16th June, 2019
‘Don’t be afraid to change your career path if you are not happy’
Each week, we profile one of Ireland’s corporate leaders, tracing their career to date and exploring the lessons they have learned along the way. This week, we meet Jonathan Cosgrave of the Carlyle Group.
Jonathan Cosgrave is a managing director at the Carlyle Group and co-head of the €292 million Carlyle Cardinal Ireland Fund. CCIF has invested in Irish companies including the City Bin Co and Sports Surgery Clinic, and sold Payzone for €100 million.
Tell us about your career to date.
I graduated from Trinity College Dublin with a first-class honours degree in Pharmacy and, after a brief period working as a pharmacist, returned to study at UCD’s Smurfit School of Business.
I then moved to London, joining JP Morgan’s investment banking team. In 2004, I moved into private equity, joining private equity firm Warburg Pincus where I focused on growth capital and buyout investment opportunities.
Ten years later, in 2014, I was headhunted by the Carlyle Group. The opportunity to move back to Dublin and co-head Carlyle’s investment business in Ireland was one I couldn’t refuse.
Are you where you expected to be in your career?
When I did my Leaving Cert, I didn’t even know that private equity existed, so to my 17-year-old self it’s a big surprise to be where I am today. Starting out in the mid-1990s, a traditional profession was considered the better career path and this, together with an interest in science, led me to Trinity College and pharmacy.
I quickly realised that working in the pharmacy industry was not for me and left it to study business. The lure of London beckoned and I accepted a job with JP Morgan without fully understanding what investment banking was all about.
It’s been a recurring theme in my career – being offered jobs in sectors of which I had no in-depth knowledge, but trusting my instincts that the path I was on was the right one.
Investment banking led me to private equity investing, which I love. I now have a 15-year track record of investing at two of the world’s biggest private equity firms which I never thought possible.
The role provides me the opportunity to look after people’s capital, solve complex problems, invest in great companies and work with brilliant management teams to support them to realise the potential of their businesses.
I’m further along in my career than I ever expected, and the biggest lesson I’ve taken away from my career is to try new things and trust your instincts. If it feels right, it probably is.
What was the best career advice you got along the way?
My old Warburg Pincus boss said to me: “Even if you’re very talented and can work hard, you’re better off fishing in a less crowded pond.”
What he meant is that if you want to excel and grow, avoid working in industries, companies and cities that attract huge waves of talent and where you are just another cog in the wheel with limited headroom.
That was very relevant when I moved to Dublin, as the private equity market was in its infancy so it was quite entrepreneurial.
Based on your own experience, what are your top career tips?
Don’t be afraid to change career paths if you are not happy. Work forms so much of our life that it would be miserable to be in a job you don’t enjoy. It takes courage to change direction or career.
I was very apprehensive taking on a new career when I realised pharmacy wasn’t for me, but what I learned was that it’s best to change quickly and it’s not a sign of failure, just another chance to learn.
In many ways, “talent” is overrated. The ability to work hard, be curious, learn quickly and act with common sense are real talents in themselves.
I’d encourage anyone starting their career to consider sales, as all jobs involve selling. People need to be better at selling themselves and their ideas – don’t hide your light under a bushel.
You only have one reputation, which takes a long time to build, but it can be taken away very quickly. So conduct your business with integrity and do the right thing every time.
I look after the capital of pension funds, the savings of individuals and I take that responsibility very seriously. I treat their money it as if it were my own and balance risk and reward when I make an investment.
Have the courage to back yourself. The prize in life goes to the person who thinks they can.
How would you define your work style, and how has this evolved over the years?
My personality leans more towards the introverted and analytical, so I’m often happiest working on my own, but that too has evolved as I’ve matured.
I’ve come to realise that there is more value in being part of a team where you can get to a better answer to a problem from the diversity of views offered.
I no longer believe every answer is black or white, but more often grey. Dealing with ambiguity is a hugely important part of investment decision-making.
In terms of managing teams and individuals, what are your insights?
Encourage and support people to develop confidence – confidence to seek advice, to take a chance, fail and call it early.
I try to listen more than I speak, and all team members need to know their views are as important as anyone else’s.
It’s also critical to be human and show your vulnerabilities – by doing so, you are indirectly giving permission for others to ask for help, to seek advice and share issues and concerns.
I also believe in constant constructive feedback. I’m not a fan of annual reviews, and prefer to provide and receive regular feedback throughout the year.
What about communication and negotiating the typical ups and downs of working life?
In general, people in Ireland are great talkers, but not always the best communicators and that was certainly the case for me when I started my career.
I have benefited from communication training and coaching over the years, which has demonstrated the power of clear and concise verbal and written communications, and the importance of non-verbal communication.
I can hold pretty definitive views, but working with so many different management teams and boards of directors has taught me the value of strong communication and debate, and that two heads are always better than one in making good decisions.
Has networking played an important part in your career?
Business is built on relationships. Establishing Carlyle in Ireland and originating investments to create a track record for the CCI Fund has meant that I have had to network extensively, and it has confirmed to me the value of making personal connections and building and maintaining relationships.
Be open-minded and genuine. Don’t feel the need to change your character to suit the situation. People choose to do business with you because they like and trust you, so be your authentic self.
If you had to choose another career tomorrow, what would it be and why?
If I wasn’t working in private equity, I’d still love to invest and manage capital on behalf of families or individuals for the long term, helping to protect and grow their capital.
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