In the News Wharton Private Equity / Venture Capital Club Alumni Newsletter

Wharton Alumni Spotlight with Michael Weisser, Partner, Kirkland & Ellis

In this Q&A for the Fall 2022 edition of the Wharton Private Equity / Venture Capital Club Alumni Newsletter, partner Michael Weisser discussed how his time at UPenn influenced his practice, and the advice that he would give young professionals. 

The Wharton Alumni Engagement team had the pleasure of speaking to Michael Weisser for the Club’s first ever PE / VC Alumni Spotlight. As a partner and leader of Kirkland & Ellis’ Private Equity practice, Michael works alongside many of the biggest names in PE in various capacities. He is consistently recognized by leading publications as a premier practitioner in the industry.

Since graduating in 1995, Michael has demonstrated a strong willingness to stay engaged with the UPenn community – from giving lectures to the student body to supporting scholarship programs or serving on committees. His generosity did not stop short with the PE / VC Club and Michael was willing to carve out an hour from his busy schedule to discuss the state of the industry, benefits of being a UPenn alumnus, and advice for recent graduates looking to launch a successful career in PE.

In what ways have you benefited from being a part of the UPenn alumni network?

The UPenn alumni network is tremendous and maintaining relationships with the people I met at Penn has certainly paid big dividends for me – both personally and professionally. Many of the relationships that I made during my time as an undergraduate have benefitted me in varying degrees ranging from a reliable source of objective advice to some of them becoming clients. In fact, I met my wife at Penn and she is a Class of 97 alumna! When you’re a member of the Penn community, you will undoubtedly have many friends who go on to lead successful careers in the business world. The close- knit Penn network is a two-way street and I always make myself available to advise and help younger Penn alumni or students who reach out to me, however I can, including of course my oldest son who is currently an undergraduate sophomore at Wharton!

What excites you most about your practice?

I would say there are three things that excite me the most about private equity – the intellectual challenge of the practice, the strong relationships with my clients and finally my colleagues at Kirkland who are like family.

First, practicing PE law never gets boring. New cases, new legislation, new regulations, new deal technology and new market comps – the landscape is always changing. Also, whether on the buy side or sell side, every company is different and brings its own unique challenges to the deal. To be successful at this job, you need to be intellectually curious and challenge yourself to learn every single day. Clients expect me to combine recent market knowledge with decades of experience to provide them with the counsel and commercial judgment to best navigate their transactions. Every day is a new challenge.

Second, my clients make the job challenging but rewarding. These are some of the business world’s best and brightest and they can be very demanding and keep me on my toes at all times. But many of my clients have also become great personal friends over the past 25 years. Great PE lawyers are thinking about their clients even when they are not thinking about themselves. Someone once asked me what I do for a living, and I joked that I help my clients sleep better at night. It really is the truth, and if you can learn to do that well, then you will be successful in any service-oriented career.

And last but not least, my colleagues at Kirkland. I worked at other law firms earlier in my career and Kirkland clearly sets itself apart in terms of overall collegiality. People at Kirkland have your back - not just professionally but also personally. We hire the best and brightest legal talent and the daily interactions with my colleagues is what really keeps me going day in and day out.

Do you spend a lot of time mentoring others and what is the most rewarding part of the mentorship experience?

Mentoring is a really big part of what I do, even more so as a partner. Helping our associates develop their skills and helping our junior partners build out their practices is absolutely one of the most rewarding parts of the job. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have mentees who have become very successful: some are partners at Kirkland or other law firms, some are GCs at companies or funds and others have found success in the business world in non-legal jobs. Paying it forward is better done than said.

What’s some career advice for young professionals that you wish someone told you back in the day?

First piece of advice - always be networking! No matter how much you think you appreciate the value of networking, you’re still probably underestimating how powerful it can be. Many people don’t realize this until the later stages of their career and the beauty is that you never know which of your friends will be in a position to help you personally or professionally. My advice to young professionals is don’t make a mistake by locking yourself in an office all the time - go meet as many people as possible and form genuine relationships.

Second piece of advice - never pigeonhole yourself. The PE industry is constantly evolving and we’ve seen new hot areas in the last few years such as GP led deals, secondaries and infrastructure. Someone needs to be an expert in all new and emerging products and industries – why not you? While you may have an idea for what you want to do today, make sure that you’re never afraid to pursue something novel if you believe it has potential. Be ready to step out of your comfort zone. Be nimble, be flexible, and always have confidence to bet on yourself!