How to build a practice that brings it all together
When AlixPartners was launching a dedicated M&A service offering, Dallas-based Partner Gabe Koch was one of the first people brought on. He has more than two decades of technical M&A experience, including helping clients focus on the core of their businesses and divesting and maximizing returns on the ancillary parts as a member of AlixPartners’ turnaround and restructuring practice.
But more than his tactical skills, it was his people management and ingenuity that made him right for the role.
“When I got the call, I asked, ‘why me?’ and they said ‘well, you’re entrepreneurial and have a really positive attitude, and those are the two most important qualities when building something new.’”
Gabe was excited to create a practice that centralized the firm’s M&A capabilities under one roof, merging the turnaround and restructuring team’s financial acumen with the operational expertise found within the performance & technology group as well as industry expertise across a variety of active sectors. He was also excited to create a practice that would serve as a “development accelerator” for recent grads.
“We wanted the practice to be entrepreneurial, where someone could join from business school and launch their career in a really interesting and meaningful way,” Gabe explained.
Parker Jones, a Vice President on the team, says the team is a collaborative and tight-knit group, which he credits to Gabe’s infectious energy, optimism, and empathy.
“At his core, he really cares about other people,” Parker explains.
Gabe has weekly calls with every junior member of the team, and these no-agenda meetings enable him to stay attuned to how everyone is faring on their current project, as well as how that experience is contributing to their larger career goals.
“He wants each person’s individual project experience to be a steppingstone to the next level,” Parker explains. “So, his feedback is both ‘here’s what you can be doing to be great in your current role’ and ‘focus on these things so you’re prepared for the next one.”
“Like the best team coaches, he knows which players to call on and when,” added Jessica Barreno, another Vice President on the team.
Supporting Gabe’s ambition for the practice to be a dynamic career launching pad is the tricky economic climate that is pushing investment firms and corporates need to think creatively about how to use M&A to open new markets and drive growth. This has resulted in a host of challenging projects for Gabe and his team.
“The common theme across our work is complexity without simple solutions. It’s rare for us to be involved in a straightforward carve-out or acquisition,” Gabe explained.
In one case, Gabe and his team were challenged to create a market for assets that his client needed to offload even though the client was required to sell those assets to a specific entity. In another, they were asked to maximize recovery for creditors when a bankrupted company’s plan to sell its international business fell short after due diligence revealed some fundamental challenges for the business.
Having answers for these kinds of questions has helped elevate the practice as a go-to for specialized M&A situations. “There’s this principle that says that some problems don’t have a solution. So, what do you do if a client asks you to solve one of those? You change the problem,” Gabe explained.
Even on these complex projects, Gabe asks everyone on the team, regardless of level, to own impactful workstreams and stretch themselves.
Jessica says that while she is consistently being pushed outside her comfort zone, Gabe’s investment and genuine interest in her career gives her the confidence and support to do so.
“Gabe sees your potential and nudges you a bit further than you would otherwise go to realize that potential sooner,” she said.
“We get our people involved from day one, asking them to own important projects and participate in discussions with our clients’ senior leadership teams,” Gabe said explaining the team’s development philosophy. “We want to show them the full picture as soon as possible.”