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Columbia PE Event To Address Uncertainty

Columbia Business School PE & VC Conference in 2016

Ten hours a week may not seem like a lot of time. But just try to find an extra hour, let alone 10, in an MBA’s schedule. That has been the challenge for Robert Zizza, second-year Columbia MBA, co-organizer of the 23rd annual Private Equity & Venture Capital Conference that will be held March 3. It’s one of the biggest days of the school year — and for nearly a year, Zizza and his co-chair, Jessica Lucchese, have been spending 10 hours a week preparing for it. 

“It’s a lot of work,” Zizza says of the student-run event at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square, which around 600 attendees are expected to attend. “We started in June, just getting the venue locked and figuring out a date, and it’s entirely run by students and funded by sponsors and ticket sales, so it’s a pretty big haul.”

THE CHANGING POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC ENVIRONMENT

Robert Zizza

Each year the conference has a different theme. This year’s wasn’t hard to decide on. Zizza and Lucchese chose to make the focus navigating uncertainty and creating value in dynamic markets, with the idea being that political uncertainty is having an unknown effect on the industry.

There will be seven panels, Zizza says, each looking at different ways in which private equity and venture capital are adjusting to the new political reality. Keynote speakers will be Columbia professor and Nobel Prize Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz, Siris Capital co-founder Peter Berger, General Atlantic managing director Mark Dzialga, and Crestview co-founder Thomas S. Murphy Jr.

“We wanted a keynote speaker who could speak to private equity, one who could speak to the venture capital industry, and others who could speak to some of our overarching themes,” Zizza says. “We brought everyone together and created our target list, and then students did all the outreach.”

10 HOURS A WEEK, BUT IT WAS WORTH IT

At Columbia, all the clubs are entirely student-run. The Private Equity and Venture Capital clubs — which used to be one organization before splitting recently — collaborate on the conference. Zizza, who is part of the Private Equity Club, was associate vice president of marketing for the conference last year before becoming co-chair this year.

Organizing the conference ended up being a big part of his second year. Beginning in October, he and Lucchese ran weekly meetings and put in around three to four hours of work per week. By December, the amount of time they spent preparing the conference ramped up, and in February, Zizza says, they were spending around 10 hours a week on it. That’s a huge chunk of time for a busy MBA.

“Getting your speakers lined up is very stressful and takes a lot of work,” Zizza says. “But the marketing push is probably the most difficult part of the whole thing.”

But worth every minute, he adds. He and Lucchese learned valuable management lessons, including otherwise hard-to-come-by leadership skills, from working with their team of first- and second-year MBAs.

Molly Ashby, chairman and CEO of Solera Capital, was the keynote speaker at the PE&VC Conference in 2016

50% STUDENTS, 50% PROFESSIONALS

The conference is $150 for students, $375 for alumni, and $475 for professionals who are not alumni. But hundreds  will be attending because as Zizza says, the event is an opportunity for students to network. Attendees are expected to be evenly split between students and professionals.

Most students are Columbia MBAs, though other MBAs sometimes attend, and there are usually smattering of undergraduates as well, Zizza says. Of the professionals, he says it’s a mix of alumni and employees of the conference’s corporate sponsors. This year’s corporate sponsors are Kirkland & Ellis, Siris Capital Group, PricewaterhouseCoopers, BNP Paribas, and S&P Global.

“I’m just hoping to have it run smoothly, and that people are happy with the product,” Zizza says. “It’s been a lot of work, so I hope it shows on the day. I think we have a great lineup this year, so we’re pretty excited.”

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