Top 10 Private Equity Books to Learn About Careers in the Industry

Classic books written by industry insiders & experts
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By Mike Hinckley
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    Reading books on your own is still one of the best ways to learn about the private equity industry from the outside. 

    Reading some of the top private equity books is a great first step if you’re thinking about a future in private equity as an investor. 

    In this piece, I provide a list of the most helpful books on private equity – either by reputation or through my personal experience. The list is designed to help folks who are interested in a private equity career and are trying to learn as much as possible.

    The books are a mix of educational, entertainment, and history.  I’ve selected each title based on the titles that are most popular and informative on the industry. If you’re interested in private equity – or other buyside industries as a career – check out these books.

    Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco

    This is perhaps THE classic private equity book.

    The demise of RJR Nabisco is chronicled in Barbarians at the Gate, a best-selling investigative journalism book written by Bryan Burrough and John Helyaran. It was typical of the economic climate of the 1980s when some large and small businesses were acquired for nothing more than their assets or the actual land on which they were located. When the proceeds from selling a company’s assets surpassed the purchase price, the company was broken up and sold off piece by piece.

    The book is a great resource for studying topics like corporate finance strategy, the evolution of leveraged buyouts, and the function of high yield bonds in LBOs, among others. It shows how the highest levels of strategy and finance are influenced by things like money, legal maneuvers, and personal relationships. Learn more about the human and psychological facets of private equity with the help of this book.

    The Dealmaker: Lessons from a Life in Private Equity

    The Dealmaker is an open and honest account of how an extremely dyslexic kid overcame his academic difficulties to earn an Oxford degree and become a successful businessman. It tells the story of Guy Hand’s rise through the ranks of private equity at Nomura and then at his own firm, Terra Firma. 

    Terra Firma’s massive deals throughout the years are examined, from movie theaters and bars to landfills, plane rentals, and renewable energy. Most importantly, he provides an authentic glimpse into the shadowy world of private equity by discussing the challenges and rewards of the industry.

    Written with unflinching candor, this book details his life in the high-stakes world of private equity deals. Those interested in learning the ins and outs of financial alchemy from one of the finest will be interested in this book.

    What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence

    Whenever you can, learn from the best. 

    Stephen A. Schwarzman, Chairman, CEO, and Co-Founder of Blackstone is undoubtedly one of the best in the private equity game.

    He founded the firm Blackstone that is arguably the most successful and well-regarded private equity firm in the industry. Private equity experts love to criticize but secretly revere him. His book provides an insightful look at his life and career, as well as a succinct list of lessons.

    What It Takes is less focused on the private equity industry per se, but still it’s fascinating to learn directly from one of the most important figures in the industry.  

    In it, you’ll find life suggestions like:

    • Don’t give yourself any trouble; get rid of the things that could cause problems. The fear of failing is one of the most significant challenges people confront. 
    • Don’t second-guess yourself about a strategy’s viability; instead, give it a shot.
    • Dream and fantasize about worthwhile things. Learn to distinguish between realistic and unattainable targets and pursue the former.
    • Master the art of peripheral vision. Consider how your past experiences will inform your future decisions. Pay attention to impending danger and avoid it if at all possible; else, use it as a teaching moment.

    The Private Equity Playbook: Management’s Guide to Working with Private Equity

    When looking for a good primer in private equity, The Private Equity Playbook is a great choice. In doing so, it enlightens its audience on the state of competition in the private equity industry. The benefits and drawbacks of partnering with private equity firms are also laid forth in the book. This book provides a high-level introduction to the world of private equity and explains the most fundamental ideas in plain English. 

    You’ll find out what questions to ask at each stage of the private equity process and what methods to employ for optimal success. All firms, not just those funded by private equity, can benefit from these insights.

    King of Capital – The Remarkable Rise, Fall, and Rise Again of Steve Schwarzman and Blackstone

    The private equity firm The Blackstone Group and its CEO, Steve Schwarzman, are the subjects of King of Capital, a biography that traces the company’s origins and the exploits of the people who helped build the business. 

    The authors do a splendid job of detailing how Blackstone and other private equity companies have evolved from being risk-takers and hostile-takeover artists (i.e., “barbarians at the gate”) to more methodical and calculated investors. 

    This book, King of Capital, is a fascinating mashup of anecdotes, general business developments, and the analysis of past agreements in order to draw conclusions about future ones. It explains a lot about LBOs (leveraged buyouts), from their roots in junk-bond fundraising to the huge sums they’ve raised recently.

    Choose this title (rather than What It Takes) if you’re more interested in Blackstone the firm and its history.

    The New Tycoons: Inside the Trillion Dollar Private Equity Industry That Owns Everything

    Which characteristic is shared by fast food chains Dunkin’ Donuts, J. Crew, Toys “R” Us, and Burger King?  Private equity firms either presently own, operate, and/or control all of these entities, or they formerly did. 

    “The New Tycoons” gives readers an inside look at these companies, detailing their illustrious billionaire founders, the parallel histories of their founding and growth, and the colossal goals that drove a band of astute bankers to transform their modest startups from a nook of Wall Street into colossal titans of capital. 

    This book discusses not only the background of these companies but also some of the tactics they’ve employed. The book also delves into the minds of private equity workers. This book is a must-read for everyone curious about the recent growth of the private equity industry.

    Private Equity Demystified: An Explanatory Guide

    A few months before the 2008 financial crisis, authors John Gilligan and Mike Wright published the book as a practical guide; they quickly followed that up with a second edition.

    Private Equity Demystified is, as the name suggests, a resource for those who are new to or confused by the field of private equity. 

    The book explains what private equity is and gives an overview of the market, the major players, and their reasons. Funding and fundraising, investment theory, manager compensation, and day-to-day deal making responsibilities are all covered as well.

    Inside Private Equity: The Professional Investor’s Handbook

    One of the best introductory works on private equity, Inside Private Equity, is a must-read. It’s an excellent synopsis of the market as a whole. Several fundamentals of private equity are elucidated with the use of concrete instances. 

    If you’re new to private equity and want to learn the ropes, this is the book for you. Some of the most fundamental concepts, such as internal rate of return (IRR), will be covered, and the reader will have access to illustrative examples to help them understand.

    The Masters of Private Equity and Venture Capital: Management Lessons from the Pioneers of Private Investing

    The Masters of Private Equity and Venture Capital features in-depth discussions with numerous well-known figures in the private equity industry. 

    It’s chock full of information about the inner workings of private equity and the tactics used to generate returns on individual investments. This book is unique among those on this list because it features firsthand accounts of some of the world’s most successful private equity investors. 

    They explain how they make investments and what they have learned from their experience. This is one of the best books out there for anyone thinking about getting into private equity or getting into venture capital.

    The Private Equity Toolkit: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Deals Done from Sourcing to Exit

    A relatively recent addition to this list, The Private Equity Toolkit provides a step-by-step look at the private equity deal making process.

    The author has over 20 years of dealmaking experience, and this one will be very educational for those looking to learn about the execution process.

    Check it out to gain a deeper understanding of the deal process and how you can help add value once you get on the job.

    The Bottom Line

    For those in the finance industry or just curious about private equity, books are a great way to learn more. It’s a great resource for anyone interested in private equity, whether they’re a student or a working professional. 

    The books here are arranged in various levels of difficulty, but the ones aimed at newcomers to private equity are the ones most strongly suggested. However, there are more in-depth programs available, covering topics like private equity techniques and case studies.

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