Interview with Darius J. Mozaffarian, Partner & Co-President, White Oak Global Advisors, LLC
By Jonathan Setiabrata, Senior Associate, Investor Relations, White Oak Global Advisors, LLC
Tell us about your career background. How did you get your start in the industry?
If you were to ask my younger self if I would be financing businesses in the middle market, I would have told you, “I’m more likely to use my engineering degree to start and lead a software company.” I liked the technical side of problem solving, but also enjoyed communicating the concepts and processes in layman’s terms. As it turns out, this describes a lot of what I do when it comes financing the middle market and growing a book of business at White Oak. During my time at Microsoft Corporation, I found myself working with and admiring the day-to-day of the corporate finance division. But few of them had engineering degrees and most were former investment bankers. So I eventually made my way to Goldman, Sachs & Co working in the leverage finance group of the investment banking division. It was a great compliment to my other previous roles in business development, consulting and finance and I quickly learned that I enjoyed developing relationships with company executives, and structuring financing opportunities for a win-win on both sides.
In early 2008, I was hired by White Oak to bring my industry and credit background to help enhance the firm’s essential mission – to finance creditworthy businesses. At first, I was primarily responsible for sourcing and structuring new transaction opportunities for White Oak’s private debt funds. Over the past 10 years, however, my role has evolved to include building and leading the originations team, being a member of the firm’s Investment Committee, exploring strategic alternatives and holding various other management functions.
How have you seen the industry evolve from when you started to now?
I have experienced firsthand a couple of cycles in the industry; the most notable one was during my time at Goldman. We’ve all seen capital markets rise and fall in different cycles over the years. We’ve witnessed the regulatory impact on the banking sector which has provided opportunities for private credit funds to fill unmet growth capital needs.
When I began at White Oak, there were about 15-20 private credit managers – a number that continued to grow dramatically over the past decade post-crisis. Today there are upwards of 200 such managers in the U.S. This has created an interesting, competitive dynamic – particularly in the sponsored space. This dynamic has inspired me to figure out how to provide solutions in the face of broader regulatory and market changes.
At White Oak, we want to bring new products and solutions to borrowers. Together with David B. Hackett, partner & co-president, we work to accomplish this. For example, in 2016, we added a factoring product through the purchase of Capital Business Credit (CBC) which is now White Oak Commercial Finance. In 2017, we added an aviation product on the heels of closing a $ million sale-leaseback with GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS). In early 2018, we expanded our working capital offerings to include government factoring through the acquisition of Federal National Commercial Credit (FNCC) - which is now White Oak Business Capital. And, as White Oak increases its products and services, we are also growing invaluable human capital. We aim to make our staff a top priority.
What are your goals and priorities in your new role at White Oak Global Advisors?
As we look to grow our assets to $5 billion – and beyond – our goals are to offer new senior lending products and provide limited partners and investors with appropriate risk-adjusted returns, all while maintaining high levels of integrity and accountability.
From a cultural standpoint, we strive to create a meritocracy that’s supportive and collaborative. Thus far, we are proud to say that we have maintained this environment over the past 10+ years even as we continue to grow and evolve. White Oak differentiates itself in an industry where ambition can sometimes cloud what is really important – we check egos at the door and promote those valuable team players who offer tangible value and differentiated thinking.
Can you tell us about your membership with the firm’s Investment and Operation Committees?
I have served on the firm’s five-person Investment Committee since 2010. We meet multiple times every week to focus on screening and vetting new opportunities for underwriting. We primarily discuss active portfolio credits; opine on those credits in underwriting; assess the portfolio from the top-down; and pre-screen new opportunities with originators. I also serve on the firm’s Operating Committee which is charged with making strategic decisions that will impact the company as a whole and its overall direction. We primarily discuss new strategic investments; day-to-day operations; fundraising; and human capital management.
Can you tell us about your membership with the Commercial Finance Association (CFA) and Turnaround Management Association (TMA)? How has your involvement with these associations helped your career development?
Being a member of both the Commercial Finance Association (CFA) and Turnaround Management Association (TMA) is critical to staying on top of trends, meeting with influencers and building long lasting friendships. Both offer a variety of resources that not only help with sourcing and vetting new investment opportunities, but also provide relevant feedback from the market (i.e., where trends are heading, lessons on successes and shortcomings, what people are observing in the market, etc.).
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
My children are under 10 years old so I’m very attentive to them whenever there’s a break from work. As a family, we enjoy the outdoors, so you would likely find us on the weekends taking casual bike rides and hikes, afternoon swims and grilling. When I need more activity, you’ll find me mountain biking at Camp Tamarancho followed with a beer or bratwurst at Gestalt Haus. When my children are old enough, my wife and I would love to experience skiing in Europe on Zermatt in Switzerland!
As many outdoor adventures as we’ve had, I must say that one of my favorite memories was fighting an 18-inch brown trout on Silver Creek in Idaho using a (yes, fake) mouse on my line. Catch and release, of course!