Brett Hickey had set his sights on a speed-skating gold medal, not a career in financial services. He grew up in a small town in western Canada, where he started a clothing distribution business at age 15 while also training to make it to the winter Olympics, but an injury dashed his hopes.
Instead, Hickey used the same single-minded focus to launch a financial services career, first moving east to Montreal, where he went to business school at McGill, and then to Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management (OPM) Program.
After graduation, Hickey joined the legendary investment bank Salomon Smith Barney a few years after its merger with Citigroup. In the IBD analyst program, he covered global financial institutions with a focus on insurance companies, banks and asset managers, getting invaluable experience working on mergers and acquisitions, private equity fund manager due diligence, private equity fund structuring and capital raising.
“At the time I was there, it was part of Citigroup, which was the largest financial institution in the world, and it was one of the big investment banks that were able to leverage their balance sheet to win business and close deals,” Hickey said. “It was a rapidly growing firm that had merged together, and that taught me some lessons around mergers, how important it is to get the culture and continuity right – Salomon Smith Barney and Citi had some challenges there.
“I was fortunate to gain the experience of working with so many large asset managers, banks and insurers, getting to see what’s working and what’s not, because you don’t really know what’s going on until you lift up the hood," he said. “It was an opportunity to look at the asset management industry in a deep and wide manner, and I noticed that the best ones built truly competitive businesses where they strived to be the best at all times, like Blackstone and KKR."
From there, in 2003 Hickey co-founded and served as the president of Aegis Capital Group, which made private investments focused on mezzanine and second-lien loans. In 2010, he went out on his own, founding Star Mountain Capital, a New York-based lower-middle-market private equity firm that invests in small-to-medium-sized companies with $10m to $150m of annual revenues.
Star Mountain Capital has more than 25 employees, including underwriters, who are based in the New York headquarters, and people based in origination offices in nine other cities across the U.S. who work directly with business owners. The firm typically brings on more than 20 paid interns every year, and Hickey says the goal is to transition the best of those to full-time employees.
Star Mountain Capital is currently hiring, building out the firm’s technology, investment and marketing/business development teams.
“We’re a highly specialized firm – we only invest in one asset class, specializing in just one type of company, so our employees must be adept at building relationships and understanding the needs and challenges of small-to-mid-sized business owners,” he said.
Hickey said that 100% of Star Mountain employees earn carried interest in a profit-sharing benefit, and all of the firm’s senior team has an ownership stake in the management company.
“We’re an employee-owned firm, and we want to make sure that our employees fit together like a puzzle in the best way,” Hickey said.
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