From the Military to Investment Banking


Written by Finalis

Last edited on Sep 11, 2023

4 min read

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Within the military, you’re faced with an onslaught of unpredictable moments that need to be handled decisively and with great situational awareness.

Armed with that experience, our guest brings these qualities to the world of investment banking.

Hear our conversation with Billy Birdzell, Managing Director at Horatius Group:

  • The types of opportunities & relationships Horatius Group seeks
  • COVID-19’s impact on investment banking
  • What businesses are doing wrong with their employees

The types of opportunities & relationships Horatius Group seeks

When it comes to the kinds of opportunities Horatius Group looks for, Billy describes it as simply a response to facts:

Compared to the middle upper markets, the lower middle market makes up approximately 30 times the number of companies than middle and upper combined. And when dealing with just one CEO for each company, it’s easy to see why there’s an emphasis on the lower middle market.

Combined with the fact that most of these companies—75% of which are being sold to third parties—are being run by Baby Boomers, the need for transaction professionals to step in and help navigate these companies has never been more evident.

“It's just really special to me to be of service to them in a way that allows them to monetize their life's work and create liquidity for their family.” — Billy Birdzell

The most surprising fact about business owners

During Billy’s time building relationships with CEOs, he describes his biggest surprise as the impact of the advisor-founder relationship compared to that of a big-name company.

Horatius Group might not be the biggest, smartest, or most experienced in the market; but their ability to grow relationships has had founders choose them over and over again.

Specifically, Billy believes that starting with trust as a foundation is the best way to begin a relationship:

Honesty, authenticity, and a diversity of experience, which that founder can relate to, establishes trust, and establishes the foundation of a wonderful working relationship.” — Billy Birdzell

COVID-19’s impact on investment banking

With his training and experience in the Marine Corps, particularly with regards to handling situations requiring resilience and adaptability, Billy’s approach to investment banking is no surprise.

So, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Horatius Group thrived in the chaos. Billy explains that, no matter the situation, leveraging technology and being rapid adopters will always be beneficial in an unpredictable environment.

“There's something about a mindset of having cutting edge technologies, really showing up, being a service, and taking care of people that makes the world turn regardless of interest rates, inflation, bullets, bombs, blood, chaos, or any other exogenous factor that we can't control,” Billy explains.

For Billy, it was attracting and retaining key talent. While it was a common issue for any employer at the beginning of the pandemic, figuring out how to deal with the issue has been different for everyone.

That answer for Billy came from his experience in Baghdad: He was reminded of the immensely talented group of Marines with an average age of no older than 20, each individual proving to be a crucial part of the team. Billy’s faith in young talent led Horatius Group to hire an army of interns who get to do more than they could at other financial institutions—ultimately leading to better long-term careers for every intern involved.  

What businesses are doing wrong with their employees

While Billy has found success with his approach to attracting and retaining talent, not every company has followed that path.

Some of the challenges happen by design: it’s much easier to feel like an individual at a smaller institution than at a big one that can’t possibly give the same personalized attention.

“Being in a smaller business allows me to fulfill my purpose and work in a way that I get a lot of satisfaction from.” — Billy Birdzell

So, while bigger companies cannot get away from this setup, Billy shares some parting wisdom on how to avoid further employee frustration:

  • Don’t rely on monetary satisfaction: paying a bonus when the work is unsatisfactory rarely helps the situation.
  • Put effort into your mission statement: employees rally around a purpose. While adequate compensation is important, it must go in tandem with the company mission.

You can find this interview and many more by subscribing to Pencils Down on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or here.

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