The Executive Series: An Interview with Mr. Daniel Posner
About The Executive Series
Through 'The Executive Series', The Commentator provides its readership with access to the thoughts and experiences of highly accomplished individuals in the business world. The column has a conversational style and expresses the unique story of each business leader, including their motivations, struggles, successes and failures. 'The Executive Series' also serves as a forum for a broader conversation about leadership in business and in life.
About Mr. Daniel Posner (Adapted from Golubcapital.com)
Mr. Posner is President and Chief Investment Officer of GC Synexus, the event-driven credit hedge fund manager of Golub Capital, and leader of the firm’s Opportunistic Credit business. Previously, Mr. Posner was a Managing Director of D. E. Shaw & Co., where he was the global head of the firm’s Credit Opportunities and Distressed Investing Unit as well as head of the firm’s Portfolio Acquisition Unit. He also served on the investment committee of the firm’s Global Direct Capital activities. Prior to joining D. E. Shaw, Mr. Posner was a Senior Vice President at Intermarket Corporation, a hedge fund manager specializing in event-driven strategies. His earlier professional experience included distressed investment and advisory roles at UBS, Deloitte Consulting Group and Goldman Sachs. Mr. Posner holds a BA in Economics from Yeshiva University, magna cum laude, with awards in Economics and Literature; and an MBA from the University of Chicago, where he was a Gesher Fellow and received a Bridge Fellowship.
Mr. Posner is heavily involved with the Jewish community, serving as President of Manhattan Day School and on the board of RIETS. He also serves as an adjunct professor of accounting at Yeshiva University’s MS in Accounting program where he teaches a course on Hedge Fund Investing.
This interview was conducted by Raymond Cohen.
Raymond Cohen: What were some of your formative business and leadership roles?
Daniel Posner: From my day school and high school years, I was always thinking about business. When I was in third grade I brought candies to school and sold them to fellow students. I was also active in student government, both in high school where I was student council president, and throughout my years at Yeshiva University. I think that learning how to communicate effectively, both orally and in writing, was critical in my leadership roles and has served me well throughout my career.
Raymond Cohen: How did you know you wanted a career on Wall Street?
Daniel Posner: When I was at YU, I was a double major and was thinking about medical school and Wall Street. I became enthusiastic about the markets after the “flash crash” in the late ‘80s. Principal investing was the area that ultimately excited me most. While at YU, I made it my business to speak to as many people as I could about a career on Wall Street, a number of them said to me: 'Wall Street is a wonderful place to build a career'; I ended up landing a job at Goldman Sachs. And it wasn't until I went to the University of Chicago where I started taking courses in bankruptcy and restructuring, and on the principal investing side where I really got excited about financial theory, that I became enthusiastic about finding value where others didn't see it.
Raymond Cohen: What are some of the reasons why getting an MBA was beneficial to you?
Daniel Posner: I always knew I wanted to go to business school after YU; I took my GMAT's before graduating. I thought it to be really important to build out the breadth of my experience and knowledge base. But I also wanted to develop a network of people who were going into the business world. People that go on to a variety of different careers in different areas, in different locales are your network; they're your peers, and whichever organization they work for, they can be a great source of knowledge and a source of ideas.
Finally, being able to do a summer internship in between your first and second year really helps you think about the possible professions that fit your skill set and excite you.
Raymond Cohen: Who were your role models or mentors as a developing leader, and how did they influence you?
Daniel Posner: Probably my biggest mentor on Wall Street is David Shaw. David is one of the founding members of D.E. Shaw. When I joined the firm, the firm was only about $2 billion AUM and when I left it was about $40 billion AUM. He taught me about three main things: 1) surround yourself with the best and brightest people 2) communicate with your team to ensure that each member understands their role in accomplishing the larger goals and objectives 3) always send a clear message to your investors and all of your stakeholders.
Raymond Cohen: In your experience, what intangible qualities separate the successful from the unsuccessful?
Daniel Posner: You've got to go into an industry for the right reasons, not just because you think you are going to have financial success. If you're passionate about an industry and find a lot of self-fulfillment in that area, and are really good at what you do, then you'll be able to find ways to make it work. For jobs on Wall Street, while it’s really important to be smart, what differentiates the successful and the unsuccessful is a genuine passion for investing. Because there are times on Wall Street where things are going great and everybody's going to be happy and there are times when things aren't as great. And it’s those people who can stick it out, who think of Wall Street as a marathon and not a sprint, are the ones who achieve success. Those that are looking to cut corners, those who are looking for immediate, quick success, generally burn out more quickly.
Raymond Cohen: Tell me about a time when you failed. How did you deal with it and what did you learn from the experience?
Daniel Posner: One of the acquisitions we made when I was at D.E. Shaw. We bought a company called FAO Schwarz, the famous toy store in New York City and we thought about really building out a brand and building out content. I think that one of the areas we underestimated was the amount of involvement that we would need to have in the business, and how difficult it is in a business that has thin margins and isn't really scalable given the overhead. That learning experience made me more self-aware and I realized that there are things that I do really well and I’d like to focus my energy on those areas. Through that learning experience I was able to make more strategic acquisitions; we subsequently got involved with a number of other situations in similar industries which were successful
Raymond Cohen: How have you been able to balance the Wall Street life with the Orthodox lifestyle?
Daniel Posner: Often you get projects, especially earlier in your career, late Thursday night or Friday, where you know that the expectation is for you to be there on Shabbos. One of the things that I've done in my career is to be upfront and let them know about Shabbos to set expectations. However, it’s all the more important to make up for it. And so, when I got that project on Friday afternoon I worked until I could, left for Shabbos, and the minute after Shabbos I was back in the office working Saturday night and all day Sunday.
It's important for YU grads to know that getting a job on Wall Street is extremely competitive and those that do get jobs need to go the extra mile and make sure that he/she is the first person in the office every day and the last one to leave every night. Showing everyone that you are willing to go the extra mile is critical.
Raymond Cohen: How do you compare serving as the President of Manhattan Day School to the hedge fund life?
Daniel Posner: They're very different. Hedge fund life, finance, that's my career. I'm also incredibly passionate about Jewish education. In my view, Jewish education is one of the most important areas to our community. In thinking about Jewish education, we need to examine how we can deliver an extremely strong Jewish and secular education so that our graduates can be successful in today’s economy. At the same time, we need to figure out how we can provide an education at a cost that is reasonable for the typical family in our community. If we can solve for both of these areas, we will have an education system that will yield the results that we can proud of.
Raymond Cohen: How have you been able to use the skills you've acquired as a hedge fund manager to approach Manhattan Day School?
Daniel Posner: What I do professionally as a manager and a leader is outline goals and objectives for my group and for my organization. Every year we go into the year knowing the key goals and themes that we focus on in our organization. We may have 100 great ideas, but at the end of the day we can only implement and execute on four or five of them - focus is key. We’ve used that same approach at Manhattan Day School. Over the summer I sit down with my Executive Committee and Board and we outline our goals and objectives and discuss how we are going to implement them. For example, do we want to have better governance and create a whole new set of by-laws for our school? How could we create better communication with our parents and with all of our stakeholders? How can we optimize fundraising? What are our infrastructure needs? That planning process is key to what we do.
Raymond Cohen: After leaving D.E. Shaw in 2011, there were rumors that you were going to start your own fund; why did you instead decide to join Golub Capital?
Daniel Posner: In effect I really did start my own fund; Golub Capital is my seed partner. I got to a point after a decade at D.E. Shaw where I wanted to do something more entrepreneurial and start my own fund. I thought I would have the best of both worlds - of having the platform of a Golub Capital, a $15 billion credit asset manager, along with having a hedge fund that I could call my own, that I could be an equity owner, which was something I was excited and energized by.
Raymond Cohen: How do you compare the experience at D.E. Shaw to the more entrepreneurial experience at Golub Capital?
Daniel Posner: At D.E. Shaw, we had incredible growth; between 2002 and 2008 the hedge fund industry was probably one of the fastest growing industries in the world and we were one of the beneficiaries of that. Post 2008-2009, the mindset of investors shifted, especially in the credit world. The enjoyment and excitement I've had about building something that's more entrepreneurial, that I own has given me great satisfaction. I love the industry I'm in, I love investing, and so being able to have been doing that for the last 20 years is like eating chocolate ice cream every day.