Summer Associate 2022
Kimberly Poff, An Experience of the Actis Summer Associate Programme
My background is not typical of those in private equity. I completed my undergraduate degrees in mechanical engineering and economics at the University of Tulsa, in Oklahoma, USA. My first job out of college was as a project engineer on a construction site for a data center campus. Every day I donned steel toed boots and high viz vests to walk down our project tracking schedule and budgets. While a construction site is an excellent practical introduction for an engineer, I eventually needed a break from the constant misogyny of the job site. I did what every normal person does: quit my job, sold my stuff, and moved to south east Asia! I returned to the US after a few months teaching English in Vietnam with my husband knowing two things: I wanted to make an impact, and I needed to keep traveling.
I moved to Boston and took a job at the engineering firm which had designed the buildings I previously worked on as a contractor. By day I managed teams of engineers in the design and construction administration of hyperscale data centers across the US. By night I researched school, took standardized tests, and drafted essays. After three years I landed in the Masters of Public Administration in International Development at the Harvard Kennedy School. While it lives in the graduate school of government, the program is focused on economics in emerging markets, and the ways their inclusive growth can reduce global poverty.
Many of my classmates came from careers in the public sector or academia, focusing on economic, health, and education policy. I chose to capitalize on my niche as an engineer and focus on the impacts of infrastructure. I assumed I would end up in the public sector, driving government decisions about transportation or clean water. Indeed, as my internship after my first summer I worked in the office of the prime minister of Albania looking at their efforts to improve their marine and waste management infrastructure.
In my second year, as graduation neared I applied to a number of public sector or multi-national jobs in infrastructure policy and finance. At the same time, some of my classmates pursuing an MBA along with an MPA/ID were looking at infrastructure in the private sector, and they exposed me to Actis. There are two other MPA/ID grads currently Actis, both of whom also were joint MBA students. Despite my misgivings about working in private equity as someone who had never taken a finance class in my life, I applied to the summer associate program.
As it turns out, Actis has recently pivoted towards hard assets, including digital infrastructure and data centers. So, while I did a lot of googling to complete the financial modelling case study part of the interview, I could talk myself silly through the discussions of construction and data center design. Unsurprisingly, I was placed within the Digital Infrastructure Operations team for the summer.
If I had to choose one word to sum up my Actis Summer Associate experience it would be global. Some of this has to do with the team I was working on. Despite being placed in London, with other summer associates, I worked on deals and with team members across Latin America, Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. Sometimes this meant early mornings or late nights to accommodate duelling time zones, but it also meant getting to work with an extremely diverse group of professionals across the globe.
Each of the teams I worked with were eager to wrap me into their work. Despite my status as a newcomer to this industry, they were willing to answer my endless questions. Additionally, they respected my contribution on topics where I did bring more experience such as the technical due diligence for potential digital infrastructure acquisition targets. This included a trip to Brazil to review the Mechanical and Electrical systems of a data center in person. My manager gave me meaningful work in the development of our team that I am continuing forward as a full-time employee.
This was one of the reasons I was eager to accept an offer to join Actis full-time after the summer associate programme ended. Not only did I know there was a genuine place on the team for me, I also knew there would be plenty of support in areas I still need to develop. This extends past work related skills in financial modelling and valuation. Throughout the summer there were also sessions with gurus throughout the company on personal and professional goal setting and work-life balance.
Overall I appreciate that at Actis I can leverage my technical background to make an impact through infrastructure development. Further, the global nature of the firm ensures that I will have plenty of opportunities to continue to work across the world, and to keep learning about new contexts. If you’re wondering if private equity might not be the place for you, I’d encourage you to try something new – you might find a new home.Contact Us