Matt Brown Furman University Alumni

Matt Brown '13

— Associate at The Halifax Group

Intellectual curiosity will help you identify great investments others do not see, and potentially save you from making poor investment decisions. The most successful professionals in this business are constantly seeking to learn something new, developing another way of analyzing a situation, and using past experience to inform their view around a current deal or future strategy.


Personal/Professional Journey

How did you find your way to where you are today? Share a little about your professional journey.

Over the course of my Furman career, I developed a deep desire for the world of corporate finance. While that encompasses many different lines of business, my passion centered on investment banking and private equity. Specifically, I wanted to analyze, underwrite, and structure mergers, acquisitions, and buyouts. I did extensive coursework outside the standard curriculum at Furman, learning as much as I could about investment banks and private equity funds, and leveraged networking resources to seek the advice of industry practitioners.

I gained important experience interning with investment bank Keefe, Bruyette & Woods and Greenville-based private equity group Azalea Capital before landing a full-time Analyst position with a boutique investment bank in Virginia, KippsDeSanto & Co.

At KippsDeSanto, I acquired tremendous experience working on a variety of M&A (mergers and acquisitions) and capital-raising transactions. Given the small size of the firm, I had the opportunity to analyze the underlying economics of each deal while also gaining frequent interactions with the CEOs, CFOs, and key executives of our client companies. I was also able to work with the accounting, legal, and advisory teams, providing a holistic view of the M&A and capital markets processes. The high level of responsibility and workload at KippsDeSanto prepared me for private equity and my current role as an associate at The Halifax Group, where I partner with talented entrepreneurs and management teams in growing their businesses.
What motivations fueled your career path?

Anyone who knows, has taught, or worked with me recognized my passion for finance. I love researching different industries, analyzing business performance, and identifying the growth and operational strategies necessary to create successful companies and investments. I also have a deep respect for entrepreneurs and small business owners, who are crucial to job creation and innovation in our country and around the world. Working at a private equity firm like Halifax, I have the opportunity to see a different sector or sub-sector of the economy each week. We partner with entrepreneurs, founders, and management teams of small and mid-sized companies, providing them with the capital and strategic advice necessary for continued growth and success.

Within the field

When providing advice for professional development, what are some tools or resources one should consider?

One of the most important ingredients for successful professional development in this field is intellectual curiosity. As one of my senior colleagues explained to me, intellectual curiosity will help you identify great investments others do not see, and potentially save you from making poor investment decisions. The most successful professionals in this business are constantly seeking to learn something new, developing another way of analyzing a situation, and using past experience to inform their view around a current deal or future strategy.

For those aspiring to be in this industry, my advice is to develop a mindset of continuous learning and improvement. Ask questions of experienced colleagues or industry executives; constantly monitor business publications and sources like The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Morningstar, and Forbes; dive into books about successful businesses (e.g. Good to Great, Built to Last, The Starbucks Experience) or investors (e.g. King of Capital, The Intelligent Investor); and, always attempt to gain new insights from past experiences to become a more successful practitioner.
How would you recommend someone interested in the same career/vocation pursue a similar path?

Although there is no perfect path or specific formula, private equity funds are usually looking for candidates with solid backgrounds in finance, accounting, and economics as well as two to three years of post-undergraduate experience in investment banking, management consulting, or corporate development. They also seek candidates who can handle a high level of responsibility and heavy workload, including managing multiple projects simultaneously and working long hours during crucial parts of a transaction.

I would advise students to study materials outside their standard coursework from sources such as Wall Street Prep and Training the Street, participate in extracurricular activities like the Investment Club or CFA Challenge, and obtain direct internship experience at an investment bank or consulting firm. If you receive a full-time position after graduation at one of those firms, use each day, each deal, and each project as an opportunity to develop and sharpen your analytical, financial, and investment skills.

How have mentors impacted your professional development? How did you develop those relationships?

Mentors played a crucial role in my professional development. Great professors like Dr. Peterson, Dr. Jones, Dr. Brown, and Dr. Smythe supported and encouraged me and I regularly meet with them whenever I get the opportunity to return to campus. Through the Investment Club, I developed a close relationship with Kris Kapoor and Rob Kenney, who guided me throughout my senior year and continue to be great resources for me today.

During my time at KippsDeSanto, I was mentored by two of the firm's vice presidents who constantly challenged me as an analyst and junior leader. Today, I look to my senior colleagues at Halifax to develop my investment skills and best prepare me for the next steps in my professional journey.

For someone just getting started

What do you wish you would have known getting started in your field?

I wish I joined Investment Club sooner (I joined the club during my senior year) as the group sharpened the research, analytical, and presentation skills I would utilize in both investment banking and private equity. I also regret participating in the CFA Challenge late in my Furman career. Joining earlier would have given me more exposure to rigorous investment concepts and analyses.
What additional education or certification is required/recommended?

Every firm has different requirements and viewpoints on additional education or certifications, but most private equity professionals have advanced degrees or additional certifications in business, economics, or accounting. The most prevalent ones are the Masters of Business Administration (MBA), which most professionals obtain after several years of post-undergraduate work experience, and the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, a series of exams designed to test a broad range of investment, economic, and professional judgement concepts. Other relevant degrees and certifications, although less common in this field, might include a Masters in Accountancy, Valuation, or Management, or the Chartered Public Accountant (CPA) designation.

Furman University

How has your liberal arts background shaped your career path or supported your success?

The liberal arts experience allows students to develop a holistic approach to addressing issues and solving problems. Instead of focusing on one or two specific subjects throughout one's entire college career, a liberal arts education challenges students to study a variety of disciplines and to think about issues in different ways or from other points of view.

In my work, every professional has the basic financial and business foundations to be successful. It is an important differentiator to be able to approach deals and investments in creative ways and understand how business transactions and strategies affect a vast array of stakeholders. A successful transaction or investment depends on more than just a set of financial metrics; one has to take into account the effect on consumers and suppliers, the perception by employees and labor groups, and the communication plan to regulators, politicians, and the media. Being able to think through all of those factors is where a liberal arts education can add the most value to aspiring financial practitioners.
What extracurricular activities helped you develop professionally?

The Investment Club allowed me to develop and communicate investment ideas to a large group, similar to what I currently do on a day-to-day basis. Additionally, it helped develop my leadership capabilities in teaching younger club members new or more complicated investment concepts. Furthermore, it gave me the opportunity to cultivate a great long-term relationship with Kris and Rob, who have been instrumental to my professional development.

In addition to the Investment Club, my experience as a varsity athlete on the Men's Golf Team has been a significant factor in my professional success. In addition to developing crucial leadership skills, being a student-athlete required me to manage demanding workout and practice schedules, a rigorous course load, and effectively communicate with coaches and professors about competing priorities. I also had to work effectively within a team, accept and learn from setbacks, and constantly improve my own skills as well and my teammates'. All of these attributes are necessary ingredients for success in the professional world.


Were there particular courses within the economics department that were especially useful in helping you identify your career or that ended up helping you to be successful in your career (maybe unexpectedly)?

The three core courses for economics majors (intermediate macroeconomics, intermediate microeconomics, and econometrics) were the most impactful. Intermediate macroeconomics and intermediate microeconomics helped me understand the complexities of the global economy, how to interpret various economic indicators, and how companies make decisions under different market conditions. Econometrics taught me how to sort through multitudes of data and identify the key drivers of economic phenomena, all of which are crucial skills in my profession.

Were there particular projects or activities from any of your economics courses that were especially useful?

The core project of my econometrics course became one of the most useful to my career in terms of the skills I developed. Each student had to design a research project and apply the various statistical tools and methods we were studying to draw conclusions on an economic issue. In order to design a successful research project that allowed me to draw defensible conclusions, I needed to identify various potential drivers of the issue I was studying and apply key statistical techniques to isolate the true causes.

In many ways, being a successful private equity professional requires me to have those same skills. When analyzing a potential investment platform, I need to sort through data to understand industry growth drivers, identify key performance metrics, and contemplate the best growth strategies to pursue. All of those skills were sharpened over the course of that econometrics project.

Were there particular "engaged learning" experiences (e.g. internships, study away, research opportunities) that were especially useful?

My internships with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods and Azalea Capital had the most impact and relevance to my career. In both, I was able to develop the skills necessary to analyze mergers, acquisitions, buyouts, and capital-raising strategies. I also had the ability to observe the day-to-day responsibilities of junior professionals in those industries and develop networking relationships that would be resources for me in the future.
Any other "highlights" from your experience in economics?

The economics department was honestly the foundation of my professional career because it quite literally altered the path I would take at Furman. When I entered as a freshman, I thought I was going to pursue a career in law, and initially contemplated all the various courses I would need to best prepare me for that path. However, after taking introduction to economics during my first semester, Dr. Brown recommended I sit down with Dr. Peterson (then department chair) to talk about potentially majoring in economics.

After that first semester and an impressionable discussion with Dr. Peterson, I became captivated by the subject and was a major by the spring. In pursuing my degree, I discovered the passion for what I do now and I might not have found it (at least not as quickly) if it were not for that initial intro class and those two professors.

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