September 14, 2022

Operating Partners: Where are we with regard to Work From Home?

This Spring I was working on a big assignment searching for someone to run the internal Portfolio Operations Group for a top 5 blue chip firm.  It was likely the most impressive deal I’d ever had, and it garnered a tremendous amount of interest from the candidate community.  I had the attention of both F500 CEOs and the Heads of Groups at other PE shops.  It reminded me that like any other business, in headhunting, the quality of your asset is your showstopper leverage point.

During the course of the project, I was recruiting a terrific woman who I’ve known for a number of years and for whom I hold tons of respect.  I’ll call her Meg.  Her career is a great balance between PE Ops and C-level company operating jobs, but it had been five years since she’d last been in a direct Operating Partner role.  We talked about her reasoning:

Back then, in 2016, she was at a crossroads in her career necessitated by environmental conditions.  She’d spent the last 9 years as an Operating Partner in a job she absolutely loved, but as her children grew the grind of the weekly travel became more and more difficult to navigate.  As we all know, Portfolio Operations can mean overwhelming travel during long stints of transformation.  Ultimately she decided that her family needed a more predictable lifestyle so she went on to become a portfolio company executive to alleviate the travel condition.  She remembered regretting that she needed to make this choice because she loved her job so much.  But she wondered if now, post-Covid, things at the macro level (combined with her now older kids) might mean a different set of expectations when it came to the road warrior element of PE.

This got me wondering too: How has Covid impacted our expectations of travel time for the role?  I definitely had lots of anecdote about it, but hadn’t really polled the Operating Partner community to get some direct line feedback.  Thus, earlier this month I put this question out to the community via my LinkedIn page and received a robust number of responses.  We framed the question as follows:

“Given changes from COVID relative to WFH policies, on average, how many nights a month are you on the road visiting portfolio companies?”

Here’s what the data shows…

  • 3% responded “15 days or more”
  • 11% responded “11-15”
  • 31% responded “6-10”
  • 56% responded “1-5”

I found this truly fascinating as the subjective respondents came from a wide swath of firms from bulge bracket to LMM and middle market.  87% were on the road less than 10 nights per month with more than half being less than 5!  I was shocked.  This was not the requirement that I knew from 10 years ago or that executives like Meg personally experienced week to week.  

Aside from compensation, there isn’t a question that I field more frequently from the candidate pool… How much travel can I expect if I take this job?  Most clients try to paint a picture where travel is self-directed but can be excessive.  We want candidates to self-select out on this issue and then be surprised with the ultimate flexibility. I’m happy now though to have some concrete data to share with both those candidates and the clients with whom we work.  

The world has changed, and PE is following suit.



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