Kellogg Spotlight

A Spring 2022 conversation with two members of the Kellogg Private Equity Club’s executive team

Name: John Puglia

Program: Two-Year Full-Time MBA Program, Class of 2022

Path: After graduation, I will be joining Geneva Glen Capital as a VP after interning with the firm during my time at Kellogg. Geneva Glen is a lower-middle market private equity firm based in Chicago.

Name: Matt Treuth

Program: Two-Year Full-Time MBA Program, Class of 2023

Path: I will be interning this summer at Westcap, a growth equity fund, working in their strategic operations (StratOps) group. I am planning to recruit for full time private equity operating roles, including portfolio company leadership programs and value creation teams.

Thanks to you both for the time to chat with us. Please share a little bit about your background. What led you to think about pursuing your MBA and what stuck out about Kellogg?

JP: I studied finance in undergrad, then spent three years in a fund finance/valuations role at a large private equity firm before moving into an investment role at a small publicly-traded holding company. For me, the decision to pursue my MBA was easy. Six years into my career, it felt like good timing, and I was interested in returning to a more traditional private equity environment. Kellogg stood out right away as a top option. It has the right mix of a strong private equity presence and resources, a well-rounded academic offering, and overall program quality. I was confident Kellogg would position me to meet my goals, and it has.

MT: I spent my pre-MBA career working in PwC’s consulting group, most recently a Senior Manager in the finance management consulting practice based in Los Angeles. I always had the goal of getting an MBA to broaden my skill set and become a better leader. I felt that it was the right time (both professionally and personally) to pursue that goal. As I applied to schools, a friend in the JD/MBA program spoke with me about the PE funds that recruit at Kellogg for operational roles and I became really interested in the space. Every Kellogg student and alum that I spoke with was passionate, down to earth, driven, and painted a picture of a very welcoming community. Ultimately, this combination of professional opportunity and the community made me choose Kellogg.

So what's it like being here? If you had to boil it down to 3 words, how would you best characterize your Kellogg experience?

JP: There is no doubt that Kellogg is a special place. If I had to summarize the experience in three words, I’d choose: Inspiring, Collegial, and Enriching.

• Inspiring: The great thing about business school is that you get to spend time with a lot of incredibly talented people. At Kellogg, your peers are all accomplished and interesting people, and many professors are leading experts in their fields. Amazing guest speakers – including CEOs of fortune 500 companies, researchers and experts, entrepreneurs, and more – visit campus routinely. It gives you a lot of energy when you can be around these kinds of people, and there is so much you can learn.

• Collegial: I think most top business schools have a distinctive persona or niche, and Kellogg is known for having a highly collegial culture. I believe this reputation is well earned. From day one, the entire experience is built around working in teams, collaborating on club and other activities outside class, and a rich social experience. People will bend over backwards to help each other. The amount of help my peers gave me with interview prep, networking and job leads, and career advice was truly astonishing.

• Enriching: There is so much available to you at Kellogg that it’s hard not to have a deeply enriching experience. There is an incredible array of classes, clubs for every career path and for other interests, and so many incredible people to meet. I think Kellogg’s location also adds greatly to the experience. Evanston is an awesome town and Northwestern’s campus is beautiful. I spend most of my time up here, but you also have Chicago right next door which opens up a lot of opportunities: a greater variety of restaurants and fun stuff on the weekends, and easy access to companies for networking and internships. You also have Lake Michigan – I love fishing, so I made sure to do a bit of that and enjoyed the beaches as well. It’s amazing all that you can get out of your two years at Kellogg, both professionally and personally.

MT: My Kellogg experience has been everything I had expected and more. To summarize it in three words, I would say Growth, Opportunity, Immersive.

• Growth: Kellogg pushes its students to be better, more empathetic leaders, which requires deep personal reflection. I’d like to think that this reflection and subsequent action has made me grow as a person, both professionally and personally.

• Opportunity: From the moment I was admitted to Kellogg, I was amazed at the opportunity that the program provides. I immediately recognized Kellogg’s brand value when I was able to do a pre-MBA internship with Datto, a Vista Equity portfolio company. Once you are on campus, the amount of opportunity is truly astonishing. There are so many clubs, professional organizations, and potential career paths that have made me grateful to have such an array of opportunity.

• Immersive: There are many opportunities for students to get hands-on experience while studying at Kellogg. During my first year, I was able to work part-time with a Kellogg alumnus as he purchased a business through a search fund and work with a growth stage business through an independent study. These immersive learning experiences have enabled me to hone my career goals and apply the concepts that I have learned in class.

John, we hate to break it to you but as a second year, your time at Kellogg is coming to a close. What Kellogg resources have you utilized to help you make the most of your time here as you pursue your career goals?

JP: I know! It’s hard to believe my two years at Kellogg are nearly over. However, it is nice to look back and feel proud of all the hard work and pleased that I was able to achieve my career goals that brought me here, thanks to the resources and people at Kellogg. I suppose I can narrow it down to three things that really made the difference for me.

1. First is the academic experience, which I think MBA students sometimes underemphasize. It is invaluable to work with world class professors to learn business frameworks, bolster fundamentals in some areas while sharpening expertise in others, and study dozens (hundreds?) of case studies and business examples.

2. Second is my classmates, especially the private equity people. I learned an incredible amount about various industries and about private equity more generally by talking to peers, and there were several classmates in particular who were extremely generous with their time helping me strategize on my career plans.

3. Last, and perhaps greatest of all, was Kellogg’s Private Equity Lab program. Students partner up with a private equity firm and work on a part-time basis for about 10 weeks. I did this with a Chicago-based firm called Geneva Glen Capital, and it grew into a summer internship and ultimately a full-time role for me, so naturally I was happy with the result!

Tell us more about your experience with Private Equity Lab and your internship!

JP: Yes, I began with Geneva Glen through Kellogg’s Private Equity Lab program working part time during spring quarter of my first year. I then stayed on as an intern through the summer and went back to interning part-time when school resumed. We began discussing a full-time role and now I will be joining Geneva Glen after graduation!

As you might guess, given I kept coming back, I absolutely loved the experience. The Geneva Glen team was generous with their time teaching me along the way and made sure to include me in as many workstreams as possible during that part-time period. Getting live deal experience during your MBA is extremely valuable, especially for anyone with an atypical background hoping to transition into a PE Investing role.

I should include the caveat that the host firms each offer a different experience to students and are not obligated to offer internships or full-time roles. I think Kellogg is cautious to manage expectations in that regard. But it does happen, and even if no long-term opportunity arises, I think it's an invaluable learning experience.

Matt, private equity operating roles have grown tremendously over the past few years. Can you explain the types of opportunities this category includes?

MT: Within the PE Club, we’ve developed two categories for private equity operating roles; those with private equity owned portfolio companies and those at the fund level.

At the portfolio company level, private equity funds will hire MBA students directly into leadership roles in their businesses. The private equity fund will usually have a leadership development program that provides support and mentorship while they are placed into a jack-of-all trades operational role such as a Chief of Staff or VP of Special Projects. After a few years in the program, there is often an opportunity to take a C-level leadership role at the same or a different portfolio company within the fund. These opportunities tend to be with lower middle market funds.

Some funds have a fund-level have a value creation team that is dedicated to driving growth in the portfolio companies. These value creation teams function as in-house consultants and work across many portfolio companies to drive strategic initiatives and growth. These opportunities tend to be with larger funds who look for candidates with consulting experience or functional expertise.

What sparked your interest in PE operating roles and how has your time at Kellogg helped you pursue that path?

MT: I loved the consistent challenges and fast paced environment of consulting. Some of my favorite projects were those where I was able to fully embed in a client team and work as a “jack of all trades” to solve challenging programs. Once I learned about the PE operating roles that recruited at Kellogg, I saw them as a way to maintain the aspects of consulting that I loved while fully aligning my incentives to the portfolio company I’d be working for.

Kellogg has many important resources that help students land private equity operating roles. First, there are many funds who recruit Kellogg students each year and the Kellogg brand is very strong. Second, Kellogg alums are always willing to chat with current students as they think about their career journey. Finally, the career management center has great professionals who are focused on building relationships with PE funds and finding operational roles. The career center helped me find my role with Westcap for the summer.

You have also both taken on leadership roles within the Private Equity Club. What motivated you to get involved and what has your experience been like?

JP: There were two primary reasons I wanted to be involved. First, I thought a club leadership position would provide unique opportunities to meet classmates and alumni in private equity. Second, it was one area where I felt I could give back to Kellogg and try to support the school’s private equity program. It’s been a whirlwind, but I think I can say “mission accomplished”! We were able to build on the existing interview prep and other programming for the benefit of future generations of Kellogg PE people, and I have gotten to meet and learn from so many others who have had success in the industry. It has been a very rewarding experience for me.

MT: wanted to meet people in private equity and network with other students interested in operating roles. The experience has been great so far. Two classmates and I worked together on private equity operations initiatives for the club. We established a new experiential learning course focused on private equity operations (PE Lab, Program B) and worked with the career center to bring further clarity to what has historically been an opaque career option.

What has been your favorite non-professional experience so far at Kellogg?

MT: KWEST! Before the first week of school, I took a trip to the Smoky Mountains and Nashville with ~15 other incoming Kellogg students. We had a spectacular group of second year students who led us on activities such as exploring Dollywood, river tubing, hot chicken tasting and of course going out on Broadway. KWEST is a great way to meet people before classes officially start.

JP: One Kellogg tradition I love is the “section” experience. All Full-Time / 2Y MBA students are assigned to sections associated with nicknames and mascots – for example I’m a “Big Dog”. It sounds a little silly but there’s a lot of programming built around the sections, such as intramural sports leagues. There is also a lot of informal stuff, such as small group events and weekend trips or retreats. It’s a great way to make things more welcoming for new students and most sections really do keep up with each other over the course of their two years – some of my best friends at Kellogg are Big Dogs!

Do either of you have any advice for future MBA students in general or future Kellogg MBAs in particular?

JP: I would suggest developing a strategy for your MBA experience before you get started. It flies by quickly and there is so much available to you – different types of classes, clubs, internships and other hands-on learning opportunities, mentorship programs... the list goes on and on. It can be overwhelming, so having a clear picture of what you want to emphasize helps!

MT: Enjoy it! There are so many opportunities at Kellogg that it can be easy to oversubscribe and overextend yourself. Fight the urge to be involved in everything and focus your attention where it matters most. Set aside some personal time for yourself and enjoy every minute of this experience.