After having joined Independence in September 2021, we ask Ben to share some of his experience and observations as a window into the business for future prospective candidates
Tell us about your background?
After finishing school, I spent a year in Australia playing cricket as part of the Darren Lehmann Cricket Academy in Adelaide. From there, I went on to Loughborough University to study Economics and continued playing cricket, playing regularly for the Loughborough 1st team and being asked to be one of the 3 club captains before the Covid pandemic cancelled the cricket season in my final year. During Covid, I wanted to continue my development so completed an MSc in Finance at Lancaster University, achieving a distinction, whilst independently developing coding skills in Python and Django.
I have always felt that economics underpins everything in the modern business world; and so I felt pursuing economics would allow me to have the opportunity to work in a vast array of fields. I have a particular interest in behavioural economics – the way people think about and utilise their money, and why people often don’t utilise their money in the most rational way. I really enjoyed trying to combine the theories of economics with the practical aspects of behavioural economics/behavioural finance, and I feel working in corporate finance is a natural transition from the university work I have done.
What about corporate finance/private equity appealed?
The core interest for me in working in corporate finance was, and still is, the opportunity to work in a multitude of different industries. I do not believe that I am at my best when working on one particular thing repeatedly; I am much more engaged when working in a constantly changing environment, or a variety of different things. Independence Capital has allowed me the opportunity to work on a wide variety of deals, and apply the skills I have learnt throughout my time at university. Furthermore, I enjoy the opportunity of working alongside and learning from our great client leaders/teams who are pioneers in their own field.
Why Independence Capital?
I joined Independence Capital after finishing my Finance degree at Lancaster. I was hopeful that working in a young and growing company would allow me the opportunity to have a broad span of experience and to see the impact that my work made to the ongoing success of the projects we were running. I believed that such an environment would allow me to develop in a richer and quicker fashion than the more common graduate-entry roles, where the work can be quite narrow and limited in terms of exposure. I also believed that working alongside Max Ward (Founder/MD) would be hugely beneficial to my development, learning practical skills in the board room to complement the theoretical understanding I gained across my university degrees. I am pleased to say my experiences of my time thus far have reflected what I hoped the job would allow me to achieve.
Tell us how your first year has gone?
Quickly! From my first day at Independence, I have been given the opportunity to work in all ongoing strategies; as a result, I spent the first couple of months understanding the nuances and details of each client/deal and since then there hasn’t really been a spare minute as we work with the teams to execute on their chosen strategy as well as the IC team develop their own processes to better serve existing and future clients.
What have you found most interesting?
Definitely the opportunity to analyse a vast range of different businesses and assessing the suitability of those companies for our strategies. It has also been interesting, and educational, to see those businesses progress through our transaction process – as I close out my first 6-months we are now seeing completions on those transactions which were nascent and undefined when I first joined, seeing the fruits of our labour so quickly is pleasing, so to is being able to help (and learn from) our great clients, who each bring insights it wouldn’t possible typically for a graduate to access so soon.
Where do you think you’ve brought value to the company/clients?
I believe I have helped develop a more streamlined process for our existing buy-side process – drawing on my data and programming skills we now not only have exceptionally robust data assets but are building our own intellectual property/technical tools which will aid the business and our clients in the future in a way that none of our industry peers seem willing or able to.
What have you found most challenging?
Initially, jumping into multiple ongoing strategies (comprising dozens of individual deals), was something I found to be a bit overfacing, however this has passed over time as I have been increasingly involved and confident in each of the strategies. The M&A process is obviously new to me and whilst inherently fluid and unstructured each and every deal seems to chart a slightly different path, which can be a challenge to stay on top of at times but is thrilling and a great way to learn many lessons quickly.
Where do you see yourself developing over time?
The world of private equity and corporate finance is so vast, there is clearly so much still to experience and learn – I have no fixed goal in mind, at the minute I am excited simply to add to my knowledge and credentials working with clients to help build their groups. I also believe I can continue to develop my programming skills and continue to utilise them in the work we do, which will enable us to bring value to our long term projects more quickly and efficiently.
What would your advice be to jobseekers out there in the same position as you 12m ago?
I think it is important to understand what it is you are looking for in a job/company. I felt working in a smaller, growing company, where I had the opportunity to work on a wide range of tasks, was the right opportunity for me, even though a lot of people I graduated with were going off to work for bigger companies working in a very specific role. Knowing what you want to achieve and in what environments you best work will help you target what type of company you want to work for and will dictate where you spend your time applying.
Secondly, I think it is important to try and develop skills that separate you from your peers. It can be incredibly difficult to stand out from the crowd of graduating students, especially in highly competitive fields such as private equity/corporate finance. For me, I believe that my programming skills were a significant separator from other graduates when I was applying; and not only did it help me get the role I wanted, it has provided genuine benefit within my role and for our clients.
Thoughts from Max Ward
Recruiting new staff, especially graduates is notoriously tough. However, Ben has proven to have quickly become a real asset both to Independence and our clients/portfolio. He has shown a commendable can-do attitude, a calm resilience and great instinct, often intuitively reading complex situations in a manner that belies his youth. Bens proactive approach to taking ownership of his own development (before and after joining) will stand him in great stead for the future and his innovations around data and coding are already helping influence strategic decisions made by the business. I’m really thankful for how Ben has applied himself and look forward to how we can help him develop.