Let’s take an example, your firm raises $1.5 billion and turns it into $3 billion. To be more specific, in year 5, your firm successfully turns the initial investment into $3 billion.
The distribution split agreement between LPs and the GP is 80-20. In year 0, the LPs contributed $1.3 billion in total, while the GP contributed $200 million. The hurdle rate is 8%, so the fund needs to earn an 8% IRR before it can earn anything else.
This hurdle rate seems to be the pressure on the GP side but it’s a key tactic helping the funds to call for capital from LPs. Investing in illiquid assets, such as private equity firms, is a risky decision to make so they expect higher return. If the fund’s IRR is only 5%, the LPs will skip private equity and invest in bonds or other industries. After the LPs receive proceeds up to the 8% IRR, the GP can earn its 20% profit.
Back to our previous example, we will demonstrate here how the funds are distributed in Year 5 with the following assumption:
- All the capital was successfully raised in Year 0 and earned back in Year 5 (It is not often the case in reality. That capital can be raised by phases, not at once all in Year 0)
- The split between LPs and GP is 80/20
- The hurdle rate is 8%, meaning that the firm has to reach a minimum 8% IRR before getting any split
Turning a $1.5bil investment into $3bil by year 5, this private equity firm reaches 15% IRR, which is above the hurdle rate.
At this point, someone can jump in and calculate quickly the profits of LPs and GP
- Return profits: $1.5 bil = $3 bil – $1.5 bil (investment in Year 0)
- LPs’ profits: 80% * $1.5 bil = $1.2 bil
- GP’s profit: 20% * $1.5 bil = $ 300 mil
All the numbers are right. However, we have to use a different approach, which involves the principle that LPs get proceeds up to 8% IRR first.
- As IRR is 8%, LPs expect that the initial $1.3bil investment will create $1.910bil at the end of 5 years
- Investment profits for LP at 8% IRR is: $1.910bil – $1.3bil = $610mil. They also got back their initial investment, which was $1.3 bil
- Because GP can deliver the minimum IRR, GP will receive $153million to catch up with the split 80/20 ( $153/ ($153 + $610) = 20%)
- Remaining proceeds from the investment profits are $3bil – $1.3bil – $610mil – $200mil – $153 mil = $737 mil
- The split 80/20 is applied again with the remaining. Hence, LPs get $737mil * 80% = $570mil; GP get $737mil *20% = $147mil
- LPs receive their initial investment of $1.3bil and $1.2bil profits in Year 5. They earn a 1.9x multiple and a 14% IRR
- GPs get their initial investment of $200mil and $300mil profits in Year 5. Finally, they get a 2.5x multiple and a 20% IRR
From this example, although contributing less, GP, or the PE firm, gets higher multiples and IRR than those of LPs. Carried interest can be very lucrative but it’s quite dangerous and stressful. If things go the other way, for example, if the fund can grow only $1.8 billion at the end of 5 years, the IRR will be 7%, less than the minimum of 8%. Since it’s below the hurdle rate, the GP earns nothing despite its contribution of $200 million in the beginning. Each LP of the firm will lose millions of dollars if there are other better investment options in the market.
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When thinking about the private equity career path, our favorite analogy still applies: a fraternity house.
Yes, we previously compared the investment banking career path to a frat house, and private equity careers are similar in many ways.
But if investment banking is more like a “party/drinking fraternity,” private equity is more like a “business fraternity.”
The hierarchy is a bit flatter, despite seeming similar on the surface, and it’s a more intellectual environment that demands critical thinking and risk assessment in addition to sales skills.
You still have to complete certain rituals to advance, there are still levels, and you receive added benefits as you move up – but the culture and long-term trajectory differ.
In this comprehensive article, we’ll explain the advantages and disadvantages of the private equity career path, including the work, hierarchy, promotions, lifestyle, and salaries and bonuses.
But let’s start with the basics before delving into “fraternal differences”:
The Private Equity Job Description
Private equity firms raise capital from outside investors, called Limited Partners (LP), and then use this capital to buy companies, operate and improve them, and then sell them to realize a return on their investment.
The industry is called “private” equity because the companies that private equity firms invest in are private initially, or become private as a result of the investment.
The outside investors or Limited Partners might include pension funds, endowments, insurance firms, family offices, funds of funds, and high-net-worth individuals.
Imagine that you and your friends went to all your contacts, asked for money, and then decided to become “home flippers” by buying homes, fixing them up, and selling them at higher prices.
You keep some of the profits for yourselves in exchange for operating the business, but you give the majority back to your contacts for providing the bulk of the required money.
That’s what private equity firms do, but on a much larger scale and for companies rather than houses.
The job is part fundraising, part operational management, and part investing.
For more, see our articles on the private equity industry, private equity strategies and investment banking vs private equity.
Why Work in Private Equity?
If you got the “Why private equity?” question in an interview, you’d probably say that you love investing and operations, and you want to build value for companies over the long term.
But in real life, most people are drawn to private equity because it offers high compensation, somewhat better hours than investment banking, and more interesting work.
Some people also enjoy the excitement of working on large deals and interacting with “the best and brightest,” as well as understanding company operations in more depth.
Unlike investment banking, exit opportunities are not a major reason to go into private equity because PE itself is viewed as an exit opportunity.
That said, some professionals do leave the field for hedge funds and other buy-side roles (for more, see our coverage of private equity vs. hedge funds).
Private Equity Skills and Career Requirements
The private equity career path attracts people who are:
- Competitive, high achievers who are willing to work long, grinding hours.
- Extremely attentive to detail.
- Interested in deals rather than simply following the markets or investing in public companies or other assets.
- Interested in investing and operations and using critical thinking to evaluate companies rather than selling or being an agent.
- Interested in long-term projects such as building a portfolio company over many years, and are also open to non-deal work, such as company monitoring and fundraising.
At large private equity firms (“mega-funds”), junior-level hires (“Associates”) are overwhelmingly investment banking analysts who spent 2-3 years at bulge bracket or elite boutique firms.
At smaller firms, more Associates come from middle market and even boutique banks; some management consultants and Big 4 and corporate development professionals also get in.
Firms have been hiring more students directly out of undergraduate, so there are now quite a few “Private Equity Analyst” positions in the industry as well.
Getting into private equity directly after an MBA is nearly impossible unless you’ve done investment banking or private equity before the MBA.
You could complete the MBA, use it to win a full-time investment banking job, and then recruit for private equity roles…
…but that is significantly more difficult than breaking in pre-MBA from investment banking, and it’s not an ideal path (see: more on the investment banking associate job).
To get into private equity, you’ll need:
- A sequence of highly relevant work experience, including transactions and financial modeling.
- Top academic credentials (grades, test scores, and university reputation);
- A lot of networking and interview preparation;
- Something “interesting” that makes you appear to be a human rather than a robot;
- The ability to think critically about companies and investments rather than just “selling” them.
- A strong cultural fit with the firm – PE firms are much smaller than banks, so “fit” and soft skills are even more important.
For more, see our comprehensive guide on how to get into private equity.
If you want to learn all the required technical concepts – Excel, accounting, valuation, financial modeling, and LBO modeling – from the ground up, your best bet is our Financial Modeling Mastery course, which includes several private equity and growth equity case studies.
If you want to review the concepts and quickly test yourself before interviews, our IB Interview Guide includes a 120-page guide to LBO models and 4 practice LBO case studies:
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If you do not have the skills and work experience mentioned above, your best bet is to gain transaction experience in corporate development at a normal company or in M&A at a Big 4 firm and use that to move in.
Or, join a PE firm’s portfolio company, work on the operational side, and eventually move to the firm itself.
Do not bother with non-deal-related jobs such as equity research, or back or middle office roles.
The CFA is the only certification that means anything at all in PE; it is marginally helpful, but it plays a small role next to everything above.
The Private Equity Career Path
The private equity career path and hierarchy vary from firm to firm, but here’s a representative example:
- Analyst – Logistical Monkey.
- Associate (Pre-MBA) – Deal and Analytical Monkey.
- Senior Associate – More Experienced Monkey.
- Vice President – Manager of Deals.
- Director or Principal – Generator and Negotiator of Deals.
- Managing Director or Partner – Rainmaker, Fundraiser, and Chief Representative.
And here’s a flow-chart summary:
|Position Title||Typical Age Range||Base Salary + Bonus (USD)||Carry||Time for Promotion to Next Level|
|Senior Associate||26-32||$250-$400K||Small||2-3 years|
|Vice President (VP)||30-35||$350-$500K||Growing||3-4 years|
|Director or Principal||33-39||$500-$800K||Large||3-4 years|
|Managing Director (MD) or Partner||36+||$700-$2M||Very Large||N/A|
We are not going to address the exit opportunities and hours/lifestyle for each level because PE is usually the end goal, and the hours don’t necessarily change much as you move up – expect 60-70 per week at smaller firms and 80+ at mega-funds.
The key differences at each level of the private equity career path lie in the work tasks, promotion time, and compensation.
Also, note that all the compensation figures below refer to figures in North America – they will be lower, sometimes significantly lower, in regions such as Europe and Asia-Pacific.
Private Equity Analyst Job Description
Private Equity Analysts are hired directly out of undergrad without previous full-time experience.
They work on the same types of tasks as Associates: deal sourcing, reviewing potential investments, monitoring portfolio companies, and fundraising, but they complete fewer projects independently from start to finish.
For example, an Associate working on a deal might build the entire financial model and coordinate the due diligence process, including speaking with lawyers, auditors, consultants, and other parties to get answers.
But an Analyst on the same deal might help only with specific tasks such as setting up conference calls, sifting through data, and assisting the Associate with certain research or documents.
Age Range: These roles are only for students who just finished undergrad, and they only last for a few years, so we’ll say 22-25.
Private Equity Analyst Salary + Bonus: You’ll almost certainly earn less than an IB Analyst in terms of total compensation; your salary + bonus will likely be in the $100K – $150K range, with the bulk coming from your base salary.
Carry, i.e., a share in the profits from investments, is unlikely-to-borderline-impossible for Analysts, so don’t even think about it.
Promotion Time: Expect 2-3 years for a promotion to Associate, if your firm promotes Analysts (it varies widely).
Private Equity Associate Job Description
Private Equity Associates must be able to lead deal processes from start to finish without step-by-step instructions.
They spend their time on sourcing – generating new deal ideas – as well as financial modeling and due diligence for active deals, portfolio company monitoring, and even some fundraising.
The PE Associate role is an evolution of the IB Analyst role, so you still spend a lot of time in Excel, PowerPoint, and data rooms – but you have more responsibility and must act more independently in those tasks.
A typical day for a PE Associate might include the following:
- Meet with their boss or other team members to discuss ongoing deals and potential ideas.
- Build a financial model for an active deal or review and tweak an existing one.
- Conduct a conference call with the owners of a private company that might be interested in selling to your firm.
- Review customer contracts in the data room for an active deal.
- Review a portfolio company’s quarterly financial results and speak with the CFO about them.
- Assist with the fundraising process by setting up webinars with potential new Limited Partners (LPs).
- Complete administrative work such as editing NDAs or conducting market research.
Age Range: You need several years of IB or a closely related field to get in, so we’ll say 24-28.
Private Equity Associate Salary + Bonus: Your salary + bonus will probably be in the $150K to $300K range, depending on the size of the firm and your performance.
Some of the large funds may pay more than $300K, but we’re using the 25th percentile to 75th percentile range as a reference here.
Carry is still quite unlikely unless the firm is brand new and you’re an early hire.
Promotion Time: Expect 2-3 years for a promotion to Senior Associate.
Private Equity Associate vs Analyst
As discussed above, the Associate tends to be more involved with the entire deal process from start to finish, while the Analyst might only help with specific tasks the Associate can’t get to.
The Associate is more of a “Coordinator,” and the Analyst is more of an “Assistant.”
Analysts are hired directly out of undergrad, while Associates join following several years in investment banking or a related field, such as management consulting.
Associates also earn more and are more likely to stay at the firm for the long term – if there’s a path to advancement there.
If there is no direct promotion path, Associates might complete an MBA or move into a different industry, such as hedge funds, corporate development, or strategy at a tech company.
Private Equity Senior Associate Job Description
“Senior Associate” and “Associate” are nearly the same.
The main difference is that “Senior Associate” is used to denote:
- An Associate who has been at the firm for a few years and been promoted directly, or
- An Associate who worked for a few years, went to business school, and then returned to the firm.
The work is not much different, but Senior Associates move closer to the VP-level, where they have more “manager” responsibilities.
Age Range: We’ll say 26-32 because at the minimum, you must have completed two years of IB or PE Analyst work, followed by two years of PE Associate work.
Some Senior Associates may be in their low 30s because they may have switched industries after undergrad, broken into IB, switched into PE, and then completed an MBA program.
Private Equity Senior Associate Salary + Bonus: These increase incrementally over the Associate level, but not dramatically so. The range might be more like $250K to $400K depending on the firm size, region, performance, etc.
At this level, a small amount of carry is more plausible. You’re not going to become a multimillionaire and retire at age 35, but it might boost your bonus a bit.
Promotion Time: You’ll need 2-3 years to reach the next level of Vice President.
It’s quite difficult to get promoted to VP because the nature of the job changes a fair amount at that level.
Many Associates and Senior Associates at larger PE firms realize there is no great path to VP there, so they end up going downmarket to advance.
Private Equity Vice President (VP) Job Description
In private equity, Vice Presidents are “deal managers.”
They need to convince the senior team members – Principals and Managing Directors – that they know what they’re doing so that the senior staff trusts them to manage deals.
VPs also lead and mentor others on the team, work more directly with clients, vet transactions, and lead due diligence and negotiations.
The VP role may sound similar to the Associate role, but it is very, very different.
Soft skills start to matter far more at the VP level, and you need to be a good talker and presenter to advance.
If you can prevent an important deal negotiation from falling through with some smooth talk on a conference call, that matters 100x more than being an Excel/VBA guru.
Very few, if any, professionals make it to this level with poor communication skills, but plenty of people with mediocre technical skills make it – as long as they talk and present well.
Age Range: The likely range here is 30-35 because you must have already spent at least ~4 years in PE at the Associate levels, you probably did something before that, and you might have gone to business school as well.
Private Equity Vice President Salary + Bonus: The likely range here is $350K to $500K, with about half in base salary and half in the year-end bonus.
Carry becomes increasingly important at this level, which could boost your bonus a fair amount – but you probably won’t see its full effects unless you stay at the firm long-term.
Promotion Time: You’ll probably need 3-4 years to advance to the Principal level.
Private Equity Principal or Director Job Description
You can think of Principals as “Partners in training.”
They have a lot of decision-making power, but they don’t have the same type of ownership in the partnership that the MDs/Partners do.
Principals leave most of the deal process management to the VPs and Associates and get involved when deals are nearing the finish line, and critical negotiations are required.
They also spend more time on sourcing deals and fundraising, and they are often the ones who convince business owners to consider a sale in the first place.
Principals also act as the go-between between the deal team and the MDs/Partners.
Age Range: It’s 33-39 here because of all the previous experience you need.
Private Equity Principal Salary + Bonus: Compensation reports indicate highly variable numbers, but the 25th to 75th percentile is in the $500K to $800K range.
Carry becomes even more important at this level and may substantially increase total compensation.
Promotion Time: It normally takes 3-4 years to reach the next level of Managing Director or Partner.
Private Equity Managing Director (MD) or Partner Job Description
Partners or Managing Directors are the king of the hill.
They spend their time on fundraising, deal origination, and “fund representation,” which could mean attending events and conferences, speaking with LPs, and doing everything required to boost the firm’s brand name and reputation.
They still spend some time reviewing deals, but they are less involved than the Principals unless it’s an extremely important deal.
Unlike the other roles here, this one depends 100% on human relationships – not Excel, VBA, Python, or small details in documents.
That makes it the toughest job because it’s much harder to address LPs’ concerns and convince them to invest in your new fund than it is to write an Excel formula or lead a deal process.
Oh, and one more thing: MDs and Partners must also invest a significant amount of their personal wealth into the fundto ensure they have “skin in the game.”
So… if you’re a risk-averse person, this is probably not the role for you.
Age Range: You’re unlikely to reach this level before your mid-to-late 30s, so we’ll say 36+. But that’s just the minimum – most Partners are likely in their 40s or beyond.
Many MDs and Partners stay in private equity indefinitely because there’s no reason to leave unless they’re forced out or the firm collapses.
Private Equity Managing Director Salary + Bonus: Compensation here is highly variable, but a reasonable range is $700K to $2 million, with slightly less than half from the base salary.
“Senior Partners” will earn more if the firm makes the distinction.
But carry is the key driver at this level and could increase total compensation by a multiple of the range above.
For example, the senior professionals at firms like Blackstone could earn tens or hundreds of millions per year (!), largely due to carry.
However, you should keep your expectations in check: the average case for total compensation at mid-sized and smaller firms is in the low millions if you make it this far.
Promotion Time: N/A – this is the top of the ladder.
Careers Beyond the MD/Partner Level: Senior Managing Partner, COO, CEO, and More
Some firms distinguish between normal Partners and “Senior” ones; Senior Partners own a higher percentage of the partnership, earn more carry, and have more decision-making power.
At the private equity mega-funds – the likes of Carlyle, Blackstone, and KKR – there are also C-level executive positions in the hierarchy.
There is no set path for advancing into these roles, so it depends on timing, performance, and who’s planning to retire.
We’re not covering them here because there’s little tangible information about these roles, and most students and professionals won’t even make it midway up the ladder.
Private Equity Careers Pros and Cons
Summing up everything above, here’s how you can think about the trade-offs of the private equity career path:
Benefits / Advantages:
- High salaries and bonuses at all levels, with the potential for carry to boost senior-level compensation far beyond what investment bankers earn.
- More interesting work than investment banking and other sell-side roles.
- Somewhat better hours than investment banking, at least at mid-sized and smaller funds, and a more predictable schedule… if you’re not working on a major deal.
- Direct exposure to different companies, industries, and management teams, and significant responsibility even at the junior levels.
- Firms are small, so advancement is directly linked to your performance; office politics is less of a factor than at large banks.
- The industry is unlikely to be disrupted by technology because it’s a relationship-based negotiation and sales role at the top levels.
Drawbacks / Disadvantages:
- Still fairly long hours and an intense work environment, and significant travel may be required, especially as you advance.
- There may not be a clear path to advancement at your firm, depending on the firm’s size and policies and your level. And even if there is a path, advancement can be challenging because Partners rarely get “burned out” and leave.
- You could end up doing a lot of cold calling, research, or portfolio company monitoring rather than deal execution – and even if you do work on deals, you’ll be lucky to close ~1 major transaction per year.
- You won’t gain the same network or structured training that you would at a large bank because PE firms are so much smaller.
- You will have to contribute a significant portion of your net worth at the top levels, which is fine if the fund performs well… but a big issue if it struggles.
- It’s extremely tough to get into the industry if you get a late start, you’re a career changer, or you did not attend a top university and then do investment banking.
So, is private equity right for you?
Rather than assuming that it is because “everyone” does the investment-banking-to-private-equity-path, you should consider these factors and be honest about what you’re looking for in a long-term career.
If you want more of a “business frat” than a party/drinking frat, then a private equity career could deliver.
But if you don’t want to be in the frat house at all, you’ll need to consider strategic alternatives.
About the Author
Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys memorizing obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, traveling like a drug dealer, and defeating Sauron.
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Private Equity Salary and Bonus Data by Position
Full Private Equity Industry Report
The table above is an example of private equity salaries at various levels of seniority. You can gain access to thousands of data points across hundreds of private equity firms in the WSO Company Database.
Private Equity Pay and Carry
From pre-MBA associates to managing directors, private equity pay is traditionally heavily weighted toward the bonus portion as well as carry. Carry or "carried interest" represents the percentage of the upside return that the senior private equity professionals get to keep in the case where returns exceed a certain threshold.
Let's quickly run through an example to explain how carry works and why it can be such a large portion of the compensation at private equity funds.
- Assume carry is 20% for a certain fund that has raised $1 billion (the most common
- Assume things go well and the investment professionals of that fund double the
"value" of the fund through smart acquisitions and exits, so now they have returned $2
billion to their limited partners (LPs).
- The PE fund is entitled to 20% of that incremental $1 billion of value they helped
create for the LPs. In other words, a whopping $200 million (if this fund only has
20-30 investment professionals, the guys at the top that own a majority of it can make
a significant windfall if their funds perform).
In practice, the exact amount that the carry portion is worth will depend on the amount of time it takes to generate returns over and above some hurdle rate (like an 8% annual return), so it's more complicated, but you get the idea.
At the pre-MBA associate level, hours are usually slightly better than an investment banking analyst, except at some private equity mega-funds. Most pre-MBA associates start after two years in investment banking or consulting and receive their first private equity bonus around June to July, approximately one year after they start working. It is rare for pre-MBA associates to receive carry, but it does happen on occasion.
Private Equity Bonus for Senior Investment Professionals
The compensation for Vice Presidents, Directors, and Managing Directors is much more variable, but the salary and bonus is usually much more of a function of the fund's performance since a lot of the compensation is tied up in carry.
See below for an estimated range of current private equity salaries.
Private Equity Compensation:
- Analyst/Associate - First Year: $100K - $250K
- Analyst/Associate - Second Year: $150K - $300K
- Analyst/Associate - Third Year +: $170K - $350K
- Vice President: $300K - $800K
- Managing Director/Partner: $500K - $10MM+
(Again, please note that, at the higher levels, private equity compensation comes with
carried interest, which is directly related to your firm's profitability and may
result in a large payout.)
These private equity salary figures are an approximation and rough range based on the user registration data on Wall Street Oasis as well as the thousands of discussions on PE compensation that the community has had at these levels.
For more details on the specific pay at certain firms, please check out our private equity industry report. Just by adding one submission you can unlock all of this data (sample below) along or pay a small monthly subscription.
Interested in Private Equity? Here's What You Need to Break In
Private equity is recruiting is ten times more cut-throat than anything you've ever experienced before. If you want to break into private equity, you need to be ready for the technical aspects of the interview. The WSO private equity interview course is worth well more than the price of admission.
PE Interview Questions
Private equity salaries swell by 52 per cent to £152k as war for talent with banks intensifies
Private equity firms are prepared to pay junior staff with less than two years experience an average salary of more than £152,000, a jump of 52 per cent compared to two years ago.
In 2019, private equity professionals across Europe with only two years in the industry were paid, on average, just under £100,000 in salary and bonus, according to data from headhunters firm Heidrick & Struggles.
For those with two to four years of experience, an salary of around £181,000 has become the sector’s average, a jump of 42 per cent over the past two years.
For the most senior finance professionals, Heidrick & Struggles found that private equity firms fork out, on average, more than £512,000, an increase of 21 per cent.
Having said that, senior buyout professionals often make even more through carried interest or a stake of the firm’s profits.
Nearly 70 per cent of all UK private equity firms had hiked salaries over the 2019-2020 period, while a further 34 per cent also said they did that last year, the headhunter found.
War on talent
The significant jump underscores the intensifying war on talent in the financial services space, with banks, private equity firms and hedge funds vying for the best and brightest.
In the banking space, Goldman Sachs now offers its first-year analysts salaries of around £70,000 with a range of boutique firms paying salaries in a similar range. Bonuses are now around 100 per cent of the annual salary.
Banks have no choice but to offer more pay as severe workloads are contributing to mass burnout among junior bankers recently, prompting many of them to quit their job.
Up to 70 per cent of analysts and associate teams left their role at banks and financial institutions in recent months, despite firms stepping up their efforts to retain young talent.
Firms have offered wage top ups of up to 20 per cent and one-off bonuses of almost £40,000. But, this is having little impact on junior staffers’ decision to leave.
“Banks are haemorrhaging junior bankers,” said a specialist recruiter, who works with banks on analyst and VP hires. “People are quitting for better banks, they’re quitting the City or they’re jumping into private equity.”
Current turnover rates are around 30 percentage points higher at some firms. The exodus is likely being driven by longer hours since the onset of Covid and intense recruitment tactics from rivals, experts said.
“It’s a complete failure by HR not to see this coming,” said one associate at a European bank. “There’s no urgency to replace people.”
Junior bankers’ working hours have come under intense scrutiny of late after a group of 13 Goldman Sachs employees leaked a presentation highlighting they had regularly been working 80-hour weeks.
The group also said they routinely clock in over 100-hour weeks during fruitful deal periods, putting strain on their mental health and leaving them on the verge of quitting.
Salaries private equity
Private Equity Salary (Mega Funds)
Private equity is a very lucrative career. As an asset class, private equity has enjoyed tremendous success over the past decade. Investors around the globe continue to pile their money into private equity firms. Dry powder (i.e. available cash that private equity firms can invest) hit a record high of $2.5 trillion in 2019. There is a lot of money to go around.
Private equity firms buy companies. Then, they operate and try to improve those companies. Finally, they try to sell these companies at a profit. Private equity employees are compensated for making good investment decisions. The larger and more successful the investment, the more money there is to go around. Mega funds offer large salaries in part because they manage large quantities of money.
If you’d like to learn more about how to break into private equity, feel free to check out our Private Equity Recruiting Course.
The Private Equity Associate
The Private Equity Associate is typically the lowest ranking employee at a private equity firm. The Associate is typically a mid to late 20’s person with a prior background in investment banking, consulting, or other deal-related financial services.
In this post, we’ll do a benchmarking exercise of Associate pay at mega funds. It’s the easiest to try and standardize Associate pay because:
There is the greatest volume of Associates (they are at the bottom of the pyramid), so we have a lot more data to work with.
Associates generally don’t receive carry (i.e. a portion of profits in the fund), so we can just calculate cash and bonus salary to get to a decent answer.
People get dodgier about their salary as they get older, so there’s less transparency.
In short, if you’re at a top mega fund, then you can expect to get paid between $300-$350k per year.
This is meaningfully more than investment banking associates (except at Centerview). Similarly aged top hedge fund analysts will on average make a similar amount to Private Equity Associates, but there is going to be much wider variance across hedge fund salaries. Variance in salary is one of the key differences between private equity firms and hedge funds.
We’re going to start with the list of top funds that we outlined in our post on mega funds. These are the largest funds in the world. They manage the most amount of money and generally hire between 6-12 Associates globally every single year.
We’re going to consult our reliable friend, the H1B Database, which compiles the base salaries of all US employees under the common H1B visa. We lay out the lowest and highest figure we can find for the Associate position at each firm.
Base Salary: Most top Private Equity Associates are going to make between $120k and $140k for their base salary. This is what goes into your bi-weekly paycheck. Congratulations, you’ve almost already cleared what an Investment Banking Analyst makes!
Bonus: The bonus is a lot harder to standardize, but from my personal experience and that of my peers, the bonus range is typically around 150% of the base salary. This depends a lot on the fund performance, group performance, and your own performance. The bonus is a lump sum cash payment that is paid annually.
All-In Comp: When you combine the base salary and the bonus, you get your all-in compensation. I think this bonus % is a little bit on the conservative side and I would say an appropriate range is $300k to $350kall-in compensation as an Associate. As a separate data point, the chart below from GoBuyside compiles survey data they received. At fund sizes greater than $5B, the all-in compensation is on average $315k.
Apollo Global Management: Apollo Global Management is frequently reputed to be the highest-paying firm on the street in terms of all-in compensation, paying their Associates upwards of $400k per year. They have an enormous fund and have an incredible track record of success. They also have a reputation of being pretty intense, but hey, this is private equity we’re talking about.
Annual Raise: The Private Equity Associate program typically lasts 2-3 years. This is more anecdotal, but each year, you can expect between a $25k to $50k raise. This amount will balloon when you get promoted.
This is a great chart from GoBuyside that shows how your fund size really does impact how much you’re able to make. The bigger your fund, the more management fees you can get and the bigger the deals you can do. This is also why asset classes like VC and Growth are systemically slightly lower paying (they invest in smaller companies).
There are two other factors in private equity that can materially drive how much money you make: carry and co-invest.
Private equity firms are paid based on how much profit they can generate from their investments. They are given a portion of this profit, which is known as “carry”. The thing is, most associates don’t get carry. At mega funds, it’s essentially unheard of, and even at sub $1B funds, fewer than 1/5 of people get carry.
I think this is partially because the Associate position is relatively high attrition, and it’s annoying to give Associates carry when they might leave in the next year or so. Private equity fund duration can be up to 10 years and carry payments aren’t going to be received evenly over the course of a couple of years, so it’s tough to divvy up.
Private equity firms also have no incentive to give their precious carry to the Associate. It’s not the market standard and Associates already get paid a very high amount for their age.
Co-investing occurs when you can invest alongside the private equity firm into a deal or fund. This means that when the firm buys a company, you can throw in some money and get some equity in the business. If your fund does what a private equity firm is supposed to and returns 15-20%+ annually, then you might be able to grow your money quickly and safely by co-investing.
The ability to co-invest is theoretically pretty cool because a lot of mid-20s people aren’t going to have access to attractive alternative investments. Note that less than half of all funds even allow co-invest.
One important consideration is that co-investing will have the illiquidity issues that private equity as an asset class has. If you have a large payment coming up (e.g. business school, buying a house, etc.), it might be hard to have a lot of money tied up in a private market investment that you can’t sell out of.
All things considered, you’re going to make $300k to $350k at a top private equity fund as an Associate.
It’ll be interesting to see whether these salary levels are going to remain this high over the next few years. As more money flows into the asset class and more deals get completed, it definitely seems that way.
How to Become a Private Equity Associate
Many investment banking analysts look toward private equity (PE) as the next step in their finance careers. Private equity firms are smaller than investment banks, so there are fewer jobs and competition for these positions can be intense.
Private equity firms hire their entry-level staff as associates and typically expect at least two years of experience as an investment banking analyst. Similar to investment banks, associates at private equity firms can work extremely long hours, especially during deal closings.
- Private equity (PE) investment involves acquiring private companies, often turning around their management and business model, and selling them for a profit.
- Private equity associates work closely with client firms or prospects to conduct due diligence.
- PE professionals must raise capital from outside investors, typically wealthy individuals or organizations.
- Successful associates can earn six-figure incomes in a matter of years.
Most companies start out as private, but a public company can also sell out its public shares and go private if it finds the benefits to be greater. One of the biggest differences in private versus public equity is that private equity investors are generally paid through distributions rather than stock accumulation.
Private equity investors usually receive distributions throughout the life of their investment. Private equity firms mostly buy mature companies that are already established. The companies may be deteriorating or not making the profits they should be due to inefficiency. Private equity firms buy these companies and streamline operations to increase revenues. Venture capital firms, on the other hand, mostly invest in startups with high growth potential.
Private equity firms mostly buy 100% ownership of the companies in which they invest. As a result, the companies are in total control of the firm after the buyout.
From the perspective of a nascent company, private equity often means having to please a smaller clientele. It also means fewer restrictions and investment guidelines from regulators including the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Private equity firms attract capital from high-net-worth individuals as well as institutional investors like foundations, endowments, and pension funds. They invest the capital in privately held companies by either buying companies outright or by investing capital and partnering with the company’s management. Private equity firms make money from the fees they charge the investors and from the carried interest from investments.
Notable private equity firms include TPG Capital, Warburg Pincus, Carlyle Group, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Blackstone Group, and Apollo Management. Most firms are small to mid-sized investment organizations that can range from hundreds of employees to a two-person shop.
Private equity firms are generally much smaller than investment banks and have a correspondingly flatter hierarchy. Entry-level private equity associates can work closely with firm principals and partners on every step of a deal. Associates can feel a great sense of satisfaction in seeing a deal through from its beginning to completion.
Duties as a private equity associate can include the following:
- Analytical modeling: The primary function of the associate is to provide all analytics required for the principals and partners to make an informed decision about a deal. Common tasks include preparing preliminary due diligence reports and modeling with growth forecasts.
- Portfolio company monitoring: Associates are usually assigned portfolio companies to monitor and must maintain up-to-date financials.
- Reviewing CIMs: CIMs or confidential information memorandum are documents investment banks use to provide data about new investment opportunities. Associates receive the CIMs, screen them for potential opportunities that fit within the firm's framework, and provide a simple one-page summary for the senior team.
- Fundraising: When new funds are being formed, associates assist with preliminary fundraising while senior executives handle most of the relationship and client interface.
Most private equity associates stay in their positions for two to three years before being considered for a senior associate. A successful career path at a private equity firm may look like the following:
- Senior Associate (two to three years), to Vice-President/Principal (two to four years), to Director/Partner
Education and Training
Candidates should have a bachelor’s degree in a major like finance, accounting, statistics, mathematics, or economics. Private equity firms do not usually hire straight out of college or business school unless the student has previous significant private equity internships or work experience.
The most important qualification to become a private equity analyst is two to three years prior experience as an investment banking analyst. Some firms also hire former management consultants. Getting an interview takes both a strong network in private equity and knowing the right headhunters. Most private equity firms use headhunters who serve as gatekeepers to these jobs.
Salary and Compensation
Total compensation varies widely because, on top of a salary, associates receive a bonus that reflects closed deals and income generated from deals. For entry-level associate positions, the bonus percentage is often a fixed percentage and less variable than it is for the upper-level managers.
- First-year associate: $50,000 to $250,000, with an average of $125,000. An average first-year salary may be $81,000, with a bonus of 25-50 percent of base salary.
- Second-year associate: $100,000 to $300,000, with an average of $135,000.
- Third-year associate: $150,000 to $350,000, with an average of $160,000.
The Bottom Line
Private equity associates participate in deals from the beginning to close. Even entry‑level associates are an integral member of the team and need to have very strong analytical and leadership skills.
Because the work is satisfying and the financial reward is great, landing one of these sought-after positions is difficult. Starting as a summer intern is perhaps the most straightforward path, but many associates also enter the field from investment banking or management consulting.
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Career In Private Equity – In the present-day scenario, where the markets are dynamic and evolving constantly, it is only a matter of time before a new kid draws the spotlight of attention from the existing players by its entry. ‘Private equity, the jargon has created a lot of buzz over the years, making it the ‘New kid’ in the investment town. It sure is giving a tough run to the investment banking sector and other investment alternatives. The usage of this term has been in heavy rotation in recent years. WHY, you ask? Instead, what you should really be asking is ‘’WHY NOT?’’, the introduction of private equity firms has been nothing but a win-win for both the players across the table. In fact, for all the players on the table, so to speak – The investors, the asset management companies, target companies, the stakeholders in the process, and of course, the private equity themselves, and the people indirectly or directly benefitting from them such as through exchange-traded funds or mutual funds. The private equity firm earns better than public equity markets, and those invested in private equity firms earn reasonably well than an average investor with other investing alternatives. Now, you can fairly imagine what private equities with deep pockets would earn like!
It is undoubtedly the most sought-after stream to get into, and it is indeed receiving the hype it deserves through all the success it is gaining. Before getting thoroughly and properly briefed about what private equities really are, in the forthcoming sections, let us have ourselves address the same in layman’s terms for better understanding. So basically, private equity firms are attractive investment vehicles that utilize their own funds or investment chipped in from investors and search for good investment opportunities, it could be in real estate, venture capital, leveraged buyouts in a fund of funds, etc. this is done through auctions against the other competing bidders, after buying whatever they were looking for, the PE remains invested for long-term and makes big bucks through a profitable exit strategy which could be through – Initial public offer, resale, or other alternative options.
Let’s understand this better.
Now, What Is Private Equity?
‘Private equity,’ ‘Private’ because it acquires private firms or delisted public companies, and ‘Equity’ because it focuses on equity investments. The concept of private equity has grown so much into prominence that investment banking companies such as ‘Goldman Sachs’ and ‘Morgan Stanley’ also have private equity arms.
PE firms are mostly not listed publicly. In few cases, some private equities, such as business development companies (BDCs), offer publicly traded stock giving the average investor to own a slice of the private equity pie. For example, Blackstone Inc. trades its shares publicly on NYSE. So, private equities are investment companies that have funds of their own such as from the capital, management fees, initial investments, and the investments from the outside investors such as pension funds, high net worth individuals (HNIs), qualified institutional buyers (QIBs), venture capitalists (VCs), Investment banks and other investors. Private equity firms generally specialize in a niche, which could be industry-wise, stage of maturity of the company wise (such as in starting stage in case of start-ups or later stages), seed investment-wise, etc. Now, these funds that the PE owns are applied prudently and with careful research and analysis to acquire investments that best fit the company’s portfolio.
These investments can be in the form of distressed funding, leveraged buyout, real estate, fund of funds and, venture capital. These are purchased via auctions where they face huge competition from other investors such as the mergers and acquisitions companies. Once the target firm is acquired, though they are invested in them for the long term, they are not involved daily. Their degree of involvement in the target firm is directly proportional to their stake in that target firm. That is – the higher the degree of stake, the more the involvement and vice-versa. Unlike the ‘Hedge funds,’ who remain invested for short-term on an average of 2-3 months and exit by selling the shares at a profitable margin at the right opportunity. Moreover, the hedge funds are unlikely to invest in non-public companies.
Whereas the private equity firms invest in non-public companies, they also invest in public companies in certain cases and de-list them later during the investment period. Unlike hedge funds, private equity firms remain invested for the long term for the average period of 5-10 years. The minimum period is 2+ years depending on the time, the situation, the company acquired, and the liquidity requirements. The PE company acquires more than 50% of shares of the target company (the company that is being acquired.), the first step after acquiring the stake is de-listing the target company – because by taking public companies private, the PE firms remove the constant public scrutiny of quarterly earnings, reporting and other compliances which then allows them and the acquired firm’s management to take a long-term approach in bettering the fortune of the company.
The next step is ‘Change of management’ was required according to the suitability there are changes in the composition of management of the company, the PE, and the management of the company collectively work towards increasing the EBITDA (Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) during the investment period. And in most cases, the management’s compensation is tied with the firm’s performance, incentivizing the management to track the company’s financials exponentially.
The PE also makes an effort to progressively improve the financial performance of the acquired company through rendering various services such as advisory, formulating, implementing controlling and monitoring strategies, consulting, operations, and financial management. By building the company and its financials internally and scaling up its market value, the PE with a good opportunity and profitable exit strategy sell the stake in the investment by resale/IPO/ alternate options.
The steps mentioned above might not be necessarily executed in the given order as it is ‘Relative’ to companies and not an ‘Absolute’ protocol.
Structure And Composition Of A Private Equity Firm
A private equity firm could be of two types depending on the business requirement. It could be in the form of – 1) ‘Limited partnership’ or 2) ‘Closed-end funds.’ Limited partnerships are usually practiced in the United States, and Closed-end funds form of PEs are generally practiced in the European countries.
Under a limited partnership, there are two kinds of partners – the ‘General partners’ and the ‘Limited partners.’ General partners are those with full liability, and the limited partners have limited liability on their part. The functions of general partners include management of funds, post-investment advisory, target company portfolio selection. They also charge the partners a management fee and manage the portfolio and investment in other companies.
The compensation structure in the limited partnership is that of ‘2% -20%,’ but the norm can vary according to the company’s framework. ‘2% – 20%’ scheme is where the 2% denotes the management fees collected from the partners, and 20% denotes the share of profits to general partners. The limited partners receive from the residual proceeds that are left after what is given to general partners. That is, limited partners receive ‘All proceeds – 20% to GP’. The general partners have 1st preference over the limited partners. This could sometimes be beneficial for limited partners and sometimes not, depending on the company’s degree of profits. Therefore, the general partners face less risk than the limited partners in the case of returns.
THIS IS HOW A 2-20% COMPENSATION STRUCTURE LOOKS LIKE:
NOTE – HURDLE RATE ONLY COMES TO THE PICTURE WHEN THE SAME IS AGREED UPON DURING THE PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENT. IT DEFINES A CERTAIN MINIMUM RATE OF RETURN THAT NEEDS TO BE ACHIEVED BEFORE ACCRUING CARRIED INTEREST TO GENERAL PARTNERS.
Close End Funds
The closed-end funds have the same compensation scheme as the limited partnership structure. Here, in this case, there is a newly created entity in which the investors such as high net-worth individuals, qualified institutional buyers, venture capitalists, and other sorts of investors invest, and an ‘asset management company (AMC) is called to sign a management contract to manage the newly established PE firm. The first phase that this newly established company undergoes is the formation phase, which lasts up to 2 months to 3 years, and then comes the investment phase, which lasts up to 5 years. The investment phase is where predominantly most of the transitional activities get done, such as identifying target companies, optimizing the company’s portfolio, change of management, etc. Next is the ‘Divestiture’ which could last up to 5 years or so. This is where the market volatility is taken into consideration. The general state of the economy is studied. After all the research and analysis are done, the hunt for finding the right buyer begins. And the fund proceeds from the sale are distributed among the asset management company, investors, stakeholders, general partners, and limited partners in case of a limited partnership.
Career In Private Equity Firms
Private equity is indeed an enticing career to take up. Three vital factors help back up that statement. These factors act as a barometer to measure the viability of a certain career – 1) Payscale, 2) knowledge and experience derived from the job, and 3) investment of time (work hours). And to your delight, private equity firms sufficiently satisfy all three criteria, making it a fascinating and very lucrative career. They don’t need to work as long as those at investment banking companies. The work hours are less as compared to the IB and other finance industries in private equities. The work hours reduce as you go up the hierarchy. Even the associates are paid high amounts at their age! And the bonuses have the scope to scale up to 150% of base salary easily.
The two key compensation trends in the private equity industry are:
- Salaries and bonuses for private equity are growing and at a faster rate than in the overall market.
- Carried interest is increasingly being distributed downwards and upwards in the hierarchy in the firm.
The pay in private equity firms drastically increases from one year to the next. For instance, the average increase in 2019 in an analyst’s pay was – $1,00,000 in the first year to $1,30,000 in the second year to $1,60,000 in the third. Which are, mind you, 10-20% higher than an investment banking analyst’s average pay. In 2019, the managing partner’s pay ranged from $1.1 million – $ 3.7 million for companies with greater than $20 billion in AUM (Asset under management). And, for directors and partners of companies with AUM greater than $5 billion, it ranged from $5,96,000 – $2.2 million, and the mean cash compensation for partners was hovering around $5,92,000. And likewise for associates it ranged from $1,70,000 – $3,15,000.
Factors Determining The CTC In Private Equity Firms
- THE FIRM SIZE – Apparently, the firm size plays a crucial role in determining the CTC of a candidate. Now, if you are at the top megafund, you can expect to get paid big. Needless to state, the prominence and size of the firm also influence the pay up to some extent. The big players in the private equity industry include ‘The Carlyle Group Inc.,’ ‘KKR & co. Inc’, ‘The Blackstone Group Inc.,’ ‘TPG Capital’ so on and so forth make quadruple times more than any other, and eventually, the staff reaps the benefits of its goodwill. ‘Apollo Global Inc.,’ ‘Brookfield Asset Management’ and ‘The Blackstone Group Inc.’ is the highest paying private equity firm. Generally, it is not a market standard to pay carry (the portion of profits in the fund) to associates. But big firms with assets under management of $1.5 billion pay up to 18% carry to their associates.
- EXPERIENCE AND QUALIFICATION – Generally, it is tough for an undergrad or graduate/ fresher holding just an associate’s or bachelor’s degree to get into a private equity firm. The private equity firms are generally recruiting those with master’s degrees or postgraduate degrees with experience or at the least a combination of bachelor’s degrees + 3 years of experience in the finance industry. The asking price increases with experience. In most cases, it is observed that the private equity firms generally recruit an ex-investment banker or ex-consultants or those running start-ups as they are no strangers to the finance industry and as they have requisite working knowledge and experience in skillsets such as financial modeling, financial valuation, investment judgment, etc. More the experience, the higher the position on the hierarchy – A person with 2-4 years of relevant working experience could be promoted to the position of an associate, similarly with 5-8 years of experience, you are promoted to the role of vice-president, 9-15 years could fetch you the position of a director or a principal, and with 15+ years of experience you could see yourself being promoted to the position of a partner!
- ASSET UNDER MANAGEMENT – The AUM of the company in 90% cases is directly proportional to the pay. Asset under the management of the private equity firm gives us an idea of the magnitude of the firm, its assets, and its size—the greater the AUM, the bigger the paycheck, and vice versa.
- COUNTRY LOCATION – To some extent, the country’s location also plays a pivotal role in differential pay structure. For instance, normally, only partners and positions up in the hierarchy are entitled to carry interest (a share in the profit) according to industrial norms. But, in 2019, 30% of the North American firms and 37.5% of European firms allocated carry to non-partner admin or support staff. And the workers of PE firms in APAC and middle eastern countries were deprived of the same. The analyst in the US earns $86,000, whereas the same analyst would earn just about $57000 in Asia. Similarly, the pay of an associate is way higher ($1,07,000) in the US than what an associate would earn in a European country ($82,000). But, on the contrary, the partner in a European country earns much higher than what a partner would earn in the states. The same is the case with a Sr. associate and director/principal being paid the highest in the US and lowest in Asian countries.
- POSITION IN THE HIERARCHY – Position in the hierarchy is another important factor that has a huge impact undoubtedly for obvious reasons on the paycheck of an individual. The upper side of the hierarchy tends to have bigger paychecks than those at the bottom. The private equity firms do not have a complex hierarchy or a massive number of members or employees under it, so the ones under it make much more than the others as the profits are divisible by a smaller group of numbers. Hence obscene returns are bound to happen. The hierarchy in PE firms, starting with the junior level, analysts, then comes to the associates and the Sr. associates. At the mid-senior level, you have vice president, president/director, and then at the very top of the hierarchy, managing director or partner.
- THE ANALYSTS – An analyst works on an average of 65 hours a week. He is unlikely to receive a carried interest. He is entitled to receive an average pay, including that of bonus and salary around $1,00,000 -$1,50,000. An analyst’s duties include reporting to the associate or immediate senior and analyzing the company’s investments and portfolio, setting up conference calls, assisting associates, etc. They usually get promoted after 2-3 years.
- THE ASSOCIATES – An associate works on an average for 60 hours weekly, even he is unlikely to receive the carry, and his average pay range exists between $1,50,000 – $3,00,000. The duties of an associate include research, due diligence, financial modeling, report writing, reviewing and summarizing confidentiality information memorandum, etc. Their promotion time range is equal to that of analysts, that is, 2-3 years.
- THE SR. ASSOCIATES – A senior associate is estimated to work for about 65 hours weekly. He is entitled to receive a small portion in the carry and is also entitled to a pay range of $2,50,000 – $4,00,000. The duties of a Sr. associate include guiding his subordinates, reporting to the vice-president and president as the case may be, portfolio management etc. They also have a similar duration of promotion time, that is, 2-3 years.
- VICE-PRESIDENTS – A Vice-president who comes under the mid-senior cap works weekly roughly around 55 hours and is entitled to grow a portion of carrying and a pay range between $3,50,000 – $5,00,000. His duties include supervising associates, assist MD and partner, negotiating deals, establishing and maintaining relationships with investment bankers, consultants, and financial professionals who can be a source of leads for investment opportunities. Their duration of promotion time is 3-4 years.
- DIRECTORS/PRESIDENTS/PRINCIPALS – They have quite similar duties to vice presidents and greater leadership responsibilities. They are entitled to a large portion of carrying. And with a promotion time of 3-4 years. They are entitled to a pay range of $5,00,000 – $8,00,000 on an average—the estimation of weekly working hours of principal hover around 50 hours.
- MANAGING DIRECTOR/ PARTNERS – They are the lifeblood of PE firms. Their weekly estimation of working hours is around 40 hours. This is the highest one can reach in a private equity firm; hence promotions are not applicable after this stage. They are entitled to the biggest portion of carrying (upward of 3 million dollars) and are entitled to a staggering pay range of $7,00,000 – $2 million. Their duties are ultimate and have a ripple effect and determine the direction of the firm. Their job includes – making final decisions, structuring investment deals, actively solicit investors, etc.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The private equity industry is worth betting on from the standpoint of every position on the hierarchy. As not only is the career highly lucrative, but the learning curve’s growth is much faster. With on-the-job training and priceless experience at the PE firm, the individual’s skillsets are honed, and he will have a myriad of options open to him in the finance industry as someone who’s had his experience come from a PE industry. Hence, if you find an opportunity, join that in a heartbeat!
Also read How to Become a Private Equity Associate in 2021?