Alumni Interview - Stephanie Opdam
For the first interview in the Alumni Interview Series we contacted Stephanie Opdam. Stephanie started studying at Erasmus University, like most of us here on the platform. During her time at RSM she was engaged in many extracurricular activities, including the Erasmus Honors programme, B&R Beurs, consultancy work for EUREOS and volunteer work. In this interview we get to know her and take a closer look into her current job, which involves venture debt financing.
A look at venture debt financing with Stephanie
In her last year of International Business Administration Stephanie went on exchange to the National University of Singapore. After graduating, she co-founded the charity organization UnTrapped and completed a MSc in Finance and Private Equity at the London School of Economics (LSE). Currently, she is working as an Associate at Colombia Lake Partners and is enjoying her new work life in London.
What was the application process like?
The application process for this job did not go quite as I expected. I was already applying for jobs while studying at London School of Econimics (LSE), when I received an email from an LSE alumnus. He invited me to have an informal coffee to discuss job opportunities at the company he was working for. Of course I accepted this invitation and this talk didn't feel like a job interview at all. Eight coffee meetings later I had lunch with the Managing Partner and got my contract right after!
Other applications did not go like this at all. During other applications I noticed that recruiters tend to focus on your accomplishments and extra-curricular activities. In my case, the fact that I showed an early interest in finance, in combination with my exchange experience at NUS, participation in the Honours Programme and volunteer work gave me a well-rounded profile.
Do you have any specific tips for the application process?
It may sound cliché, but it is so true: Be yourself. The company recruiters are trained to look through any lie you tell them. This also means that you should show your personality. They want to hire somebody with an opinion, especially in investment banking. Another thing that I found to be really important is to do research on the company. Find out all the ins and outs about the company and its competitors. Try to find out what the job really entails and study terms used in that job and industry. Use these terms in the interview as this helps to really make a lasting impression. Furthermore, it is always good to make the interview feel more like a conversation. That means you should ask questions too!
What is the position as Associate at Columbia Lake Partners like?
The company I work at is rather small, which means I work in a team of 4 experts from whom I can learn. We invest in the growth of new technology firms and provide them with a venture debt loan to accompany their equity financing, to make them grow even more in the coming three years. However, this is not only an office job. I spend a lot of my time at technology events, lunches, coffee meetings and drinks. These networking opportunities are important as I can talk to growing companies that might potentially be interested to receive venture debt or venture capitalists that would like to see an equity round be partially funded by debt. The rest of my time, I spend doing due diligence whereby I investigate the business with a focus on financials such as their cash flows and KPI’s. Furthermore, we create a downside or worst case scenario to make sure we are fully informed. As part of the due diligence we may call investors and customers and visit the company to meet the management team.
The hours I work vary. Especially when we are about to close a deal, we work until late. However, I don't mind, as I work in a small and strong team that is extremely motivated. On the other hand, at times when it is less busy I can go home a little earlier or sleep in.
What was surprising when you first started working?
I was surprised by how much I liked working in a small company. While I was studying most students tend to focus on big corporations, however smaller companies have big advantages. I was glad that my team involved and trusted me from the beginning. I was soon responsible for my own deals, was invited to important meetings where confidential information was discussed and was sent to events on my own. It surprised me that I have already met several people who studied IBA and are living in London. When you realize someone has studied at RSM, it creates an instant connection, proving that there is definitely an `IBA family`.
What really astonished me, is how difficult it is to put the theoretic models you learned in university into practice. Upon completing my Master’s degree at LSE, I thought; I studied for 4 years, I can make a real contribution to the world. Lies. In practice it is very difficult to relate e.g. simple financial models to ones with 30 sheets per Excel file. When I was still studying I did not understand why companies would make you take part in a traineeship/graduate program right after you graduate, now I understand.
What is your best advice for current Erasmus students?
Try to do as many activities besides your study as you can, of course without letting it negatively affect your grades. However, be strategic in the extracurricular activities you choose. Try to already find something in the field you would like to make a career into. Furthermore, be patient and keep calm. You will find that perfect job and you shouldn’t settle for less, as it will be your main occupation for the upcoming year(s).
A Closer Look Into Columbia Lake Partners
Columbia Lake Partners is a London-based venture debt fund focused on providing growth capital to European companies (UK, Ireland, Benelux and Scandinavia). They target A/B companies which are typically already generating revenues, growing quickly with high gross margins. CLP provides 36-month monthly amortizing loans to bring a combination of attractive blended cost of capital plus value beyond the loan.