Opportunities are made, not found

Deals are cultivated

The deal flow for a junior lawyer at a successful law firm (and probably for a junior banker or consultant, too) is so high that big-ticket transaction eventually seem like weeds cropping up faster than you can mow them down. The reality, of course, is that deals are seedless watermelons. They don't exist in nature; they have to be imagined and then cultivated. This is tough work.

Why deal making is so hard

I only came to understand the true challenge of and odds against successful dealmaking during my time at a private equity fund that was investing in emerging markets.

I worked with a partner who was focused on finding a deal in Indonesia and I'd describe our challenge to friends by saying: "I once got into a cab at a hotel in Jakarta to meet an acquaintance for dinner. Before leaving the hotel I had the concierge write down the restaurant's name and address and asked the doorman to tell the taxi driver where I was going . . . and we still got lost for two hours. Now imagine the challenge of finding an investment opportunity in a company located somewhere in Jakarta (or one of the hundreds of islands in the archipelago) that has the potential for massive growth over the next several years, is managed by trustworthy executives who you somehow manage to meet but who you may not share a common language with, fits the fund's investment mandate, needs money now, wants your money in particular, and isn't breaking laws in any of three or four jurisdictions. Good luck!"

An opportunity that ticks those boxes doesn't exist in nature and if it did exist in nature then you can be sure that someone else would have discovered it before you.

Business developers make deals; they don't find deals

If you're in business development or trying to transition your career into that sort of role remember that the deals that will make impact your company don't exist. Our job is to engineer the sorts of winning opportunities that can lead to step changes.