Private Equity Placement at Top Elite Boutiques
There are two main categories of investment banks: elite boutiques and bulge brackets. Elite boutiques are smaller organizations that focus solely on investment banking, while bulge brackets are large firms that provide many different corporate finance solutions.
In this post, we’re going to take a data-driven approach to assess private equity placement at the top elite boutiques.
To set the stage a little, it’s important to realize that recruiting for and at elite boutiques can be a heavily nuanced process. The variance in culture is particularly noticeable at elite boutiques given their smaller size – a few large personalities can meaningfully change how recruiting processes are handled. This also applies to satellite offices at bulge brackets, where one MD or VP might dictate the entire office attitude.
When I was recruiting for investment banking, I found that the bulge brackets tended to be quite similar in their persona. The bulge brackets all had a similar aura of intense facelessness that I assume all large corporations gravitate towards.
On the other hand, the elite boutiques I interviewed with had more distinctive traits. Different elite boutiques had clearer values and culture.
Evercore prides themselves as being collegial and actively helped us recruit for buyside jobs. Centerview leaned into being a highly intellectual firm that puts the client first. The Moelis bankers I met had a certain self-deprecating sense of work ethic that both intrigued and scared me.
The main point is that despite being part of the same sub-category, each elite boutique provides a dramatically different work and recruiting experience.
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Elite Boutiques in this Study
In this post, we’re going to look at how the top elite boutiques place into private equity and examine why differences in recruiting performance might exist. We’ll be covering the following elite boutiques, which we would identify as the top elite boutiques in the investment banking industry.
These four elite boutiques are the ones that most consistently place into top private equity firms around the globe.
The notable exclusion from this list is PJT. Despite being a top elite boutique with phenomenal placement, PJT’s short history means that their lifetime placement numbers are still very low. Having been founded in 2015, there’s only a small number of analysts who have gone through recruiting.
I will also note that my professional experience is U.S. based and so I likely have some biases with how this data is interpreted.
To complete this exercise, we’ll be looking at LinkedIn data collected and analyzed by ListAlpha.com, a people intelligence platform that allows you to profile private equity funds and find potential introduction angles into those funds. To see their commentary on private equity placement, you can check out their blog post.
For this study, we looked at placements at the very largest private equity firms, which we previously identified in this post.
Please note that the methodology used in this post is different from the manual process we did for school placement, which assessed profiles based on actual company websites. The approach in this post using ListAlpha relies on self-reported information on LinkedIn. This may decrease the data integrity slightly, but we think the dataset is large enough where the takeaways are logical.
In the outputs, we have included the per capita %, but this number can be a bit noisy given how it’s a static point (compared to what is essentially several years of private equity placement). Note that the employee number used to calculate per capita % includes all employees (not just investment banking professionals), so it is better to be interpreted as a directional figure.
Private Equity Placement Data and Takeaways
Lazard is the best overall placing elite boutique and dominates on a global basis.
I am pleasantly surprised to see how strong Lazard’s placement is on a global basis. They absolutely dominate the global rankings, which largely comes from their absurdly strong European presence.
The competitive landscape and ranking of elite boutiques differ all over the world. Lazard is likely the only elite boutique that is dominant in both North America and Europe. Lazard is by far the oldest of the top elite boutiques and has roots in Europe, so it is unsurprising that this is the case.
Lazard’s European dominance is particularly evident if you look at the placement for the European-based private equity firms like EQT, Permira and CVC. At these firms, Lazard has more placements than the other 3 elite boutiques combined. If you start your career in Europe, it seems like Lazard is the elite boutique to be at.
Lazard and Evercore are tied for #1 on a North American basis.
When you double click on the U.S. placement, you see that Lazard and Evercore are the strongest when it comes to overall private equity presence. Both Lazard and Evercore have nearly double the placement of Moelis and multiples more than Centerview. This disparity in placement highlights how vastly different recruiting outcomes can be at relatively similar investment banks.
What’s interesting is how different private equity firms can favor certain firms much more than others. Blackstone and Warburg disproportionately hire from Evercore, while Brookfield and Ares hire disproportionately from Lazard. It’s also worth observing that Lazard doesn’t have an advantage at the U.S. offices at European funds (e.g., Apax, EQT, Permira, CVC)
Evercore is the best firm for U.S. private equity recruiting at the junior level.
I asked the ListAlpha folks to provide this cut on U.S. placement at the associate and senior associate level because it’s what best coincides with my personal work experience.
From my personal experience at Evercore and working in New York between 2015 – 2019, it seemed that Evercore was placing much better than other elite boutiques (and most bulge brackets).
Having seen the data, what I think is actually happening is that Evercore’s success is a relatively recent occurrence. I think Evercore is dominant at the junior level in the U.S. because the firm is prominent now, but its overall numbers are still on par with Lazard because Lazard has been a top bank for a much, much longer time.
Lazard has been a dominant force in the industry for a much longer time, while Evercore’s position as a top M&A firm is one that has emerged over the past decade. It actually wasn’t until 2019 that Evercore outranked Lazard on the Vault list (which I think is actually a great ranking with regards to prestige).
Moelis is a modest third on an absolute basis, but places similarly to Lazard and Evercore on a per capita basis.
I don’t think per capita information is flawless because there is a fair amount of reporting noise, but it serves as a decent benchmark. Moelis is a smaller firm, but its analysts still place reasonably well when they’re put through the recruiting process.
My impression of Moelis is that they place extremely well on the west coast (and anecdotally it seems like they have a pipeline into Apollo and Silver Lake).
In my opinion, I still think it’s overall better to be at a larger firm if the per capita figures are similar. It’s more beneficial to have alumni at a larger number of firms because it gives you more opportunities to reach out to people. For example, there are several firms where Moelis has zero alumni, whereas Lazard has at least one person at each of the top 20 firms.
Centerview is not a private equity feeder, but is still a phenomenal investment bank.
I’ll be honest, when working through this data, our partners at ListAlpha questioned whether we should even include Centerview in the screen. And their instinct had a lot of merit. Centerview simply does not place nearly as well into private equity. The placements they do have are largely U.S. based, as their European presence is still growing.
A lot of this is by design. Centerview is the lifer investment bank. They make you do 3 years as an analyst (as opposed to two) and generally heavily discourage recruiting. They also pay top of street, in line with the top private equity firms, which disincentivizes people from moving to private equity. I can actually think of a few Centerview bankers I know who tried private equity and moved back to Centerview.
I still think Centerview is a great place to grow your career, you might just not have the best odds for private equity recruiting.
In closing, it seems that Lazard is the overall best elite boutique on a global basis for private equity. Evercore is dominant in the U.S. at the junior level, while Moelis is still very respectable on a per capita basis.
If you’re interested in doing data analyses like this one, you should check out ListAlpha.com. Their tool allows you to analyze the career trajectories of private equity professionals to help you understand which profiles and career paths to follow.
Their tool allows you to research the previous work experiences of PE associates, which is tremendously helpful for understanding your potential career options or looking for an angle into a given fund.