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Business Development Professionals’ Best Career Advice

Private equity, investment banking and corporate development professionals share their tips

Business Development Professionals’ Best Career Advice

This year’s Business Development Professionals to Watch list was curated by Middle Market DealMaker editors based on more than 270 nominations from the ACG dealmaking community.

We asked the selected honorees across private equity, investment banking and corporate development about the best piece of career advice they’ve ever received. Explore their responses below.

This section of the report originally appeared in the Winter 2023 issue of Middle Market DealMaker. Read the full story in the archive.

Private Equity

ABE BORDEN: Find ways to make those around you better. If you have the skills, you have the responsibility.

JASON BURMER: The most meaningful advice I’ve received professionally, and in life, was an iteration of “If you’re green you’re growing, if you’re ripe you’re rotting.” Don’t get comfortable, plan for the future, and pursue and embrace the challenge.

RICH GRAJEWSKI: Early in my career, a mentor told me that to be successful in any profession, you must give value first before asking for something in return. I make every effort to give value first, like providing a banker names of other potential PE firms when passing on a deal, or helping a business owner with an introduction to a banker or advisor. It’s the sum of all these small value-added acts that makes a huge difference.

There is no such thing as a bad first meeting.

RENN IABONI: There is no such thing as a bad first meeting.

SHANE MCADAM: Be grateful, humble and appreciative of your opportunities and achievements, but never be satisfied—stay hungry.

STEPHANIE MOONEY: Always look for ways to add value for others, anywhere you can. And expect nothing in return.

EMILY OSMAN LAWRIE: In chaos, there is always opportunity.

HOLLAND REYNOLDS: Follow the flock and you’ll end up a lamb chop!

CHRISTOPHER SCHATZMAN: Don’t get complacent. Relationships are the lifeblood of any effective business development team, and it is important to constantly engage and drive new relationships while effectively maintaining existing networks. It can become easy to lean on key accounts, but the advice I have always received is to continue innovating and driving differentiated relationships with new networks of professionals.

BRENT WHITE: Focus on the results rather than on how long each task will take. By disregarding the time, you can focus on the quality of the job rather than just thinking of finishing it. Another great piece of advice is to never stop learning. One of the most powerful things to advance your career—or in any circumstance—is knowledge.

Read more about this year’s Private Equity BD Professionals to Watch.

Investment Banking

JANE ADAMS: It’s all about the shots on goal. Keep working hard and good things will come!

SCOTT AMES: Focus on your strengths to drive the ball forward. An executive coach I worked with in 2021 taught me a lot about how to prioritize time, harness my strengths and hire for my weaknesses. One strategy I start with every day is putting together an Eisenhower Matrix to dictate where I focus. Items that fall in the “Important, Not Urgent” category are the real needle movers that I try to give the most attention to.

BRYAN D’ALESSANDRO: The simplest piece of advice that has served me the best in the relationship-driven space in which we operate is: “Just be a normal person.” If you can develop a trusted relationship, you can uncover opportunities/issues and deliver appropriate solutions.

JUSTIN LOEB: People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it—a quote from author Simon Sinek.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

PAUL L. NOVAK: Surround yourself with young talent and give them just enough rope to make them uncomfortable. It’s the best gift you can give these young professionals for their development.

MICHAEL PIRIC: Never lose your intellectual curiosity.

TRICIA SALINERO: When I asked a client recently about a 2024 expenditure, he said to me, “That’s a Future-Me Problem.” It really stuck with me. You can’t be a banker without being a bit of an optimist, though, so now my glass-half-full rebrand is “Future-Me Opportunity.” It’s easy to imagine all the permutations of a decision and attempt to prepare for every outcome, but it’s vitally important to be present, in the here and now, for my team and my clients.

ANDREW SUEN: Make the lives of those above you easier—although I’ve modified this advice over the years to “make the lives of everyone easier.” This piece of professional advice has served me well over the years and changed the underlying way I think about my entire life. A long-term approach to selflessness and a genuine desire to be helpful are indispensable assets in building not only a successful career but also a quality life.

TRISTAN TAHMASEB: Be curious—which encompasses a number of other traits. Within curiosity is self-motivation, thoughtfulness, sense of humbleness and respect for others. I have found if you set a path based on continuous learning and investigation, it can lead you to some incredible places.

PANOS TSILIKAS: “The analyst’s responsibility is to analyze” is a piece of advice that I still follow today and that was shared by Todd Kaltman, a veteran of Kroll’s Transaction Opinions group. We believe in the importance of precise analytical work, regardless of our roles or the projects we work on. Through rigorous and objective analysis, our work also sparks and encourages intellectual curiosity to ensure we put forward unbiased and fact-based decisions.

Read more about this year’s Investment Bankers to Watch.

Corporate Development

TAHA AHMED: People around you should know you for who you are as an individual, not just because of what your job is or where you work.

XAVIER CHAILLOT: A mentor once told me to “learn to be comfortable with uncertainty.” This advice touches upon so many key principles of professional life, from not allowing your feelings to cloud your judgment, to continuing to learn, to there’s no good news or bad news— there’s just news. It’s really been one of my guiding principles since then.

Despite advances in dealmaking tools, databases and analytics, M&A will always be a people-first, relationship-driven business.

DAVID T. CHEN: Put yourself out there! Despite advances in dealmaking tools, databases and analytics, M&A will always be a people-first, relationship-driven business. As such, there is no substitute for maximizing direct interactions with potential partners and counterparties.

SETH COLLINS: The best advice I have ever received is to relax and take it easy. The great leaders I have seen in my career have demonstrated calmness and confidence, regardless of the circumstances, that is both infectious and inspiring. It has been these individuals who could always steady the ship, find solutions with other stakeholders and advance a transaction. I have tried to emulate this example to cultivate the best working environment and experience that I can on a given transaction.

PATRICK GILLIGAN: “Call, don’t email.” Simple, but timeless.

JELENA GUZENKO: One of my mentors in the past said, “Just be true to yourself, your values and principles—and the rest will follow.”

MATT HINSON: My mentor Mike Anderson would often say, “Kill the snake!” (borrowed from Ross Perot). If you see a snake, just kill it. Don’t appoint a committee, find consultants or try to gather consensus on snakes. Just kill the snake. The point is that you should always have a bias toward taking action. You should also give your team the ability to act themselves without constantly having to seek your input to do what needs to be done.

YVANNA A. LOPEZ (PEREZ MOREL): Treat others like you want to be treated. The world is a small place and, in my experience, you should always (always!) treat others with respect and professionalism, even when negotiations get really tough (and sometimes they do!).

DANIEL NAUHEIM: Put patients first.

JAMES TIDWELL: No matter what you think you know about the party across the table, always be prepared for a tough negotiation.

Read more about this year’s Corporate Development Professionals to Watch.