Name: Teresa Anne Teodori
Hometown: Scottsdale, AZ
Undergrad: Washington University in St. Louis, Olin School of Business
Majors: Finance, Economics & Strategy
Activities: Delta Sigma Pi, Olin Peer Advising, Teaching Assistant, Olin Ambassador, Taylor Community Consulting, Undergraduate Business Council
1st Job: Business Analyst @ McKinsey & Company
2nd Job: Associate >> Vice President @ New Mountain Capital
3rd Job: Senior Associate (VP equivalent) @ Charlesbank Capital Partners
Current Job: Head of Integration and Global R&D Strategy & Finance Director @ Platform Specialty Products Corporation
Grad School: Washington University in St. Louis, Masters in Finance
Internships: Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch
Teresa Teodori was among a small group accepted to the first class of Harvard Business School’s highly selective 2+2 Program, where she would have earned an MBA after two years in a professional field. But when the time came, Teodori chose to let one of the most prestigious programs in the country down easy, because, simply — she was already living it. Upon earning her undergraduate degree from Washington University’s Olin Business School in 2009, Teodori had job offers from four prestigious consulting firms.
Teodori earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and a Master of Science in Finance. She interned at Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs, where she fed her insatiable desire to learn more about the business world.
She’s worked in investment banking, strategy consulting, and private equity. Teodori began her professional career at McKinsey & Company, where she served as a business analyst before starting a career in private equity, first at New Mountain Capital, second Charlesbank Capital Partners and now at Platform Specialty Products in New York. She currently is Head of Integration and Global R&D Strategy and Finance Director for the firm.
In this interview, she shares how she found her passion for business, best practices for consulting interviews and building relationships with recruiters, and how to get a seat at the deal table, not read about it in a business school case.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Pittsburgh, Pa. My family moved to London for a short time while my dad finished his residency. When I was three, we moved to Scottsdale, Az., where I lived until I went to college. My dad is a pediatric cardiovascular surgeon, and my mom is a pediatric neurologist. I’m the middle of three children, with an older brother and younger sister — each two years apart.
“If you can see yourself doing something else, do something else.”
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I actually wanted to be a fairy princess or a pony when I was three. When that didn’t pan out, and actually for most of my formative years, I wanted to have a career in theater.
When I was 16, I attended a musical theater summer program at Carnegie Mellon, which has one of the best collegiate musical theater programs in the country. In a sense, it was a teacher at that summer camp who changed my life trajectory. We had an improv teacher who really forced us to reflect on how much we “wanted it,” and what other options were interesting to us. He was completely honest about the brutality of the theater industry and essentially said “You will get told you’re too fat, too skinny, too tall, too short, too pretty, too ugly . . . everything. If you can see yourself doing something else, do something else.”
I know there were others there who couldn’t imagine doing anything else with their lives, but I remember looking at him and thinking “I can see myself doing so many other things.”
How did you decide what you wanted to pursue?
I found having a hypothesis to be extremely helpful. It’s so hard to know what you don’t know – but you can talk to a lot of people, get a sense of what’s out there, develop a hypothesis, find ways to test it, and adjust as you learn more. I hated the idea of not having a plan or direction, so I picked one based on what I knew and liked and continued to refine it. In high school, it wasn’t complex – my thinking was basically that I love people and numbers and math, so the summer after the theater camp, at age 17, I went to a program at Wharton about leadership in the business world. I fell in love with business.
I had just heard about investment banking and consulting for the first time in that program. Shortly after that, a school counselor nominated me for a scholarship at Washington University, where I had the opportunity to spend a weekend a few months later. I spent most of my time at the business school and it felt like a perfect fit.
Did you have a second thought about continuing with theater?
I liked the idea of theater being something fun that I did — more of a hobby than a career. At Wash U, I performed in the musical, “Hair,” my freshman year. I took voice lessons and a couple theater classes over the years. It’s fun to still have theater be a part of my life, without it being everything. Once I discovered business, I never looked back career-wise.
“If I was waiting tables, keeping side jobs and going on all these auditions hoping for an eventual break, would I be satisfied with my life and career?”
If the theater teacher didn’t ask you that question, do you think your path would have looked different?
It might have. That was the first time that something really made me stop and consider my path in that way.
The decision not to pursue theater wasn’t easy, and I knew people on both sides of the aisle. I have a friend who went to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, which is one of the top two programs in musical theatre. She was a star in the Arizona theatre scene, but never really got beyond that. On the other hand, I went to elementary school with Emily Stone, who is now Emma Stone. Even as a child, she knew what she wanted. She was focused and determined to have that career we all dreamed about as kids.
The question I had to ask myself was: If I was waiting tables, keeping side jobs and going on all these auditions hoping for an eventual break, would I be satisfied with my life and career? For me, the answer was no. I would have felt like I was letting myself down because there were so many other things I would have been excited about doing and could have done instead. I didn’t have to have this to be happy.
Have you used that same question later in life for making other big decisions?
A number of times, thought it’s evolved a little bit. The biggest thing I took from that question was to make sure at every critical moment that I was being true to myself and what I wanted longer-term. If I look back on a decision decades from now, is it something I’m going to be proud of? It’s been a good check for myself to make sure that I’m living in accordance with my values and who I really want to be.
You said you love numbers, finance and people. How did you realize that you wanted an actual career working with those things?
The theater camp prompted a very self-reflective episode for me, but it was really just thinking about where I was having the most fun, both in and out of school. I always loved puzzles, problem solving and people. Business seemed like a good way to combine those passions in a meaningful way.
In high school, I was really focused on having direction — I looked at it like having a hypothesis for life. I wanted to develop an idea for where I was going and what I wanted to do, allow myself to experiment and alter my hypothesis from there. I think if you do that well and are true to yourself, you’ll find something that’s a great fit for you. I wanted to continue to refine my hypothesis, so the thought of getting to freshman summer and not having a plan was not an option for me.
“I went to all the information sessions as a freshman, but was repeatedly told no – and over and over again.”
How did you refine what you wanted to do?
Business is a very broad category, right? I didn’t have a clue where I wanted to focus within that when I got to WashU, but spent a bunch of time talking to juniors, seniors, professors, and recruiters learning about what they did and had experienced, what options were available, and what they looked like, and it really helped me refine my perspective. Initially, I was drawn to consulting. It seemed to have the some of the same themes of problem solving and working with smart people. I felt like you could really drive impact and create something lasting at the companies you work for. I went to all the information sessions as a freshman, but was repeatedly told no – and over and over again, it was, “Sorry, we don’t hire freshman interns.” I scrambled and found a summer program that guaranteed a summer internship. They had Merrill Lynch on their list of partner companies, and I thought that was a perfect place to start to get a solid experience and a strong name on my resume.
I remember telling the internship coordinator my plan, and he told me that Merrill Lynch doesn’t hire freshman and that I should prepare backups. I wasn’t willing not to try, even if the chances were slim. He sent in my resume and I was lucky enough to talk to a wealth manager willing to give me a shot. I worked with him that summer and opportunities spawned from there.
What did you do as a freshman at your summer internship?
It was before widespread internet plugins for mutual funds, so I was doing a lot of manual research on mutual funds that were available. I built out and maintained a spreadsheet measuring performance of key funds, how they were rated, and their performance, and putting together recommendations on what I thought was interesting for our client base based on their short- and long-term goals. I was able to attend a couple meetings with clients, and there were even a few times where I had strategies or ideas of how clients could allocate their capital that they took. It was a good experience. The internship was eight weeks — long enough to know that I wanted to do something faster paced than wealth management, but I learned a great deal, and was so lucky to have a strong mentor in that wealth manager who really took me under his wing.
How was your sophomore year internship at Lehman?
I had an option to go back to Merrill and work for the same guy again, but I wanted to do something different. I had heard so much about investment banking, and how fast-paced, dynamic, and exciting of an environment was, so was really curious to try it. A few of the bulge-bracket banks had sophomore internship programs at the time, but none of them recruited at WashU directly. A friend, however, had a family friend at Lehman Brothers, which did have a sophomore internship program. She sent in my resume and I was selected to interview and ultimately chosen to participate.
During the internship, I rotated through two different groups over the summer: leveraged finance and a private investment management strategy group, which was like an internal consulting arm for their investment management division. It wasn’t a long enough exposure to banking to give me a sense of whether I wanted to do banking or not, but I really liked the group of people I was with, and the culture was amazing. So when they gave me an offer to go back my junior summer, I happily accepted.
“I felt like I was running numbers through the same model over and over again and I wasn’t having as much fun.”
What did you do in the meantime?
In the meantime, I was going abroad to do the London program. I had gone on the Wall Street Week trip in the fall. I was being recruited at Goldman Sachs and I thought it would be interesting to see how that compared to Lehman Brothers and take that semester at London to do that.
I was in the equity convertibles group at Goldman. Four or five months of that internship was enough time to decide that I didn’t want to do banking. I felt like I was running numbers through the same model over and over again and I wasn’t having as much fun.
What happened next?
I was thinking about what I wanted to do at Lehman the next summer. Not enjoying my banking experience at Goldman was a bit scary heading into it, but I had heard a lot about private equity and thought it was a nice combination of the investing side that I had enjoyed at Merrill and some elements of consulting, like company analysis and getting to know and partner with management teams, plus actually having ownership and getting to see it all really come to life.
During my second summer there, I was in their private funds investment group. We did fund of funds, secondaries and co-investments. It was an incredible team, and I absolutely loved the work – and became very excited about investing. That was the summer of 2008. Then the fall of 2008 happened. Obviously it was a tough time in the market, but Barclays did honor our offers to join after they bought many of the pieces of Lehman following the bankruptcy.
I could have gone back to the group I was with at Lehman. I really wanted to do private equity but wanted to be in a principal role, unlike with fund of funds and co-investments. I also loved the idea of being able to help the companies we invested in and drive improvement in their businesses, and to really be a value-added partner. So I kind of came back full-circle to consulting and feeling like that was the right place to start out of college.
I hadn’t done consulting, but I had done the Taylor Community Consulting program at Wash U and a number of case competitions, and had a bunch of friends who had gone to McKinsey, Bain and Deloitte. I honestly even found the interview prep fun – the case interviews were always interesting problems, and it was fun to think about how to solve them.
How did you decide banking was not for you?
I found that I just didn’t love being on the sell-side – particularly in a product group where we had such a limited toolbox to work with to solve problems. It was like we had a few key levers to work with, but that was it, so I was just running different numbers through the same model and copying them into the same deck over and over. It felt like we were trying to fit all the problems to our particular solution. I met so many incredible people in all of those internships who have served as wonderful, long-standing mentors and friends, which is invaluable, but the actual work itself wasn’t for me. Again, this is more an issue with being in a product group than an industry group I think, but it just didn’t resonate.
“I can’t recommend this enough – it was so helpful to actually get to play the part of the interviewer.”
How did you prepare for consulting interviews?
The consulting case interviews, in particular, require a lot of specific preparation. What I found really helpful was practicing with a friend. We would meet a few times a week, and each give each other a case and do a debrief. I can’t recommend this enough – it was so helpful to actually get to play the part of the interviewer and hear different ways of approaching and thinking about the case to be solved. By the time we got to interviews, most of what we were asked was easier than what we had practiced with each other. The “test” felt like nothing compared to the homework we’d done.
The other thing I did that I found really helpful to prepare was talking out loud through all the other questions. Most firms ask similar questions in interviews, and there are all kinds of materials to find out what they are from the career center, blogs, juniors or seniors, and recent grads. Take the time to speak through your planned responses out loud. It allows you to work on things that you feel are weak or don’t tell a coherent story
Did your preparation work?
Through some combination of having done well in school and my interviews, I had offers from Bain, BCG, McKinsey and Deloitte.
Anything you would have changed about your interview preparation?
Not really. I felt like I over-prepared on a lot of things, but I was really glad that I had. I thought that served me really well.
I always tried to be self-aware. One area where people tend to fall down in those interviews is in thinking about areas of development, strengths and weaknesses. Recognizing a personal development area and showing that you are trying to develop it shows a level of maturity and really fares well with interviewers. I think it makes you stand out as self-reflective and growth-oriented.
“Whatever you do should be authentic to who you are – for me, energy was key.”
In addition to being transparent, how else did you stand out amongst the other candidates?
Whatever you do should be authentic to who you are – for me, energy was key. I always walk in with a ton of energy and enthusiasm for what I was doing, and a very high level of hunger and passion. I got positive feedback in terms of enthusiasm and engagement at all of my internships, interviews and jobs. It works for me and is true to my own.
There are always going to be plenty of people who are smart. Really showing initiative, taking leadership roles, and really being a more than two-dimensional person is important. It’s not all about grades at the end.
What happened after your first interview? How did you follow up?
Always, always, always send thank you notes.
One of my favorite tips is that as soon as that person walks out of the room, take a second to write down three or four things that person said on the back of their business card. When I wrote them a note at the end, it was personal and specific to the conversation we had had. A lot of times the note you send may get forwarded to others on the team, so don’t send the same thing to everybody.
I always made a point at the end of every interview to say that I was interested in the role and excited about moving forward. It might seem like you’re stating the obvious, but it sets you apart from those who don’t express their excitement for the role.
Did you send a handwritten note or email?
I usually sent an email only because of how fast things went. I think a handwritten note is such a nice touch, but practically, it often just doesn’t get there fast enough with how quickly all these things happen.
“There is nothing more off-putting in an interview to say to somebody “No, I don’t have any questions for you.”
What happened between the first round interviews and the offer letters?
The first rounds were typically a little lighter, with one or two people and shorter, lighter cases. It would get heavier as you go on. They all ended with super-days, which are 4-6 hours of back-to-back interviews in the office. The offices I interviewed with were in Dallas and Chicago, so I traveled for each of them.
One thing to keep in mind is that you should always come prepared with questions. There is nothing more off-putting in an interview to say to somebody “No, I don’t have any questions for you.” That’s a huge red flag, and suggests you’re either not interested or not particularly intellectually curious. Have five or so questions that you have thought about and are ready to go.
A question I always ask is “What brought you here and what makes you excited about this company and your role?” This creates a good opportunity for people to talk about themselves and it shows that you care about them as a person as well.
Any other examples of really good or bad questions to ask?
I always like to ask how they would characterize the culture of the company and of the office in particular. I would usually ask:
– What makes people successful in this role?
– What are the themes that you see?
– How do people get staffed and what types of projects might I get staffed on?
All the firms have different styles that will impact whether you can get staffed locally or worldwide. That, for me, was a big part of why I picked McKinsey at the end of the day.
How did you approach figuring out which of the offers to take?
It was a really tough decision for me, but what I found most helpful was spending a ton of time talking to people at each firm on every level. For me, it was really important to understand what employees were working on, responsibilities and how their role changed as they became more senior and developed within the company, what they liked and didn’t like about the firm, how they would describe the culture, and how they thought about their futures.
There’s no shame in asking how happy people are at the firm and how they like the people they work with. That, to me, was really enlightening. By the time I had talked to probably 15-20 people in each of the offices, I felt very confident in my decision.
In the end, I felt the biggest connection to the people at McKinsey. I felt like I immediately clicked with so many of the people there, and he type of work they were doing sounded incredible. It was a global staffing model, so you could work on projects anywhere in the world. It seemed if you did well, the sky was the limit.
So you had four offers and McKinsey was your No. 1. Did you negotiate the offer?
I actually asked about it. But, as is common with a lot of these programs just out of school, there was zero wiggle room, where they hire so many people globally, it’s going to be pretty fixed.
Do you think current students should attempt to negotiate their offers?
I think it’s always good to ask. The fact of the matter is that for firms like that, often times, the answer is going to be no, but you never know if you don’t ask. Certainly as you transition onto your next and next roles, there will be much more room.
How did you prepare to transition from being a student to life at McKinsey?
McKinsey sent some reading for the summer and things to get prepared with, which was really nice. If you’ve done well in school, you’re going to be just fine. I feel like a lot of the things that make you successful in school also will make you successful in the real world. Make sure you enjoy your summer and take some time to travel and spend time with your family, because it gets harder and harder to do that every year thereafter.
McKinsey is No. 1 on the hype list. How does it compare to the hype?
I literally cannot say enough good things about McKinsey. I love the people there – they are some of my favorite people that I have ever worked with – hilarious, incredibly thoughtful, super sharp – and the type of problems you get to work on are so interesting. I learned a ton and loved that there was such a focus on having a positive impact and doing the right thing for clients. I would highly recommend them.
How did McKinsey compare to your expectations?
I was glad I had all the conversations I had. I honestly felt like it was pretty in line with my expectations, because I had done a lot of diligence.
As promised, the global staffing model played out. I had a bunch of US travel, but also got to spend time in Calgary, London, and India for work. I felt like the better I did, the more opportunities I would have to determine the cases I worked on and make it my own McKinsey, if you will.
The travel is certainly a lot. It works for some people and is not very appealing to others, but it is what it is. You should definitely expect that you would spend three to four nights per week on the road, which is a lot easier as a 22-year-old than it is later in life. I thought it was fun to take advantage of it then.
“McKinsey is the only place I’ve ever worked where people talked about leaving almost daily.”
Did anything surprise you about McKinsey?
I don’t feel like there were too many big surprises. One thing that was really favorable for me was the feedback you get there and how structured and thoughtful it was. It was beyond anything I had ever experienced. It was such a development-oriented culture.
McKinsey is the only place I’ve ever worked where people talked about leaving almost daily. Everybody expected that at one point or another they would move on from McKinsey and be doing something else. It helped me stay focused on doing well there, but also thinking about what was next and how it fit into the bigger picture.
How did you know when it was time to leave McKinsey?
I wanted to do private equity coming out of that second internship at Lehman. It was important at all the private equity firms then that you had two years of banking or consulting.
The one thing I didn’t like about consulting, which was to be expected, particularly at a junior level, was the fact that you spent all this time putting together a recommendation, and at the end of the day you sort of handed it off and walked away. As a junior person, you don’t have that continued engagement with the client, so a lot of times you don’t even really know if it went well. I wanted to have the follow-up.
I wanted to do private equity that was operationally oriented, so I would get to engage with the portfolio companies, but also have a real vested interest in the success of the business. At the end of the day, you are responsible for delivering value on that investment. You have that ownership in a way that you didn’t quite have in consulting.
So what happened after McKinsey?
I spent most of my time at McKinsey working on private equity and due diligences. I started interviewing at the same time I was supposed to do the 2+2 program at Harvard Business School. I started interviewing and found New Mountain Capital. I loved their growth concept and how focused they were on building great businesses and partnering with management teams. When I got the offer, I decided to take it and started with them the next summer.
You mentioned the 2+2 program at Harvard Business School. What’s that all about?
It’s a program HBS launched where you apply before your senior year of college and if you are accepted, it’s for two years after you graduate. The idea was that you work for two years and then had two years at HBS. It was the first year of the program.
The nice thing about it is that it gives you flexibility to really explore a different path. You can take some risks and do something you really love. I think something like that is a no-brainer. I decided not to go, ultimately, but there are a lot of cases where I think it’s really valuable. There are still plenty of companies that want employees to get an MBA to get to a certain level within the business, and they’ll sponsor it. It’s a clear part of the career path if you’re enjoying what you’re doing, if you want it for the growth experience and opportunities, or if you’re looking to make a career change.
“I felt like I was sitting in “the room where it happens,” and I would rather be making it happen than in the other room talking about it after the fact.”
You are part of an exclusive group that said ‘no thank you’ to HBS. What were the tradeoffs of saying no to business school – especially Harvard?
Even my parents asked me what I was thinking. At the end of the day, it didn’t resonate for where I was at or what I wanted. It didn’t feel like the right place for me at the time.
I felt like I was very fortunate to have been in situations at work similar to the types of case studies they worked through in the 2+2 program. For example, I was in the acquisition of a portfolio company that didn’t go well, and every day we were dealing with significant challenges – morale, how to drive growth, how to reorganize the sales force, where to make leadership changes, how we solve problematic customer deployments, how we would manage cash flow and de-lever – it was very, very real.
So for me, it boiled down to either sitting in a room and talking about situations that had already happened, but didn’t really exist for me, or living them. To quote Hamilton, I felt like I was sitting in “the room where it happens,” and I would rather be making it happen than in the other room talking about it after the fact.
Are there any projects you think students should do to help differentiate themselves?
First of all, take advantage of so many of the things that Wash U offers for this, like the Taylor Community Consulting program, case competitions, Wall Street Week — they’re all huge, particularly for developing your own perspective on what sounds interesting to you and building your network in that field.
I have a few specific suggestions for building relationships with recruiters:
- There is no day that is too early to start going to information sessions. I went as a freshman and I think they thought it was funny the first time. I didn’t get discouraged.
- Keep sending thank you notes, asking them to catch up or get coffee, building relationships.
- Send an email every four to six months and stay top of their radar. Keep them updated on what you’re doing.
When it’s time to hire, they will know who you are and that you’re interested and enthusiastic.
The other thing I would say about school is that it’s this wonderful playground to figure out how you work with teams, how you operate as a manager, what you like and don’t like. View that as your chance to learn. I got involved in a couple clubs really actively, especially Delta Sigma Pi, the Undergraduate Business Council (which I think is now the Olin Business Council), Peer Ambassadors, and being a TA. I ran for officer positions early and was fortunate enough to get them. Sometimes you’ll win and sometimes you’ll lose, but then I got to serve as president twice for DSP and once for the Business School Council.
Is there anything you wish someone told you during your job search?
I think it would be don’t freak out. Everything will be fine, even if you don’t get exactly what you thought you wanted.
I was dead set on going to Yale as a kid. I found out the day I got to WashU for my scholarship weekend that I had been rejected from Yale, and I was initially devastated. But I kept an open mind and heart, and ended up completely falling in love with WashU, both that weekend and over the course of my four years. Now looking back, it’s impossible to name a way that Yale might have been better for me – my undergraduate experience was absolutely spectacular, and I’m so glad it all happened the way it did.
Things will happen as they happen. Do your best and work hard to get the outcome you want, but even if it doesn’t happen that way, trust the process, be true to yourself, keep doing what you think are the right things, keep working hard, and good stuff will happen.
“When you get out, you’ll appreciate how big the world is outside of the bubble you’ve been living in.”
Anything other wisdom you would like to share?
Have fun. Keep in mind that nothing is that big of a deal, especially in college. When you get out, you’ll appreciate how big the world is outside of the bubble you’ve been living in. Don’t stress out too much. Work hard. The couple years of working hard to really set yourself up long-term is so worth it. But don’t forget to enjoy the ride, too.