Some private equity execs have traded in their suits for sneakers and sweatpants, taking to socially-distanced walks that mix business with some much needed fresh air and IRL (in real life) interaction.
“A bunch of us in the Boston community – as opposed to Zoom – we’ve been going on 6-foot-distanced PE walks,” said Mark Carter, co-head of TA Associates’ North America Healthcare Group. “We’re trying to help each other out and share best practices.”
The idea is spreading, said Carter, calling it a “round robin of firm heads” coming together to brainstorm and talk things out as PE groups navigate through never-before-seen challenges. (Pictured below, Carter is joined by Advent International managing partner John Maldonado for a recent socially-distant walk.)
Although an everything-remote environment has rid all of business travel, many private equity execs remain extraordinarily busy. On calls for about seven or eight hours a day, Carter to stay active has found other ways to multitask in his home in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
“The Carter stairs are getting exercised,” the managing director said, recalling his wife’s puzzled reaction the first time she caught him breaking a sweat on the staircase. “Things you can accomplish in an hour face-to-face just seem to take longer, so in order to make time for exercise, I put in EarPods [during work calls] and walk up and down the staircase.”
The home office has also created a new, and sometimes comical, backdrop for Carter.
“I’m here with three kids,” said Carter from his attic, where he often sits posted up at an old card table with a pink lamp his daughter had in her room several years ago. “School comes first, so all the kids have been taking over the home office.”
The family’s new boxer puppy – which the Carters welcomed just as the crisis was beginning to escalate – has become a regular attendee of all Zoom calls, whether that’s with management teams or on TA’s international investment committee meeting.
“Because the puppy is not potty trained, the puppy has to sit on my lap at all times,” said Carter.
By design, Carter doesn’t try to make his new work-from-home setup look artificial. Instead, he makes it a point to virtually invite people into his home.
“You might think it’s distant and it’s cold on the computer, but if you set it up, such that it’s warm, inviting and a glimpse of your life, it can be disarming,” Carter said.
Being authentic, in Carter’s view, allows management teams and CEOs – who are are stressed beyond belief – to see you on a human level during a time of heightened sensitivity. “It’s tough to convey that in a suit in a nice office.”
TA also has strategies to engage more junior people at the firm, including a beard-and-mustache-growing contest that has now gone on for several weeks.
Carter, admitting he only lasted about three weeks, said whoever claims victory with the biggest or best facial hair will donate the pool of winnings towards the charity of their choosing.
“People are just burly … It’s actually unruly,” Carter joked, recalling a recent video call with a foreign management team, where his colleague went to great lengths to explain the rationale behind his peculiar handlebar mustache.
As a firm, the global growth equity shop is focused on providing helpful information to management teams it knows, versus reaching out to businesses for the first time with a marketing presentation on TA.
Talking about new investment opportunities, there are slivers of healthcare that have been marginally impacted, but, Carter said, “the best companies aren’t going to sell at a major discount.”