A career in Mergers and Acquisitions: An interview with Paul Mankin, PwC Partner
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
“It was a fantastic success story for everybody involved,” said Paul Mankin, referring to his work with Aesica Pharmaceuticals. “We liked to refer to it as the ‘Deal of 10’s”. The ‘10’ represents the fact that over ten years, Aesica increased its value and the number of people that it employed 10-fold. An example like this is great at shedding light on the world of mergers and acquisitions, one which can sometimes seem challenging to understand.
I sat down (over Zoom) with Paul Mankin, a Corporate Finance Partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the Big Four professional services companies, to find out how he got started in the business. Also, I asked him what his job involves day to day and his take on the significant trends in M&A. Finally, I asked him what advice he would give to the next generation of aspiring dealmakers.
Paul is a Partner in PwC’s Corporate Finance department in Newcastle, specialising in mergers and acquisitions. As part of this, he is also responsible for the Corporate Finance teams of PwC’s Newcastle and Leeds offices.
Although he had an interest in business growing up, Paul explained that he didn’t always have his sights set on M&A. He studied Business Studies at Bradford University and joined Pricewaterhouse (as it was known then) in Leeds after graduating. Within three years he had qualified as a Chartered Accountant. Later, he transferred to Newcastle and then into corporate finance. His interest in M&A was sparked when he was in audit doing due diligence and saw the M&A transactions taking place, finding it “absolutely fascinating”.
Describing his work, Paul explained that “part of the attraction of the job is that there isn’t a typical day”. However, there are three main ‘pillars’ to his work – winning clients, executing transactions, and working on the business's people side. The proportion of time spent on each of these aspects can vary greatly. It is no secret that the hours can sometimes be long, particularly in the run-up to completing deals.
When asked to name some of his best deals, Paul chose two: the deal with Aesica mentioned previously and a long-running relationship with Pfizer. The latter began with a deal Paul and his team worked on for Pfizer in Morpeth, north of Newcastle. This later expanded to deals with Pfizer in Europe, as well as North and South America.
On the topic of working in a regional office, Paul said that the most noteworthy difference compared to London is the smaller scale, with PwC employing around 300 staff in Newcastle compared to 10,000 in London. In smaller offices, there is also a greater focus on building long-term business relationships. “The big attraction was being able to remain in the North-East which is where I’ve grown up, and the part of the country that I love” he added.
Turning to the big trends in the M&A business, I asked Paul for his thoughts on the increasing use of Special Purchase Acquisition Companies, or SPACs for short. Covered in a previous Finsights article, a SPAC is a shell corporation that raises capital from investors to purchase another company. Paul commented that the trend was an exciting development, recognising the considerable traction it already has in the US. However, he said that private equity remained “hugely significant” compared to SPACs, both in low to mid markets and in larger deals, such as the involvement of private equity in EG Group’s takeover of ASDA.
Looking at the impact of Brexit uncertainty and Covid-19, Paul remarked that the mid-M&A market is still incredibly active, despite these challenges. One of the short-term drivers of M&A activity is that, with firms finding it hard to grow themselves, acquiring other companies to increase in size is very attractive. Many private businesses are also concerned that an increase in capital gains tax could be due in the next Treasury budget. With interest rates at historic lows, pension funds and private equity firms are also keen on using their large cash reserves to invest.
Finally, when asked to advise someone looking to go into finance, Paul underlined the merits of becoming a chartered accountant and having a period working in audit. While he recognises that there are now many ways into finance, he says this traditional route gives a “fantastic grounding” in finance and is a good option for those wanting to work in M&A.
As for skills, whilst it is true that ability with numbers is important, Paul said that good people skills are especially vital. Furthermore, being tenacious and not being put off by hurdles is also crucial. Most deals will definitely go through difficult periods.
For those considering where to pursue a career in M&A, you would be forgiven for thinking that London is your best option. Nevertheless, Paul’s example shows that there is more to M&A than the City, with fantastic opportunities to be found elsewhere in the country.