Off-duty: FTV’s Brad Bernstein on being a BBQ pitmaster, wake surfing and Black Manhattans

Bernstein tells us about his getaway in Connecticut's Litchfield Hills, his love for New Orleans’ JazzFest and why it's important to remember, ‘if you are looking, it ain’t cooking.’

Brad Bernstein, FTV Capital

Buyouts’ Off-duty provides a snapshot of top investors, including a few details about what they do when not chasing deals.

FTV Capital managing partner Brad Bernstein, who enjoys skiing off-piste, considers himself “a thoughtful risk-taker.” This may explain why he quickly discovered a yen for private equity while working at Merrill Lynch. “I wanted to move my career to that side of the table,” he told Buyouts.

It was the right move. Starting out at Patricof & Company Ventures, Bernstein next joined Oak Hill Capital in 1992. He rose from associate to partner, overseeing the business and financial services group.

In 2002, Bernstein met FTV when the growth equity shop was doing a deal with Oak Hill. The new firm inspired “value-add envy,” he said, because of its “deep domain expertise” and extensive networks in financial services. He signed on as a partner, opening FTV’s New York office.

Promoted to managing partner in 2016, alongside co-founder Richard Garman, Bernstein’s toughest moment on-the-job came in 2020, when he assumed the leadership of FTV – just as the pandemic broke out. “There was no instruction manual for that one,” he said.

Married and a father of two, Bernstein’s many volunteer roles include trustee of New York’s Central Synagogue.

Where is your hometown?

I grew up in New York City and have spent most of my adult life in the Big Apple, so I’ll always be a New Yorker at heart!

If you weren’t in PE, what job would you like to have?

I missed my calling to be a restaurateur. I can barely remember a face or a name, but I can tell you what I ate at every restaurant I’ve ever been to. Seeing people enjoying great food paired with great wine is always gratifying for me.

How do you relax when you’re not working?

Relaxation isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you are managing partner of a growth equity firm – there’s never a dull moment!

However, quality time with my family and friends in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut always feels like a respite from the chaos. While there, I love wake surfing, golfing and honing my skills as a BBQ pitmaster. There’s nothing more satisfying than getting a solid bark on your brisket after a 12-hour smoke – remember, if you are looking, it ain’t cooking.

What book are you reading right now?

Right now, I am deep into Nathaniel’s Nutmeg by Giles Milton, which is a fascinating account of the 1600s spice trade. You might call spice traders the growth entrepreneurs of an earlier era. Their stories and the perils they faced bring new meaning to asymmetric risk-reward.

What is your favorite song, album, performer or music genre?

My music tastes are pretty eclectic and can best be summarized by my enthusiasm for JazzFest in New Orleans. I never get tired of wandering from the blues tent to the jazz tent to the gospel tent hearing good music. But I also definitely love some good old-fashioned rock and roll like Dead & Co or Mumford & Sons.

What is your favorite place for a vacation, sanctuary or to explore? 

Traveling has been, and continues to be, a passion of mine.

My family has been on many adventures, but India stands out as particularly special. I began traveling there for business 20 years ago and developed a deep appreciation for the country’s culture, history and people, especially in Rajasthan. Of course, studying abroad in China in 1987, just as the country was opening up, was also unforgettable.

What is your favorite meal, recipe, cocktail or bottle of wine?

In the summer, I’m all about the spicy margarita. In the winter, I like the smokey flavor of a Black Manhattan.

Who in your career do you regard as a mentor?

I can honestly say that I have had the pleasure of working with amazing people throughout my career and found many folks in finance that were willing to mentor junior folks such as myself.

Merrill Lynch was filled with such people when I was an analyst. I went on to work with legends like Alan Patricof, a pioneer in the venture capital industry, and Dan Doctoroff at Oak Hill Capital, who taught me invaluable lessons that have served me well throughout my career.

Professionally, what was your toughest moment?

My long-term co-managing partner, Richard Garman, handed me the keys to FTV at the beginning of 2020, right before the global pandemic hit, and leading the firm through a once-in-a-hundred-year crisis was incredibly challenging. There was no instruction manual for that one!

What was your most rewarding moment?

It was profoundly gratifying to celebrate FTV’s 25th anniversary last year by bringing together our amazing community of founders, investors, colleagues and partners in our global network who have contributed to our unique culture and firm. Witnessing FTV’s evolution and the enduring relationships and successes we’ve cultivated has truly been the highlight of my career.

What PE buzz words or jargon do you hate most?

TAM (total addressable market) analyses often make me scratch my head. While it seems logical, they almost always are consulting exercises that are theoretical and hard to tie back to reality.

I’m always more interested in the currently vended market and the growth rate today that is being exhibited in the data.

What advice would you give a young person interested in a PE career?

Read as many investor biographies as you can, gain as much quantitative analytical experience as possible at either a bank or a private equity firm, and seek out a mentor you respect and can learn from.

What word or phrase best describes you?

Voracious curiosity – I always have a lot of questions and want to learn more.