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Beyond the Numbers: Q&A with Private Equity Associate Priscilla Liu of H&F

iStock 1221678068 - Global Banking | Finance

Beyond the Numbers: Q&A with Private Equity Associate Priscilla Liu of H&F

Picture10514241 - Global Banking | FinancePriscilla Liu is an Associate at Hellman & Friedman (H&F), a prominent global private equity firm founded in 1984 with $100+ billion asset under management and a distinctive investment approach. H&F focuses on large-scale equity investments in high-quality growth businesses, partnering with highly experienced management teams to drive their success. Their deep sector expertise, long-term focus, and collaborative approach empower companies to flourish across sectors like software & technology, financial services, healthcare, consumer & retail, and business services.

At H&F, Ms. Liu utilizes her expertise in statistical analysis and financial modeling to contribute to the firm’s investment decision-making process. As a valuable member of the investment team, Ms. Liu has played a key role in evaluating investment opportunities for the firm.

Previously, Priscilla honed her financial analysis skills at PJT Partners, a Wall Street powerhouse whose Restructuring & Special Situations Group is consistently ranked as No.1 by International Finance Review. There, she tackled complex financial maneuvers, including bankruptcies, liability management, and distressed M&A transactions. Her contribution helped to restructure $3 billion of liabilities for companies across a variety of industries. Now at H&F, Priscilla plays a crucial role in deploying their substantial capital, including the $24 billion HFCP Fund X that the firm is currently investing out of.

We recently had the opportunity to speak with Priscilla about her career path, her dedication to mentorship initiatives, and her vision for the future.

Can you provide a brief overview of your background and journey into the world of private equity investing?

My academic background at Dartmouth College focused on Economics and Mathematics. During college, I developed a strong interest in the practical applications of data analysis in the business world. Beyond the technical aspects, I was fascinated by how economic data shapes and informs the world around us. This curiosity led me to actively participate in and subsequently lead various business and finance organizations on campus. These experiences ignited a passion for finance and investing, ultimately leading me to pursue a career in this field.

Following graduation, I joined PJT Partners’ Restructuring and Special Situations Group in New York. This role provided a valuable platform to apply my financial and analytical skills in a real-world context, particularly helping companies through complex financial situations, both in and out of court. There, I honed my expertise in financial modeling, valuation analysis, and fundamental company research. My time at PJT Partners provided me with a deep understanding of the factors that determine a company’s financial resilience and long-term viability. It solidified my analytical approach and further strengthened my desire to leverage data for informed decision-making. These experiences proved invaluable in building my investor mindset and naturally positioned me for a successful transition into private equity.

Hellman & Friedman’s reputation for rigorous due diligence processes and its commitment to generating superior risk-adjusted returns through large-scale buyout investments resonated with my own investment philosophy. The firm’s focus on franchise value, growth quality, and intensive modeling perfectly complements my skillset.

Why Private Equity? What have you found most fulfilling?

My current role centers on leveraging my expertise in statistical and financial analysis to further strengthen the firm’s established commitment to data-driven investment decisions. This involves applying robust data analytics to evaluate potential investment opportunities and collaborate with acquired companies. Through this approach, I contribute to the longstanding tradition of identifying and nurturing businesses with sustainable value propositions. Ultimately, my work supports the continual development of the firm’s investment strategy striving for long-term success for both the firm and the companies within the portfolio.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my experience so far has been witnessing the real-world impact of the firm’s investments. These impacts extend beyond individual companies, contributing to the overall strength of the economic ecosystem within which they operate. I have the privilege of partnering with seasoned management teams to drive top-line growth, and I find it highly motivating to see how a strengthened company positively affects all stakeholders, including customers, vendors, and employees.

Firm investments have a significant impact beyond the immediate portfolio companies. By prioritizing sound investment decisions, H&F aims to achieve superior returns for a diverse investor base. This includes institutional investors such as endowment funds and pension & retirement funds across the globe. In turn, these investors depend on the returns generated by private equity firms to fulfill their responsibilities to beneficiaries, including retirees and leading universities.

How has your experience been like H&F?

H&F has been a fantastic experience. The team is truly inspiring – highly motivated, intellectually curious, and fiercely committed to uncovering the truth behind every investment. This “true north” mentality fosters a culture of open debate and critical thinking, leading to well-rounded decisions and a constant learning environment.

Over the past 40 years, H&F has stayed true to its core strength in pure private equity, avoiding the temptation to become an “AUM collector” by diversifying into other asset classes. This focus allows H&F to be laser-focused on the deals it pursues.

The lean team structure is another major draw. With only 4-5 members on a typical deal team evaluating multi-billion-dollar deals, I’ve had the opportunity to take on outsized responsibility as an associate and become the go-to person for key due diligence workstreams and financial modeling. This fosters a true generalist mindset and has allowed me to gain a deep understanding of the entire investment process.

Lastly, the culture is incredibly supportive and collegial. My colleagues hold themselves to the highest professional standards, and they all have very interesting backgrounds (fun to get to know as people!). There’s a strong sense of camaraderie and collaboration, which makes it a truly rewarding place to work. The firm’s core values, instilled by the founder Warren Hellman, also resonate deeply with me. The emphasis on believing in people, doing the right thing, having skin in the game, staying curious, and persevering, creates an environment that fosters personal and professional growth.

As a valuable member of the investment team, can you tell us about your responsibilities?

As a member of the investment team at H&F, I wear multiple hats given our lean deal team structure. My core responsibilities include:

  • Uncovering Value
    • Diligence with Depth: conducting rigorous due diligence on potential investments, analyzing financial data and market trends to assess strategic fit and identify high-potential targets
    • Shaping Investment Strategies: collaborating with colleagues to develop compelling investment theses and deal structures, maximizing value creation and deal returns
  • Beyond the Deal
    • Active Portfolio Management: actively monitoring portfolio company performance, analyzing financials and KPIs to identify growth opportunities and address challenges
    • Collaborative Value Creation: partnering with the deal team and portfolio company management to provide strategic guidance, support expansion initiatives, and leverage H&F’s network for expertise

Rigorous modeling, coordinating with various advisors, and managing deadlines are demanding yet rewarding aspects of the role. Through meticulous analysis of expansive datasets, I seek to unearth critical insights into each potential investment opportunity. This entails a rigorous evaluation of business momentum, key growth drivers, customer base nuances, and pricing dynamics. These insights then form the bedrock of the firm’s investment strategy and capital allocation decisions. To me, this fast-paced environment offers invaluable opportunities for professional growth in data analysis, strategic thinking, and financial modeling.

With your experience working at a top private equity fund, what advice would you give to women looking to build a successful career in this field?

One of the biggest things that’s struck me during my time in private equity is the sheer volume of data you encounter. Due diligence and portfolio management can feel like swimming in an ocean of numbers. Early on, I found myself drowning in details, the big picture obscured by a million tiny facts. It was a mentor who helped me develop a new approach – one that focused on unearthing the narrative hidden within the data.

It’s not just about the numbers themselves, but what they’re telling you. What are the underlying trends that truly influence investments and their outcomes? It’s like being a detective, sifting through clues to find the story waiting to be revealed. This shift in perspective has made me much more efficient at analyzing information – I can now spot the key drivers with a sharper eye.

The other big lesson I’ve learned is the power of collaborative knowledge sharing. Sure, a strong analytical framework is essential, but it’s even better when paired with the diverse perspectives of your team. Across industries, there are so many common threads you can identify – the hallmarks of a good, enduring franchise. By sharing these insights and fostering open discussions, we can develop a more holistic understanding of potential investments. Beyond my current role, I’ve actively sought out opportunities to broaden my perspectives and contribute to the broader discourse within the investment community. Whether it’s participating in panels or serving as a judge for case competitions, I find these engagements very edifying. These opportunities spark intellectually stimulating discussions and I get to hear about what others think about potential investment ideas, which in turn help me drive better decision-making process.

Finally, I can’t overemphasize the importance of a strong network. Finding mentors who can offer guidance and share their experiences has been invaluable. Their support has helped me navigate challenges and provided fresh perspectives on the industry. It’s a two-way street too – I’ve learned so much from the more junior colleagues I’ve mentored, and the exchange of ideas keeps everyone sharp. The private equity world can be challenging, but the challenge itself is what motivates me. I am someone who thrives in fast-paced environments and finds immense satisfaction in navigating complex situations through thorough data-driven analysis.

 

Disclaimer: this content is for informational purposes only ; the statements made herein are the views and opinions of Ms. Liu and do not represent the views of Hellman & Friedman.

Global Banking & Finance Review

 

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