Charlie Whitehead and Rob Liguz on working at Waterland Private Equity

14 January 2021 5 min. read

Charlie Whitehead and Rob Liguz both joined Manchester-based Waterland Private Equity in 2020, making the move from strategy consulting and investment banking. The two Associates discuss their experience of working through Covid-19 and offer some insight for those seeking to break into the fiercely competitive private equity industry.

Could you each tell us a little bit about yourselves and how you ended up working in private equity?

Rob: I started my career in banking working across strategy, corporate credit and later M&A focused roles. As an M&A analyst, I advised on several private mid-market transactions and found working with these clients, on these deals, particularly rewarding. Early in my career, it’s great to experience working closely with management teams on the strategic development of their businesses.

While I did love my time as an M&A advisor [at GCA Altium], engagements with companies and management teams largely conclude once the deal is signed. I found myself keen to help build businesses and contribute to their ongoing successes; and felt private equity and Waterland was the best place to achieve that.

Charlie Whitehead and Rob Liguz, Waterland Private Equity

Charlie: I was on secondment to Waterland for a month from my previous employer [CIL Management Consultants], where I worked as a strategy consultant. Like Rob, I ended up attending one of Waterland’s breakfast sessions. I was interested in their heritage and their European presence. I liked how they did things differently, focusing on off-market transactions and sourcing their own deals, thinking about market perspectives and interesting niches to invest in, rather than chasing deals that the advisers were bringing to them.

Culture has been critical during the pandemic

Rob: Despite the pandemic and the challenges that it’s brought, the culture amongst the team has been really positive. The focus has been on helping our portfolio companies navigate the current environment but there’s also a real buzz around new ideas and opportunities. We’ve a very flat structure and other team members are supportive of our personal development. We get regular iterative feedback and plenty of development opportunities and chances to get involved in areas we might not previously have had experience.

The entire office also sits and eats lunch together every day, which often makes for great debate and helps create a really enjoyable working environment where junior professionals are encouraged to engage with colleagues of all levels and get stuck in.

Charlie: I would describe Waterland’s culture as collaborative, curious and open, with a strong interest in holistic development of staff at all levels of the organisation. It’s also a lot of fun. We meet up at least twice a year as an organisation in the European cities where Waterland has a presence and there’s opportunity (at least pre-Covid and lockdowns) to travel to different offices around Europe.

Waterland also set up a ‘buddy’ system which has really helped with lockdown and remote working. Under the programme, junior team members are paired up with a more senior colleague in another office, who make sure you’ve been properly onboarded and looked after. Mine’s in the Netherlands and Rob’s is in Belgium.

Life doesn’t centre around London

Charlie: Coming to live in the North West was a bit of a punt. I enjoyed London but Manchester is a big city that’s growing fast, and with a real buzz. It’s accessible, and London is just two hours away by train so I can stay connected with my friends there while exploring a new life up here. The cost of living is cheaper and we’re surrounded by countryside – I get a great view of the Peak District from my office window. I’ve gained so much without losing much.

Rob: I was also quite cautious at the prospect of leaving Canary Wharf and returning to Manchester, where I studied – but I love it here. It’s a great city with a really strong and close-knit professional community. I also have a better work-life balance, helped by a very short commute and the absence of ‘face-time culture’ requiring you to remain in the office till late.

Itching to go in 2021

Rob: We just raised our eighth fund, bringing another €2.5 billion to partner with new companies, and there’s real excitement about that. We’re all full of ideas and views on deployment and the kind of companies we might partner with.

Charlie: I completely agree, we’re all very keen to get back to normal. We’re in a very future-focused business and I think it’s fair to say that one of the things we most enjoy doing is speaking with colleagues or company management on our plans for the future and how we might realise them.

How to break into private equity

Rob: If you’re interested in a career in private equity, think about how you can develop a well-rounded skillset that would make you a good investor. Naturally, there are industries that typically get you closer to this, like banking or consulting, but there are other ways to build that skillset which can be pursued.

Waterland, for example, focusses on real-world business experience and has hired numerous entrepreneurs and individuals that have helped build businesses. At the core, we want people who know first-hand what we’re trying to achieve with the companies we partner with.

Charlie: On top of that, I’d say its key to be intellectually curious, persistent, resilient, and self-aware. You’ll also be expected to demonstrate excellent quantitative skills, but also the ability to marry that up with the outward-looking responsibilities and the soft-skills that are critical to our work – like knowing how to network effectively and build relationships with advisors and business owners.