua Griffin: As far back as I can remember, I have really enjoyed dealmaking. Thinking back to my early childhood days of playing the classic Monopoly board game or collecting trading cards, I have always found it fun to creatively come up with deals that would allow me to get what I was after while also making the person opposite the transaction feel they received something of equal if not greater value in return. In many ways, PE affords professionals the opportunity to continue to leverage these and other skills in a much higher-stakes environment.
Post-undergrad, I started my career as a commercial banker and often found myself financing buyouts. I did not have a great sense for what I would be doing prior to this position, but I knew I would make a decent living and would develop accounting and finance skills that I could leverage later should I decide to do something else. This something else would come a few years later.
After gaining credit-analysis skills, I decided to pursue an MBA, and subsequently, a career in investment banking. Having sat in rooms with my merger and acquisition (M&A) counterparts for about three years, I realized these individuals were leading the charge and crafting creative narratives around transactions that excited shareholders and markets more broadly. Or so I thought.
A few months into my return to Wall Street in my new role as an M&A associate, I quickly realized that we worked for the PE firms. This fast-paced environment created a great learning ground as I executed many deals in a short period of time, building models and herding sellers and bidders alike through multiple sell-side and buy-side engagements. However, I also worked on or proposed a great deal more transactions that never closed or made it beyond the pages of the pitch deck. It was often the PE investors who had the final say. They crafted and owned the thesis and had to deal with integration and operations well beyond the date a deal closed. I ultimately decided that there was where I preferred to be.
Q: Why is it important for more Black professionals to pursue careers in PE?
JG: It is important for more Black professionals to pursue careers in PE for a number of reasons. For one, the PE industry creates a massive amount of wealth. Without participation, the Black community risks falling further behind in creating wealth, which ultimately leads to decision-making power in a broader sense.
PE creates wealth for individuals in a few ways. Professionals who work in the industry receive relatively high salaries and bonuses and participate in the equity appreciation of the funds at the most senior levels. There are also individuals who invest in these funds and who may or may not work in PE. Unfortunately, the “private” in PE often limits all but those who have already amassed a great deal of wealth from participating in investing, so for many, working in the industry is the best way to gain access.
While many other reasons exist, the final reason I will mention is that representation is very important for the next generation of Black business leaders. Having mentors and examples to follow while the next leaders blaze their own paths will be an important part of increasing the number of Black professionals in the industry.
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Black entrepreneurs? What advice would you provide to overcome it?
JG: I think the biggest challenge facing Black entrepreneurs is a lack of relationships. In business, relationships are key, and the more time you spend in this arena, the more evident that becomes. Business professionals enjoy working with people they like. This frequently means they have shared experiences, whether through common educational institutions, hobbies or interests. This has a meaningful impact in a highly subjective environment where millions of dollars in fees or preferential access to limited assets and resources are up for grabs.
The same can be said for access to capital. It is human nature to find comfort in things people find familiar. Black professionals often lack those shared experiences. So it is important that we increasingly seek opportunities to gain exposure to things we may find unfamiliar. This could be traveling to a lesser-traveled destination, experiencing a new genre of music or movies, trying different cuisines and participating in different sports. These shared experiences can serve as conversation starters and lead to meaningful professional and personal relationships.
Q: Who is an example of someone who inspired you in PE and why?
JG: My father-in-law gave me a book a while back titled Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun? The book, which was previously unknown to me, chronicled the life and business pursuits of Reginald Lewis, who is credited as the first Black American to build a billion-dollar business. Lewis graduated from Harvard Law at a time when it was even more uncommon than now to do so.
Immediately following law school, Lewis worked as an attorney at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. He would leave the firm after just two years to open his own law firm, where he practiced successfully for a number of years before trying his hand at investing. His first big break came with the acquisition of the McCall Pattern Company, a home textile business he acquired for about $20 million using just $1 million of his own money. He turned the then-declining business around by repurposing the company’s machinery to make greeting cards during its downtime.
Soon after his initial purchase and turnaround, Lewis would sell McCall for $90 million, the vast majority of which he was entitled to. He would later go on to purchase Beatrice International Foods for $985 million, and it would report revenue of $1.8 billion. This made it the first Black-owned business with more than $1 billion in sales.
Beyond his business pursuits, Lewis was a determined man who rarely took no for an answer. He creatively found ways around roadblocks and kept his eye on his larger goal even while working for others, realizing the work would one day enable him to achieve what he ultimately aspired to do. Lewis was extremely philanthropic, having donated millions of dollars to scholarship funds, educational institutions, museums and other worthy causes. Lewis, who was known to be fiery in his pursuits at times, was a savvy businessman who often found a way when others found excuses. I highly recommend all young dealmakers give this book a read.
About Joshua Griffin
Joshua Griffin joined Webster Equity Partners as a senior associate in 2021. Prior to joining Webster, he was a vice president at Greenhill & Co., where he advised healthcare clients on a range of buy-side and sell-side transactions. Prior to joining Greenhill, Griffin worked at Cain Brothers, where he advised middle-market healthcare companies on a range of M&A-related engagements.
Griffin was educated at Temple University and NYU Stern School of Business.