How Fearlessness & Curiosity Shaped a 28-year Career in Private Equity
Andrea Auerbach ‘91
Global Head of Private Investments, Cambridge Associates
Andrea Auerbach ‘91 started her 28-year career in private equity after graduating from Smith as an economics major and studio art minor. Before Andrea started interviewing for her first position at Prudential Financial she didn’t know exactly what she was getting herself into:
“I had no idea what this world of private equity entailed or even what a leveraged buyout was,” she reflects. “I had to be willing to meet people and ask what they did to better understand the opportunity.”
Andrea’s positive early experiences of being part of a very inclusive team helped her quickly learn the principles of investing and immediately captured her interest in the private investment space. “This arena just really sparked joy for me — to use Marie Kondo’s words,” Andrea says and laughs. Today, Andrea is the Head of Global Private Investments at Cambridge Associates and manages a team of 50 people globally.
While most people are somewhat familiar with the public equity market, namely the trading of public stocks on an exchange, fewer people know what Andrea’s position entails. Unlike in public investment, there is no “exchange” for private equity. In this arena, investors aim to raise money to buy ownership stakes in private companies, usually through funds. “The idea is through their active ownership these teams will help the company grow and prosper and then later—usually several years later—participate in the sale of the company, earning a return for investors.” Andrea’s job, and the job of her global team, is to find these teams anywhere in the world and evaluate whether their investment opportunity will produce the expected returns for clients. In addition to doing the actual business of investing, Andrea spends a significant portion of her time cultivating the talents of her team. “I check in with people and make sure they have what they need to be successful,” Andrea says. “These roles are very demanding and it’s important to have a strong and positive culture enabling everyone to feel like they are valued contributors.
When we asked Andrea what kinds of skills a career in private equity requires, she names curiosity and interest as two key components of any successful career.
“Have an interest level and curiosity that really fuels you further and further into the space,” she advises. “We only get one life on this earth and if you are able to find an opportunity that you are really intrigued by and professionally curious about, that will make you very effective in that role.”
Andrea gives a lot of credit to undergraduates today, many of whom are keenly aware of what they are passionate about and are fearlessly going after it. According to Andrea, the field of private equity specifically requires both a baseline understanding of essential skills such accounting, as well as an innate inquisitiveness and willingness to learn. “I average about 250 meetings a year with different investment opportunities and if you not willing to be engaged, be present and ask questions, you may not get the right information you need to make an investment decision,” Andrea explains.
Looking back at her time at Smith, Andrea pinpoints two very important skills that she gained during her undergraduate career that helped her succeed in private equity. For one, she values the liberal arts experiences that taught her how to put on different hats at different times. “I’m sure you are familiar with Star Wars...every now and again someone has to get into the machine gun turret in the Millennium Falcon and starting pivoting around 360 degrees, aiming and shooting at things. Similarly, I think nothing sets you up better for the multifaceted experience of private investing than the breadth and depth of education across liberal arts.” Additionally, Andrea valued the experience of constantly seeing women in leadership positions, which allowed Andrea to become very accustomed to the idea of speaking up, participating, and taking the lead. “That really instilled the sense that of course I’m going to be contributing and not second guessing that contribution,” Andrea reflects—a mindset that proved to be particularly useful in the heavily male-dominated field like private equity.
Andrea’s advice for current Smithies is to not be fearful about going after opportunities that excite them. Andrea stresses you don’t need to be an expert on private investing as a recent graduate. When Andrea hires undergraduate students for her team, she doesn’t expect them to know the ins and outs of private investing. She advises Smithies: “don’t feel like you have to go into an interview or into a discussion with all the answers.” Andrea also encourages Smithies to fearlessly leverage their network.
“Go beyond the job fairs, think about what’s interesting for you, utilize the alumnae database, leverage whatever you can and don't be afraid to reach out and contact individuals you don’t really have a connection to,” Andrea says. “This is your life, be fearless about going after it.”
Andrea Auerbach ‘91
Andrea Auerbach ‘91 graduated from Smith as an economics major and studio art minor. Andrea started her career in private equity right after graduating from Smith in ‘91 and has not left the private investment space since. She is passionate about helping her clients get the return on their investments they need to follow their own missions. As the Head of Global Private Investments at Cambridge Associates, Andrea manages a team of 50 people that oversee over $10 billion in investments each year.
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