Q&A – Sitting Down with ASG Corp Dev, Austin French

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Meet Austin French, a Corporate Development (or Corp Dev) professional at ASG who sources, evaluates and executes investment opportunities.

Austin received his Bachelor’s degree in Finance, with minors in Accounting and Economics at the University of Denver, where he was also captain of the men’s Division I lacrosse team. Austin previously interned at Merrill Lynch and Charles Schwab, where he learned the ins and outs of the financial sector.

After 2 years at ASG, we sat down with Austin to hear his reflections on his journey, learnings and advice for folks who are just entering the workforce.

How did you decide to join the Corporate Development team here at ASG?

Despite being a Finance major, I was turned off by the world of Private Equity (PE), Venture Capital (VC), and Investment Banking (IB) during my college days. There was a certain stereotype and stigma that surrounded the industry, and I found myself steering clear of this space for that reason.

In an attempt to figure out what career was right for me, I spent my last two years of college networking and learning about new opportunities whenever I could. My roots in the lacrosse world connected me with Mark Strauch (Co-Founder of ASG, Partner at Alpine Investors), which is how I was introduced to the Corporate Development role at ASG (come join our team!). After several phone calls and spending time interviewing at the ASG office with Mark, Jake Brodsky, and several others, my preconceived notion of the industry that ASG played in was flipped upside down. ASG contradicted many of the negative connotations I associated with this line of work – ASG believed in investing in and caring deeply about the employees within its community (both professionally and personally), that attributes matter more than experience (which hit home since I was coming from a “non-target” school without PE/VC/IB experience), and that responsibility at a young age can be empowering and lead to long-term development that benefits both the individual employee and ASG.

Side note – I found the Corp Dev role itself to be unique and attractive given it required so many different skill sets (analytical, interpersonal, leadership, etc.), and the nature of the day-to-day and people I would be interacting with would allow me to grow both personally and professionally in a way most roles would not allow for.

What have been some of the biggest learnings and challenges in your professional development, how did you overcome them?

When I started at ASG, I felt far outside of my comfort zone (in a good way). Before starting, I believed that my degree and prior work experience should give me the necessary footing to take on my first few weeks with confidence. To my surprise, I found that the intangible skills I gathered through my education and prior internships came in handy more than the tangible or technical skills– how to prepare adequately, think critically, be a team-player, ask for help, and so on.

Still, I found myself challenged my first few weeks and months at ASG in ways I had not experienced in school or at my prior internships. Where I had been equally challenged and what I found had truly developed who I was as a person as a result of these challenges and learnings was my time spent playing sports. The parallels between sports and business/personal development have always amazed me. The sports I grew up playing required a different set of intangible skills than in school or my internship experiences, ones that I found myself falling back on as I was challenged getting up the learning curve, and still today. How to stay composed through the highs and lows of a season, the leadership required to bear through tough times, the importance of playing with confidence and good communication are all things lessons I learned through sports, and otherwise may not have. My message to those entering the workforce is to not always expect that your education and internship experiences alone will prepare you for the steep learning curve that everyone faces when entering the workforce. Think about the major challenges you’ve had in life that make you unique, how you were able to overcome and learn from them and apply these learnings towards the new challenges in a work setting.

A few additional learnings I want to call out from my time at ASG so far:

  1. Always have a “take” on things. When we’re put in an environment where we feel like we don’t know what we’re talking about and are outside of our comfort zone, a natural tendency can be to defer to others or “play it safe.” In doing so, we don’t allow ourselves to make mistakes I often found myself in this position during my first few months at ASG, where I was in a room with folks smarter and more qualified than myself discussing topics and making decisions. Through experience, I’ve found that mistakes or “being wrong” can be the key factor in promoting learning and development. Having an opinion or a take on things doesn’t mean you always have to speak, it means thinking critically about whatever is at hand, and formalizing an educated opinion on that subject rather than being a bystander. You’re less likely to learn on the sidelines than being in the game.
  2. The outcome of your work is not the only measure of success. One of the potentially negative aspects of how school and sports work is that they tend to be results or outcomes driven. You get a grade, and you either win or lose. I found myself very outcome-driven when I started at ASG, and I graded myself as winning or losing in almost everything I did. As I tallied up the wins and losses during my first few weeks or months, I felt like I was losing more than winning. What was missing from the equation was everything in between the start and the finish line (falling in love with the process of learning), which is exactly what led to my success on the lacrosse field during my college days. I loved the sport, and that made training enjoyable which in turn led to positive outcomes and results. I realized there wasn’t going to be a lot of instant gratification in the form of winning in my early days at ASG as there was a lot to learn before I could get there. Figuring out how to fall in love with the process is the easiest way to start producing the results and outcomes you are looking for.
  3. Leverage those around you and ask a lot of questions. This is something I can say I wish I did even more when starting. If you are hired by a company, they are going to invest time and effort in getting you up to speed. Those around you want you to succeed because you are all on the same team. It can be difficult to step back and realize this at times but asking the “dumb” questions early is one of the easiest ways to learn at a fast pace, and benefits everyone in the long run.

What have you enjoyed most about the type of work you do on the Corporate Development team here at ASG?

I enjoy the diversity of responsibilities the Corporate Development team is tasked with. This role requires so many different skillsets because the scope of our work is so wide. I find myself leveraging my interpersonal and emotional intelligence when speaking with founders, and the leadership and analytical skills when evaluating and executing investments. A few specific highlights of this role:

  1. Getting to work with and learn from intelligent and passionate founders. Across both sourcing and execution, the Corporate Development team works with countless founders of great businesses. What I love the most is being able to connect on a personal level with founders, hear the story of their great business and hopefully convince them that ASG is the right home for their business moving forward.
  2. Responsibility early in your career. In the land of M&A, things move quickly. ASG is constantly assessing multiple companies at once for potential acquisitions, and all hands are needed on deck. This means the training wheels come off early, and you have the opportunity, when earned, to graduate from being in a deal support role to a deal lead role early in your career. This is not true for all firms in our space and comes from ASG’s deep belief in attributes over experience. If you have the attributes to lead a deal, that opportunity is given to you, and you will make up for the lack of experience very quickly. The same can be said on the sourcing side where you are speaking directly with founders at a very early stage in your career and you are having to make the decisions on ASG’s behalf in real time. The result of bigger responsibilities at a young age is rapid learning and development.

Do you have any advice for those pursuing a Corporate Development / role in the investment space?

Network as early and often as you can. Corporate Development is broad, and the investing landscape is even more broad. There are many different types of investing, industries in which you can invest, and roles within investing firms. Start broad and see how much you can learn about different opportunities, figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are, what you are passionate about, and narrow your search down from there. When you are networking at a young age, you can often feel like you don’t have much to give compared with the person who is offering you advice. Find ways to stand out and generally just be the type they would want to work with or hire (i.e. be yourself!). Offer to buy their coffee, help their kids out in some way (tutoring, coaching, etc.), or whatever else you can think of. After speaking with someone, see if there is anyone else in their network they would be willing to connect you to. When it comes to selecting a company you want to work for, do not overlook both the values of the business and yourself, and question whether your experience and interactions with folks during the interview process shows this company living by their beliefs. Core values can be overshadowed by compensation and brand or prestige of a company and position, but at the end of the day you want to work for a company where you’re passionate about your work, surrounded by like-minded and intelligent people, and being challenged in a way that leads to personal and professional growth.

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Alvin Kim
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Alvin Kim

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