Off-duty: Lovell Minnick’s Spencer Hoffman on the joy of cooking, fly fishing and Janis Joplin

Hoffman shares with us his crush-it karaoke song, his fantasy job at a New England bed-and-breakfast, and his thoughts on why reputation is everything in private equity.

Spencer Hoffman, Lovell Minnick Partners

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

Lovell Minnick Partners’ Spencer Hoffman decided early in life he wanted to be “on the principal side of investing.”

Starting his career as an analyst in Merrill Lynch’s technology investment banking group, he eventually got his wish, becoming a principal at listed growth capital investor Safeguard Scientifics, where he completed more than 20 private and public transactions.

In 2007, Hoffman joined Lovell Minnick, a private equity firm that since its 1999 founding by Jeffrey Lovell and James Minnick has specialized in investing across the financial services value chain. Backing more than 50 platform companies to date, the firm is today led by co-chairmen Lovell and Minnick and a seven-person partnership team that includes Hoffman. It is investing from a fifth flagship fund, closed in 2019 at $1.28 billion.

Outside of work, Hoffman is a dedicated family man. Marrying his high school sweetheart, he devotes much of his time with her raising three daughters.

Where is your hometown?                                                                                      

I was born in Boston but have lived in Philadelphia for the last 20-plus years. If you ask where I spend most of my time, then it’s mostly airports (just like it’s 2019 again).

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

If I didn’t work in private equity, my dream job would be host, chef and fly-fishing guide for a no-website, one-room bed and breakfast on the New England coast.

How do you relax when you’re not working?

I love cooking and eating with my family and fly-fishing (and eating) with my friends.

What book are you reading right now?

Provence, 1970: MFK Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard and the Reinvention of American Taste by Luke Barr.

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

I love music that is heartfelt and makes me want to move. My favorite song is “Tangled up in Blue” by Bob Dylan, but my crush-it karaoke song is “Me and Bobby McGee” (the Janis Joplin version). My favorite albums are Les Misérables Original Broadway Cast and Trio ‘65 by the Bill Evans Trio. While I’ve never been able to see him in person, Mark Knopfler is my favorite performer/musician.

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

Any place that gets me off the grid, in actuality or in my mind. A remote portion of the Adirondacks with no cell service, exploring a food market with my family – both work equally well as sanctuaries to rest, rebuild and gain perspective.

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

My favorite meal and/or bottle of wine are those that match the environment and group for which they are being served.

The best meals are those that just flow with the mood of the group, weaving their way into conversation and complementing the get-together with flavor. For the wine, it’s the same idea. It’s not a region, a grape, a producer or label that makes for my favorite wines, but rather those bottles that both pair with the food while also working alongside the mood and palate of the group at that time.

When viewed this way, favorites can take many forms and there’s always an opportunity for a new favorite.

Who in your career do you regard as a mentor?

No single person. Rather, I’ve had the benefit of working with many men and women from whom I’ve found something to learn, to emulate, to bring into my consciousness in terms of how they respond to adversity or how they build trust and conviction amongst their teams.

Sometimes these people have been more senior to me, sometimes they’ve been in the portfolio companies with which we work, and often they’re the younger members of our team. Few of them would consider themselves as my mentor in a formal sense, but their impact has been equivalent. They all have brought something to my career and the way I work with people, and I wouldn’t be who I am (for better or worse) without this 360-degree ad hoc mentoring over the last quarter-century.

Professionally, what was your toughest moment?

In October of 2001, in the post-9/11, post-tech wreck economy, I came into work to find the head of our firm had flown in to tell us they were shutting down our office and that I was likely out of a job. That morning I was late to come in, so he had to wait around for me (in my defense, his visit was unannounced) because I was with my wife at our first pregnancy check-up, expecting our first baby.

While I am not sure it was the toughest moment, the swing from a fantastic emotional high to a “well, now what am I going do” sense of panic as I contemplated a new baby, a wife in grad school, and no income while in a recession, was a bit of a whipsaw moment in that conference room I won’t forget.

What was your most rewarding moment?

I’m not sure I could pick just one. However, whenever a management team says that they did some background work on Lovell Minnick and found we are great partners and business-builders, then I feel very much rewarded.

We work in an industry that can fall into a transactional mindset, where long-term reputation isn’t as important as winning the short-term negotiation. That’s not a good way to be a long-term investor in growing businesses. Having helped build a firm whose reputation repeatedly helps management teams choose us as their partner, I find that moment when we’ve been selected extraordinarily rewarding each time.

What PE buzz words or jargon do you hate most?

“Curate” should be reserved for museum collections. “Fireside chat” suggests something very different than the pre-process speed-dating format it is. “Non-process, process” still makes no sense to me and I welcome someone to explain the concept. And “banker’s handful” is a conundrum of math intersecting with biology that I don’t understand, so maybe we need to move the apostrophe to after the “s” to make it more accurately reflect the big number it connotes?

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

Take the long view – building companies and building careers in a PE environment takes time and patience.

Develop knowledge and perspective in an area of relevance. Bring more than Excel skills to the table and you will be invited to the table more frequently. Focus on what an end-market really wants and needs and don’t get wowed by what a vendor wants to sell them – understanding the clients’ needs shines a light on where you can find opportunity for growth.

Always remember that companies and their clients are people, not numbers in a spreadsheet. Putting that perspective first helps drive better decision-making across all topics in private equity.

What word or phrase best describes you?

I would say “eclectic.” As someone who loves steep learning curves, I’m frequently diving (often quite deeply) into new topics across a wide variety of disciplines. These journeys continue to shape my perspective on all things I do and, I hope, make me a better citizen of the world.