Name: Patricia Halfen Wexler
Industry: Private Equity
Business Name: Elevation Partners
Location: New York, NY
Years of experience: 12 years
- Manufacturing Engineering, Universidad Simon Bolivar (Venezuela), 1997
- MBA, Harvard Business School, 2002
Personality Type: ENFJ
Compensation Range: >$200,000
Profile Publish Date: 11/2009
What does your job involve?
Elevation Partners is a private equity firm in media and entertainment.
Firms that work in private equity raise money from investors and then look for companies that they can invest in. Over a period of about five years, they look at ways to make the companies worth a lot more money and provide investors with better returns than are available from investing in stocks or bonds or putting money in the bank.
At Elevation Partners, we focus on media and entertainment specifically with some sort of a technology bent. We consider ourselves more growth-oriented and operationally-focused than most other traditional private equity firms. As one of our founders likes to say, we are like late-stage venture capital, meaning that we take quite a bit of risk and spend lots of time with management and the companies to help transform them into much more valuable entities.
There are three levels of professionals at our company: Partners, Principals and Associates. Partners are the most senior and experienced people at the firm. Principals are junior to the Partners and responsible for all aspects of a deal. Associates are usually straight out of college or come from doing a couple of years in other lines of work. Generally speaking we don’t have specific roles that are constant across all of the deals that we look at or invest in. We are a very tight knit small company with only 20 investment professionals. Everyone does a little of everything.
When looking at a deal, there may be one or two partners who are heavily involved, a principal who is the point person and an associate or two. Our objective is to fully evaluate the company to make a decision as to whether or not we want to invest in it. This evaluation process is generally split into three main categories of analysis; financial, company and industry. The ultimate decision to invest in the company boils down to: believing the specific valuation (price) of the company, understanding how current or new management can grow the company, and believing in the industry trends. If we decide to invest, we go through a negotiation process that involves a lot of negotiations, paperwork, business and legal diligence. Once we have invested in the company we spend the next five years or so monitoring and working in partnership with the company to grow it.
As a principal, I have to oversee a lot of strategic, industry and financial analyses. I have to think about strategy, the company’s positioning, and its competitive advantages and disadvantages. Once we invest in the company we play an active role in assisting the management teams to help them grow and become more profitable. Being able to work closely with different management teams across different industries allows me to experience a great deal of variety in my job, something I highly value.
What is your work environment like?
We have two offices. We have a larger office in California and a smaller office here in New York. We have around 15 investment employees in California and 5 in New York.
Our New York office is in mid-town, close to a lot of other investment firms.
Being that we invest in technology companies our offices are very high technology. One example is that both our New York and California offices are fitted with little cameras on our desks so if I’m talking to someone in California we are seeing each other’s faces. We use technology to be closer and have a collegial environment.
What kinds of people do you work with?
We are a very young firm. One of partners is Bono from U2. He doesn’t come into the office every day but he is very helpful. We work in media and entertainment and he is a person who understands it and has great connections and insight into this space. We really value him (and U2 tickets are nice too!).
Although the rest of the people at Elevation aren’t rock stars, they are extremely talented, “Type A” people. Everyone here is hard-working. There is no set schedule but everyone is committed to working as many hours as needed to meet deadlines and to ensure a very high quality of work. It is a very rigorous, hard-working culture. At the same time it is a really fun, young group of people. Everyone has an interest in media and technology.
Everyone is from “pedigreed” backgrounds, meaning they went to top-tier schools and had great grades. They are also very fun, friendly people. We strive to have a work-life balance although the hours can certainly be grueling at times.
What skills are important in your job?
There is a whole array of important skills:
- Being diligent and being able to keep lots of balls in the air
- Methodical planning and the ability to manage a process
- Strategic thinking capabilities
- General intuition and the ability to identify important questions to ask
- The ability to look at complex problems and identify what to focus on
- Financial analysis
- Being comfortable with numbers, using Excel, building models, reading and interpreting financial statements from companies
For the first few years out of college, it is crucial to focus on refining your analytical/numeric skills, and that your work is flawless and timely.
As you get to a higher level, your insights and relationships skills become more and more important. You will be trying to demonstrate to companies that you are a good partner. You will be negotiating very complicated issues where each side has to give and take, and you have to learn how to make that happen to reach the best outcome for both parties.
When you partner with a company, you have to work with management and with other teams so that your vision gets realized. Being able to deal with other people and be a good communicator is also important.
What is your schedule like?
The schedule improves over the arc of a ten-plus-year career. On average I work Monday through Friday from 8 to 8. They are pretty long days.
On the weekend I’ll work a few hours from home reviewing emails and other things. There are weeks that are light. But if we are working on a transaction we may all be holed up in the office poring over contracts, running models, and preparing presentations all weekend. This job is less about logging “face time” and more about making sure that the work you are doing is meeting deadlines and is very thoughtful and accurate. Of course making sure that you are producing great work on a deadline often means some long days.
What do you love about your job?
It is so interesting. I get to do a little bit of all of the things that I love. I work with incredible people. I get to work on things that make it to the front page of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. It is pretty exciting to be helping change the world.
I love media. The world of media is getting turned on its head. My parents have a hard time understanding that newspapers probably won’t be around in the near to mid-term. Today, twenty-year-olds probably have a hard time understanding how people could even read those things that were so cumbersome, got everything dirty with ink stains and you never knew where the front page article continued. That is one example that is happening across the entirety of media. It is an interesting time to explore this and figure it out.
What don’t you like about your job?
There are things that are not ideal. When you work in a deal-driven business, it is very hard to plan your schedule. The deal drives the timing. For example, I got married earlier this year. We were working on a really big deal so I decided that I couldn’t take my honeymoon right away and then the deal fell apart before the wedding but it was too late to change my plans. I’m going over New Year’s though!
What inspires you?
I’m really inspired by my grandparents and my mother. My grandparents were in Europe during the Holocaust. I’m Jewish. After the Holocaust, they got on a boat and made it to Venezuela with nothing but their lives. My grandfather started a business making men’s suits. He worked really hard and made it successful. Having come to a totally different country, not speaking a word of Spanish, not knowing what was going on, having lived through such a horrible event and having done the incredible job he did, it was really inspiring.
The older I get the more I realize what an incredible job my mother did with my sister and I. My parents were divorced when we were really young. My father lived in the US and we lived in Venezuela. She was a working mom. My mother is an economist. She balanced both things. Growing up, I never felt that my mother wasn’t around enough.
Who was your biggest influence?
My grandparents and my mother were my biggest influences overall.
Growing up I never knew about work in private equity. I didn’t contemplate this, but they encouraged me to become a professional. I never really focused on a job in finance and investing because I hadn’t really been exposed to it in Venezuela.
What was the best advice you ever received?
“Give it time.” The context that this advice was given to me was that I had left Venezuela and gone to Mexico not really knowing what I was doing. It was a very hard transition. I grew up in a small Jewish community where my last name meant something. I knew people. In Mexico, I was in a place where no one knew me, a place where foreigners arriving without their families are not that common. I felt out of place when I first got to Mexico and, in fact, I wanted to move back to Venezuela. The first vacation that I could take I went back to Venezuela and interviewed with McKinsey, a competitor to the firm Boston Consulting Group (“BCG”) where I worked at the time. McKinsey offered me a job and I was dead set on moving back home. I went back to BCG and said, “Look guys, I love you but from a personal standpoint this isn’t working for me.” And they said, “Please give us six more months and we will staff you on a deal where you can travel to Venezuela.”
Those six months made a huge difference. The first couple of months after I moved to Mexico were not enough for me to know whether I liked it or not. I felt disconnected from my old friends and needed time to get over that. Going back to Venezuela a few times after I decided to give BCG a second chance allowed me to see that I had romanticized moving back to Venezuela and the reality was that it wouldn’t have been a great move. That allowed me to start living my life outside Venezuela. Now I can’t imagine it any other way. “Give it more time”, during a difficult transition was a great piece of advice.
The other great advice was “Believe in yourself.” When I went to University, I was really scared that I wasn’t going to be very good. Over time I got more comfortable and confident in my abilities. The same thing happened when I went to BCG and Harvard Business School. I thought, “What if I’m not good enough?” And that didn’t happen. I had a couple of mentors who knew what I was capable of and helped guide me through those tough transition times.
I encourage you to find people who will push you to do the things that you are scared of doing. I was scared to go to Mexico. I was scared to go into investment banking. I was scared to go to Harvard. But I had people pushing me and saying, “I promise you can do it.” And they were right.
Did you get any bad advice along the way?
I’m sure I have but I’ve deleted it from my memory!
I grew up in a fairly conservative environment. I only got married five months ago. I’m sure that for the last five years my relatives have been pulling their hair out and worrying about that. On many occasions, I was told: “You are becoming increasingly successful, your life is that of a jet setter and you are intimidating to men. Maybe you should try to focus on having more time to meet someone”. Meeting someone was clearly important for me. But I know more and more women who have done well both in their personal and professional lives.
The last thing you want is to be bitter about not pursuing your dreams because you are waiting for Prince Charming.
I think I was affected by my parents being divorced. I realized early on that you really don’t know what is going to happen. You should have your independent life.
In general, I find myself more engaged in life and I think more interesting having an exciting work life. I have more fun with my husband because we can both talk about our days and have interesting stuff going on in each of our lives.
What advice do you have for teenage girls?
Dream big. Don’t settle.
Work hard for what you want. It does come to those who work hard. Make an effort. If you commit and put a lot of energy into it, you are already in the top ten percent of the pack.
For everything that you want to do, the person who wants it the most is the most likely to get it. Persevere and really commit to whatever you are doing even if it is not your passion. Ten years ago I didn’t know that this was my passion, but I was passionate about the work I was doing.
When you go to your first job and first internship, first impressions really matter. When you arrive in a job, commit wholeheartedly. Put in 120% of the effort and it will really pay back.
Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would go back and do differently?
Not in the grand scheme of things. I would tweak a few things here and there, but it all worked out. I’ve loved living in different places. People say, “Oh, wow, when you go to different places you learn about different cultures.” Although that’s true, I’ve found that when you travel around you learn more about yourself and your own culture, because you put it in context. When I lived in Venezuela, I didn’t realize how unique my background was. By experiencing other places, you get to see what your life is really like when you compare it to others. And business school is a great place to meet people from all over the world. I really enjoyed that.
I’ve been pretty lucky to find a job where I do what I love and I’m good at it. I think that is what young girls should strive for. They should try different things. Find out what you like and what you are good at. Often what you are good at is more important than what you think you like, because you will find that what you are good at results in more success, and that ultimately makes you happier.
What do you do in your spare time?
I love to ski and travel.
What are your passions?
Outside of work? I love my husband. Family life is a big focus for me.
Helping to improve education broadly, and speaking to young women about their education is something that I feel pretty strongly about.
How did you get to be where you are today?
I was born and raised in Venezuela. Where I grew up, most people don’t leave for college or leave after college.
I don’t know how many people know what they want to do when they are 15 but I wasn’t one of them. I had to pick a degree. I started by disqualifying things. I began by considering clear career choices like becoming a doctor, a dentist or a lawyer, but quickly knew those weren’t for me. I had a lifelong dream of being an architect but when I grew older I realized it wasn’t really my thing.
I looked at a lot of options and ended up stumbling upon engineering. Initially, I was just trying to understand what it meant to be an engineer. People said engineering allows you to think critically and understand and evaluate things. It is a broad base. Nobody could articulate what it was exactly so I dug more deeply into it and tried to gather information on all types of engineering and eventually came to manufacturing engineering. I was told that it was a way to marry a little bit of business judgment with engineering. A manufacturing engineer is the person in business who can understand what everyone in engineering is doing but you don’t deep dive into any one of the fields. You understand a little of electrical, a little of mechanical and a little of electronic engineering. That seemed like a good balance. I wanted to do something challenging that would be a good solid base to prepare me for the rest of my career. None of the narrow engineering fields were attractive to me. Manufacturing engineering was a great choice for me.
My interest in having a solid educational base was coupled with two other things. One was the college that I chose was a renowned college. I wanted to go to a great place for my education. Also, my mother was an economist and I had some interest in economics. However, she convinced me that if I got an engineering degree that would be a broad base to use for anything I wanted and that I could do a master’s degree later on to hone in on those skills.
Although it sounds scary, and even more for women, engineering is a really great place to start in college. The reality is that most people leave college and still don’t really know anything that they can apply to their job. Employers hiring right out of college are looking for someone smart that can learn on the job. What you are trying to do in college is get a base of skills. Engineering gives you facility with numbers, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
I went to college in Venezuela with a major in manufacturing engineering. For my first job, as part of my college thesis, I had to work in a cement firm.
It was serendipitous. My supervisor during my internship was the head of strategy for this global company. He suggested that I consider working for the Boston Consulting Group, a very high profile, global, management consulting firm. The next thing I knew, I had agreed to work in Mexico. Personally it was one of the most challenging things that I have ever done because I grew up in a place where everyone lives in a two-mile radius. It was an incredible growth experience. Looking back, it totally transformed my life. I spent three years in Mexico doing consulting and investment banking. Those types of jobs put me in the path to go to business school. I am fortunate to have such a supportive family that encouraged me throughout these transitions.
After Mexico I moved to Boston and went to Harvard Business School. Up until then, I had envisioned returning to Venezuela. But there were a lot of political changes going on in the country and it became evident that wasn’t the right place for me to live.
After business school, I went to Los Angeles and worked for Disney. I worked in the corporate strategy group. It was the internal arm that works on big picture strategy and mergers and acquisitions. I spent a lot of time working on the Disney Stores.
I tried my hand at banking, consulting and corporate strategy. I liked all those things but I knew that I wanted to be a principal. I wanted “skin in the game”. What happens in banking is that you advise companies about a deal but you don’t make the decisions, and then you leave and the companies are left to deal with the consequences. You don’t stay and follow through. In consulting, which was also a great learning experience, you also advise but don’t make decisions and don’t stay to follow through. I went to Disney to be on the inside and loved it, but as with most large companies, it moves at a relatively slow pace. It is hard to ”move the needle” in a company that makes billions of dollars of profit every year.
I read about Elevation in the front page of the Wall Street Journal. There was an article with a picture of an executive that I had heard of. It said that he was leaving his company and that he was going to start Elevation. I thought, “Wow, somebody just created the perfect company for me.” Out of the blue, I e-mailed him telling them that I was interested in working there. I was surprised he even replied. It took three months for the first meeting and a whole year before I got a job offer. My persistence worked. I was very thankful that I took the risk to send an email in the first place and that I persevered throughout the year-long process.
I originally joined Elevation as an associate, which was a fairly junior role relative to my prior work experience. I later got promoted to principal. I have been a principal for three years, first in California and now in New York.
I think I have a great background for private equity. I was pretty lucky in my ten years of a business career to have done such a variety of things. Interestingly, I am what people would call a “non-traditional” person to be in private equity. A typical person who has come up the ranks in private equity is a former investment banker, who transitioned early to private equity. They have a financial pedigree and have spent lots and lots of time modeling in Excel and know better than anyone how to look at financial analyses. Only when you get to more senior levels like partner do they bring in someone at times who has industry experience to complement those traditional skills. Elevation Partners was willing to take a risk on someone who didn’t fit the mold. I think it has worked out really well. The world is changing and broader experiences combined with financial and deal-making experience are increasingly helpful in these types of jobs.
What challenges have you overcome?
In the grand scheme of things I’ve been pretty lucky. I haven’t had any major challenges.
Coming from Venezuela to the US. Leaving a place where most people don’t leave, and coming to a place where I am a foreigner is a little non-traditional and was challenging at the time.
Being a woman in a man’s world — there are no female partners, other female principals or female professionals in my firm.
I wouldn’t call these challenges. It’s just a little different. At times it might be a negative and other times it’s not. I wouldn’t want to dwell on it.