The Association for Corporate Growth in Philadelphia is trying to institutionalize knowledge about deal-making. The organization, which represents local dealmakers, has launched a program, ACG University, to give young investment pros a chance to hone their skills under the tutelage of senior experts in the community.
The program, now midway through its inaugural series, involves 29 participants chosen from more than 40 applicants. ACG University targets younger professionals, typically two to four years into their careers, who are sponsored into the program by their employers, which are local ACG member companies and firms, said Stephanie McAlaine, the executive director of ACG Philadelphia. “We’re really building what we hope will be a deep network, affiliated through ACG.”
The course, which began in January and continues into May, includes seven half-day sessions covering a range of issues in M&A, from sourcing deals and building an acquisition strategy through valuation, due diligence, financing, closing the transaction and integrating the acquired company. A session typically begins with a classroom presentation by a senior leader in the local deal-making community, followed by breakout sessions where the students analyze their hypothetical deals in smaller groups, followed by team presentations back to the full class.
The class comprises six specific constituencies—strategic buyers, financial buyers, lenders, investment bankers, accountants and attorneys—and was balanced to include equal representation to each group, McAlaine said. “They’re all integral to getting the deal done.”
The organization spent a year planning the program and months in selecting the inaugural class, said Steve Higgins, a managing director at the hometown investment bank Janney Montgomery Scott LLC and a co-chair of the steering committee that pulled ACG University together. “Stephanie played a pretty major role in that, as she does in everything that ACG Philadelphia does.”
Early on, the committee considered drawing on the local academic community—Philly is home to the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business, among other schools—but ultimately decided to rely on the investment pros in the local chapter’s membership, Higgins said. “We thought students would get a better experience hearing it from deal professionals they know or have heard of in the Philadelphia deal community.”
Initial feedback from the students has been positive, and ACG has already begun to think about ways to tweak the program for its sophomore season in 2012. Organizers also have thought about offering the curriculum to other chapters. ACG Philadelphia has been a pioneer in the past, McAlaine said. Its DealSource networking meetup, inaugurated at a local event seven or eight years ago, is now a staple of ACG conferences, including its big InterGrowth meeting in San Diego last month.
But the program is more than its curriculum, Higgins said. “The reason this has been so successful is because of the time and effort put in by some pretty senior people in this community. I don’t know how easy it would be to replicate,” he said. “It can be done, but you need the commitment of the membership to do it right.”