Career Skills & Transitions with Nikita Gossain, Managing Director at PPR Capital
Nikita is the Managing Director at PPR Capital.
Tell us about your career story so far.
Nikita: It's not been the most linear path to get to this point, but primarily I'm focused on buying small businesses from retiring business owners. So it's kind of awkward middle ground where individuals usually can't necessarily afford that size of business and then it's a size that private equity and other institutions don't normally play. It's just too small for them to look at. Call it one to five million of profit and I'm looking to continue the legacy of these businesses; I think there's some really wonderful channels within this space and they're not the sexiest, they're not the most fast growing, but they're certainly great businesses with great clients and a great team. So I'm just looking to continue that and keep nourishing it and taking it on the next five to ten years of the growth Journey.
Lucy Wark: I got introduced to you a event that was looking at women in finance. And I think you were the first female solo GP of the PE Fund in Australia or something ridiculous like that. Is that right?
Nikita: Yeah, look I guess I've not raised a formalized fund, so doing things on a deal by deal basis, but I probably am - I don't really track these things, but probably one of the first females to purchase a business under the search fund model which people may or may not be familiar with but it's a model that comes out of Harvard and really has only started to be pioneered in Australian in the last five to ten years.
Lucy Wark: We'd love to hear how you have ended up doing this kind of work and then dive into some of the skills and tools that have been useful for you as well.
Nikita: I started my career at KPMG and then moved across a couple of different divisions within the deals M&A space. So think transaction services, valuations, M&A advisory, lead advisory and then went off to do my MBA and probably got too much of a taste of the US, New York startup world and felt the compulsion to try something on my own post-MBA, which to be honest was different to the plan that I went over with, so I'd gone over with the intention of coming back to Australia and joining PE firm.
But I think I felt that call and had a bit of a crazy dream and so I started cold calling businesses to see which one I could potentially run and scale.
So that was the start of my journey. I'm a chartered financial analyst by background, so it's always been throughout my career and I suppose I've had that kind of operational experience as well. I don't run companies anymore. It's not the intent for me to step in to run them any longer, I just place exceptional CEOs in there, and I'm much more focused on the investing.
What ingredients, skills or attitudes have been the most important for you early in your career?
Nikita: I think there's a couple of different ways to think about it. I think entrepreneurship is a lot about resilience and hustle and finding ways to get things done that actually seem pretty difficult or monumental tasks when you're looking at them from six months before the date that it needs to be launched or achieved or whatever.
So I think probably channeling resilience, which honestly, I got from traveling, now that I think about it.
I backpacked pretty extensively when I was younger, 40-50 countries, and I just learned a lot and was in that kind of continual learning phase of my life and I think that's never really stopped, and I've taken that mentality into business. And I think that's what you need to do in business to succeed. I think the self-awareness, the looking at everything that's happening around you and understanding what you need to do. I think they're probably some really important lessons that I got from my traveling days.
Other than that from a finance standpoint, I think it actually depends, finance is a lot broader than people understand and expect - there's audit, tax, M&A, restructuring. There's all sorts of things. And they're actually pretty different in their skills.
So from an audit perspective, I think the attention to detail is going to be the highest weighted and it's completely different on the finance to the accounting side of world. Commerce is a lot broader than people realize and I think it's actually kind of different for each.
Of course, there are the overarching themes of enjoying the numbers. I think people that tend to thrive in the finance to tend to like things a little bit more black and white as opposed to the kind of grey, creativity, middle ground area. So I think if you enjoy working with numbers and can get behind a good Excel spreadsheet, then finance is certainly an interesting place to work.
What's the biggest career transition you've made and what helped you make it?
Nikita: The biggest transition was probably the first one. So I actually started my career in audit and I spent probably less than a year in the division and
it just didn't necessarily fit with my design in terms of where I wanted to go career wise.
So I had wanted to do the Chartered Financial Analyst designation as opposed to the Chartered Accountant designation. And audit is the path that leads to the CA.
For me, I wanted to be much more in the deal space, and when I transitioned into that space, it was more analytical and I got the ability to bring in that commercial thinking around what is the essence of business. What is the appropriate valuation and really thinking about the future that business can look like, so I think for me as much more holistic and an opportunity to look at the broader scope of the business.
In Audit, it's very focused. Your essentially working on a piece of the puzzle and that broadens over time, but you're looking at a piece of the puzzle, let's say, for example, audit controls or what is the risk that fraudulent activity could get through the system and cash payments could go out the door that are not authorized to the correct rules, so it's a lot of sort of process mapping and looking at where the deficiencies in the system are, so much more of a kind of investigative angle to it.
I did find that I was much more inclined towards the finance world. So, that was a pretty big switch from Audit to M&A. It's not something that was super easy. It actually took me some time to achieve. So that's why I was in the division for a year. It did take me about six months to get that transfer across divisions and actually just meant me applying internally and to other jobs externally with a view to jumping across.
If you were giving advice to people who are making a transition, are there any tips you have based on your experience?
Nikita: Honestly, I'm gonna say just
have conviction that the thing that you're doing is the right path for you and like I said my transition took time, it took six months, and even though I had really deep conviction.
The other thing is, internally, if you've got the opportunities within the company you're at, I think it's a really great idea to do a short-term internship or something if you can arrange that. It gives you an idea of what you're getting into before you jump to it, because I think honestly the reality of especially something like Finance, is it's so broad and I can say for myself, I certainly didn't understand the areas that exist across the world when I was making my decision, when I was a graduate. It does help to have that Intel around what you're really getting into.
Obviously you can do as much research as you can with Google but those opportunities, if you can arrange them, and like I'd say push for them, and if you can swing those internally, I think they're a great way to make the transition because you can see that you love or really enjoy the work and then on the flip side, that they enjoy having you as part of a team and then that team will be in your court as an ally to help you make the final switch over.
Lucy Wark: I think one thing that I often hear from people who are contemplating a career transition is almost like if you've spent so much time thinking about wanting to do it that when you've made the call, there's an impatience with the process and just wanting it to kind of switch from one place to another overnight and I think there's a lot of wisdom in thinking about it as something that could take months or could take a year or even a couple of years and having a good plan for how you're going to do that process as well. Because it's definitely a place where a lot of people can lose momentum when it doesn't work straight away.
How have you built your own professional toolkit over time?
Nikita: Actually a lot of consumption of podcasts and making mistakes from the job as well, and kind of learning on the fly is a part of the game.
I think if you're really comfortable and really understand exactly what you're doing, you're probably not growing at the pace that you could be and probably first and foremost now in my current seat as entrepreneur and building a private equity firm that's doing things on a deal by deal basis, the way that I'm learning is consuming lots of content consistently about what the greatest investors out there are doing. So lots of podcasts because I don't necessarily have the Warren Buffet that I can call up as a mentor.
It's probably one piece of advice that I would say for anyone making a career switch, I think having a mentor can be super helpful.
I've seen that from the periphery, of never really having had a mentor myself, but I think it can be really helpful to have that person to be your ally, especially if they're within the organization, but also just to be a thought partner on what the right moves may be for you career wise.
Otherwise it's just reading different blogs and primarily listening to podcasts the most at the moment, like the Invest like the Best podcast, and the Think Like an Owner podcast, which is the mentality around what it takes to be an owner and scale a business.
So yeah, consuming lots of content and being very targeted in understanding the niches when I need to and when they apply to the place I'm in. A few months ago I really wanted to delve further into recruiting and what is best practice across the world in terms of what does an excellent hiring process look like and what is the best in class psychometric testing that's happening out there at the moment and of what are the new ways of thinking about recruiting as opposed to the more traditional way.
So yeah, deep diving into certain topics as and when required because I think, broadly, I've had all of this education I suppose practically of course, but also theoretically and over the course of my MBA and my studies, but I think there's this benefit to having the right resources or hearing the right message of the right time and I think it just resonates a whole lot more and you can implement it at that moment in time.
Lucy Wark: Definitely and I know a lot of people, particularly entrepreneurs, who I think, have to do that, when a learning curve becomes relevant and then you very quickly have to get up that learning curve. So it sounds like you're like podcasts and consuming lots of content is your favourite strategy.
Is there anything else that's been very helpful for getting up a learning curve quickly?
There's nothing that replaces doing it and trying something and I think having check-ins with yourself very quickly to go 'Is this working or is this not' and calibrating as required.
I suppose I probably treat the process of needing to get up to speed on something really quickly as I would kind of any other thing in my goal setting. I lay out the plan. I know that sounds super type A. Laying out what that pathway could look like, where I need to be and just going between here and there.
There's a lot to be learned from trying to come up with, for example, when I was going through that hiring process exercise, I was trying to get up to date with best in class, I mean, the first thing I did was map out my current hiring and then do a bunch of reading and then go, let me have another crack at what I think it could be best in class. That kind of formulating the plan around interviews and testing and tweaking and playing with the tools out there and all of its a bit of a learning journey. So I think getting into it and just getting your hands dirty with something really can't be understated.
Lucy Wark: Yeah, absolutely. One thing I found really helpful is using advisors in a specific way which I think a lot of businesses tend to give equity to advisors which can be a difficult proposition. I've actually just found literally paying someone for finding the right person who can unlock an area for you and just being like 'okay I'll pay you for an hour of your time, but I just want to ask you a ton of questions and then I'm gonna come back in two weeks and ask you again' has actually been such an unlock on particular areas as well.
Nikita: That definitely resonates. I put a advisor in place for our security company and it was a bit of an unlock in terms of just all the kind of Knowledge from their industry perspective that I was missing. And then also probably the CEO who is also not from the technical background.
What is the best career advice you've received?
Nikita: gosh, I don't know if I've received much career advice, but I mean look honestly probably the spark of an idea around moving into the M&A ,deals, transactions world was something that one of my fellow peers that I'd actually started with as a graduate pointed out to me. So he was actually the first one to lay the seed of the idea in my head. It's been a lot of making it up as I go along to be frank with you and I think he was right on the money. So maybe I can say is getting ideas from sort of peers and others that you're around what might be the right division for your set of skills because this guy who recommended me had not - we started together and obviously he had a kind of good sense of me, we use to spend a lot of time together as a graduate cohort, but he hadn't necessarily worked with me on job or anything like that - and so I think people can in some cases understand your personality and guide you towards the right direction at least it's the seed of an idea.
What's one thing you wish you knew when you first started your career?
Nikita: there's a lot of wish I knew to be honest.
I came from an engineering family. So the world of Finance was brand new and hence me making it up as I went along. I think there's lots of little things I could change. I'm happy to be in the place I am but I think being really focused on getting a lot more thoughtful; I think about the Graduate position that I started off in. I Of course, it's not a race and everyone's journey is their own ,but I will say that when went to switch across to investment banking a couple of years into my career, they had the mentality that you're going to have to come back to an analyst level and start again, and so there is merit to spending a lot more time being thoughtful around which might be the right division for you.
When I was applying for graduate positions, I wasn't particularly thoughtful. There were a lot of professors that said that audit is a great place to start. so I applied for audit across most of the places I applied but in saying that I was just putting random applications across divisions as well. Frankly. I was like, let's see what comes and let's see what my destiny is supposed to be kind of thing, which probably wasn't the right approach at all.
I think that's always something to bear in mind. I think there's more that can be done when you're in University to understand what your career can look like and I'm not saying it's easy. It's lots of conversations with people that are in the space that you may want to be in, so I think it does involve putting yourself out there and reaching out to people on LinkedIn and being willing to have those conversations and going 'can I grab you for a coffee and get some your time', but I think it is certainly also a lot more possible than it appears to be. It wasn't something any of my peers were doing, it wasn't something University wwas recommending, but I think it can be very fruitful.
Your career is potentially the next 50 years so to the extent that you can optimize for making the right decisions from the get go - why not do that?
Lucy Wark: it's definitely pairing the importance and pay off and leverage of that decision to how much effort and structure people bring to it. I think there's a lot of mismatch of a lot of effort a lot of the time.
Okay, we've mentioned a couple of books in podcasts already. But
Is there one resource that you'd like to recommend?
Nikita: I'm really enjoying The Diary of a CEO podcast at the moment. I think it's really broad in terms of thinking about life holistically and I think he's taken it to places that he finds interesting. So it's certainly not necessarily just about being a CEO, he gets into kind of life happiness and he covers all sorts of topics like ADHD and he goes into all sorts of areas that kind of, at the end of the day you want to great life, so it's not necessarily just about your career but the other areas as well and being able to be self reflective in all areas of your life. I think that can't hurt at all!
Lucy Wark: I love that. Awesome! Thank you so much for joining us.
This interview transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
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