I have only had three jobs in the 27 years since graduating university, always in the direct investment field – first at a small buyout firm, then for a family office doing direct investments, then co-founding my own venture capital firm. Getting into private equity was as hard then as it is now, particularly coming directly out of school with no family relatives in the industry and no prior experience.
This is about the first firm I worked for, named Finevest Services (later called Interlaken Capital). I was set to graduate 6 months early from university and they needed 1-2 analysts who could start straight away, so I applied and was selected to be one of a couple dozen students to interview. As the go-getter I was in those days, I booked the first interview of the day, 8:30am. The firm was in Greenwich, CT, a town I had never been to before, and so the prior night I drove from Philadelphia and stayed at my grandmother’s home in Brooklyn NY, about 1 hour away from Greenwich by car.
The next morning, I got out of bed around 7AM, and my sweet, at the time 81 year old grandmother (who has clearly been up for 1-2 hours already) says to me, “Stevela, vhat did you do vith your car? I looked vhere you usually park it, and there is just a bunch of glass.”
Yes, my car was stolen in the middle of the night before my big interview. (The police would find the car 2 weeks later, as a burned out shell, somewhere off the Taconic).
I called the police, and they said I would have to go in person to fill out the police report, and because it was an out of state car and I was an out of state resident I couldn’t go to a local police station but had to go to the main one.
My grandmother never learned to drive, and the buses were not running regularly that morning, so I only got to the police station some time around 8:30am. Apparently, stolen cars were not as high a priority as, say, violent crimes, because it took almost 3 hours for them to see me and take all of my details. I called from a pay phone at the police department (this was well before the era of cell phones) to the reception of Finevest to tell them I was going to be “somewhat late” for my interview, the first of several calls to them that day.
After I finish the police report, I find my way to Grand Central Station in Manhattan (it could have been Penn Station, I don’t remember all the details) by bus and foot. At that time, trains to Greenwich were less frequent. My plan was to take a train up to Greenwich, which in those days was just over a one hour journey, and with all my tribulations to that stage my estimated arrival was about 2pm.
About twenty minutes into the trip, the train stops. 5 minutes pass. 10 minutes pass. Finally an announcer comes on the speaker…
“There is a dead body on the tracks. It is going to be a little bit before we are back moving again.”
A little bit turned into over an hour and a half before they could remove the dead body, have the police inspectors at the scene, and get the train moving again.
Finally I arrive at the Greenwich train station, walk to the Finevest offices on Mason Street, and arrive for my 8:30am interview just after 4:15pm. Of course, when possible along the journey I have been finding pay phones to update the Finevest reception of my estimated time of arrival, so my story probably was well circulated throughout the office by the time I arrive.
The kind assistant brings me to the managing partner’s office. Andy Mason, the partner in question, unbeknownst to me, had an interesting sense of humor to him. In addition to the usual photos of his family on the desk and his tombstones of successful deals that he had closed, he had tied to the cord on the window blinds (the one that opens and closes the blinds) a rubber chicken, which he had tied in a perfect hangman’s noose.
I sit in the chair across from Andy. I look at him. I look around the room, at the awards, at the pictures, at the window staring out into the Greenwich afternoon. I look back at him, and I say, “God I know just how that chicken feels.”
To this day, I am convinced that one line got me the job and my 20+ year career in venture capital/private equity.