By Alissa Song Apr 29, 2019
Alissa Song joined KKR in 2015 as an Analyst after graduating from Harvard College. Today, she is an Associate in KKR’s Americas Private Equity business where she focuses on investing in industrial companies. Prior to KKR, she worked at McKinsey & Company and Goldman Sachs in New York in internship roles.
Why did you choose the Industrials sector as your focus?
Looking back, I wasn’t sure what sector I wanted to focus on at first. I think that was the case for a lot of my friends too. I wanted to be open minded.
In a role where you’re constantly working closely with a team, I think the group of people you choose to join sometimes matters more than the sector. As I met folks on the Industrials team, it just clicked for me. I liked their investment strategy and their culture. They believed in apprenticeship and truly cared about spending time to train and develop team members. And they seemed like cool people. In the four years I’ve been with KKR now, they’ve become some of my closest mentors.
And, luckily for me, I think Industrials was a great fit for my interests. I liked the operational focus and rigor of the team. We spend a lot of time thinking about value creation in salesforce effectiveness, lean manufacturing, supply chain, channel management, employee ownership, and much more. I’ve visited our portfolio companies numerous times over the years to partner with them on strategic initiatives and we’ve had teammates embed themselves at companies for months at a time to drive projects. Our team even joined an intensive lean manufacturing training program in Japan last year – it was pretty eye opening for me.
What surprised you most about your KKR Analyst experience?
As an Analyst, there were a couple realizations along the way that I’m not sure I fully appreciated before joining KKR.
Realization #1. It’s a pretty rare opportunity to learn from the best, from day one.
You get to learn directly from the teammates at KKR – some of the top investors in the industry. When I first joined, a Director walked me through building an operating model, a Principal showed me how to lead management discussions, and we spent hours debating bidding tactics.
Other opportunities included working side-by-side on projects with our portfolio company CFO, participating in board meetings, and getting to know executives of businesses we’re contemplating investing in. That was just a brief sampling of the folks I got to engage with during my first year at KKR. I was honestly blown away by the caliber of people.
Realization #2. They weren’t kidding when they said it’s fast-paced.
One of my first projects with the Industrials team was an add-on acquisition opportunity that we were looking at for a portfolio company. It was a small business in Belgium that had top-notch manufacturing technology. We got the company materials, liked what we saw, and hopped on a flight to Europe immediately. I realized that this is a place that seizes opportunity quickly and doesn't let things pass by.
Realization #3. You get an incredible amount of responsibility in driving projects forward.
One of longer-term projects I got to work on as an Analyst was exiting our investment in Capsugel, the world’s leading provider of hard capsules and drug delivery systems. We ended up selling the business for $5.5 billion to Lonza, generating one of the top five largest profits from a single deal for KKR over the past decade.
The primary KKR deal team was three people: the Head of Industrials, a Director, and me. It’s not unusual for Analysts at KKR to get these types of experiences – we tend to have lean deal teams which translates into a lot of learning and responsibility.
What has been most memorable about your experience?
With a lot of industrial companies, it’s the line workers who are closest to the products – they are the ones who operate the manufacturing systems, have ideas on how to make production more efficient, and ensure high quality. However, manufacturing is an industry where employee ownership is often lacking. So Pete, our Head of Industrials, came up with a different approach. We proposed extending equity ownership to the entire factory floor.
The first portfolio company I got to work on this initiative with was C.H.I. Overhead Doors, a garage door manufacturer in Arthur, Illinois. I’ve gotten to see firsthand how motivating ownership can be, from production folks who raised product quality issues to truck drivers who wanted to fix their delivery routes. Having a stake in the business gave them a reason to speak up.
I’ll never forget the time we travelled to C.H.I. to announce our first dividend. The business had grown significantly, and distributions were made to all 700 employees because every single one of them had participated in ownership of the company.
And it hasn’t stopped there. We’ve since rolled out similar equity ownership programs across our Industrials portfolio companies and hope to drive widespread employee ownership more broadly. It’s a novel idea with the potential for making a huge, positive impact on employees and their communities and it’s one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve had at KKR.