A Profile on Deepak Sabada ’15: The Challenge of No Longer Having Tennis & What It’s Like to Navigate Jobs in Investment Banking and Private Equity
Deepak Sabada (’15) played tennis at the University of Chicago, where he was an All-American and earned UAA (University Athletic Association) All-Academic honors. After graduation, he pursued Investment Banking in New York for two years before returning to Chicago to start his current career in private equity. In this interview, Deepak talks about the challenges of leaving tennis, the importance of small details when looking at PE decisions, and why he felt prepared for a career with long hours.
When did you start playing tennis?
When I was younger, I was always really into playing sports. I tried almost everything: soccer, basketball and baseball. However, I enjoyed the one-on-one aspect of tennis. I would always play against my dad. By the time I turned 8, I had already participated in my first tournament. From that age onwards, I would pretty much play in tournaments every weekend. At age 18, tennis had been a huge part of my life for so long, and I really wanted tennis to be a big part of my college experience.
What made you want to play tennis at the University of Chicago?
Although I had always loved the individual aspect of tennis, I also wanted to feel like I was a part of a team in college. I had some experience being on a team in high school, but the main emphasis of schools recruiting you was on your individual performances and rankings from the weekend tournaments. I’m also from the Bay Area, and I wanted to come to Chicago to escape the Silicon Valley “bubble.” I wanted to move to a bigger city and become more independent; even though it was definitely uncomfortable at first. I really loved Chicago, and I’ve spent the six of the last eight years here.
You ended up studying Econ. Why did you choose that as your major and how has it helped you now?
Coming out of high school, you never really know what you want to study or pursue career-wise. I ended up studying economics because business sounded both practical and interesting to me, and the UofC economics programs provided me with a rigorous problem-solving skill set. Also, the core program [a mandatory undergraduate program that includes classes in calculus, writing, language and science] allowed for a lot of variety in my schedule, which I felt helped round me out.
That being said, I learned more about business from internships. I never really use much from what I learned in my economics classes because there’s nothing quite like a real job experience. The summer after my third year, I had worked in investment banking. I did not fully grasp what investment banking entailed before I started, but the concept was intriguing. Investment banks act as intermediaries between investors (who have money to invest) and corporations (who require capital to grow and run their businesses). Investment banks also provide advisory services to corporations looking to engage in Mergers & Acquisitions activity. I saw it as a solid jumping-off point for other careers in business. I received a return offer to work at the same company after graduation in New York City.
Were you ready to leave tennis behind after graduation?
My senior year we did really well as a team. It was, however, a really long season, and I was ready to take a break for a while. The fall after I graduated is when I first started to miss the sport. My teammates went back to train, and that’s when I became sad that tennis was no longer such a big part of my life anymore. The two years I lived in New York after graduation I did not really play at all. I was working long hours, and so it was really difficult to find people to play with in the limited time I had. There was a wall near my apartment, so sometimes I would go there to hit by myself.
Can you talk a little bit more about your transition and what that was like?
When you’re a student-athlete, you naturally have to develop a disciplined routine. You create a schedule for yourself and manage your day-to-day tasks. When I started working full-time, I was pulling long hours, and it took me a while to develop a new routine. For example, I realized pretty early on that if I didn’t do the things I wanted to do early in the day, they likely wouldn’t happen, so I started doing things I wanted to do like reading and working out in the mornings. I think playing sports my whole life also gave me the discipline to take care of myself and my body. It really made me appreciate eating correctly and prioritizing getting enough sleep.
In terms of your transition to investment banking, what was it like transitioning to that type of work?
Athletes that have played sports in college are definitely ready for a career that requires long hours. We have always been used to juggling many aspects of our life and developing time management skills. Outside of the time management piece, you really benefit from the stamina developed from long days from an early age. Even though I never really used much from my economics degree, the University of Chicago econ major did teach me how to figure out how to do solve problems I had no idea what to do when I started. This was valuable in getting through investment banking as I generally knew very little about the tasks I had to do when I started in general.
After two years, you moved back to Chicago to work in Private Equity. Can you explain a little bit about what PE is and why you made this move?
The firm uses money from investors to buy, grow and eventually sell private companies. My company specializes in healthcare private equity, and a lot of my role now requires me to deconstruct all of the information about a company into extreme detail. We look to invest in smaller, private companies that have a solid business model and real potential for growth. I usually spend weeks analyzing the data generated and understanding the growth models. Knowing this information can help us decide how much we want to pay for the company or the company’s value.
What is a project or company that you’ve worked on that you found particularly interesting?
We were really interested in buying this Midwest company that specialized in improving the condition of kids with autism. We did three to four weeks of deep analysis on the company that would help us project how much we would bid for it. Right before the company was auctioned, we discovered a small detail that made us realize we were over-valuing the company. We lowered our bid and did not end up buying the company in the end, but it was cool to see our work translate directly to the decision-making process. When you’re analyzing the small details, it’s important to apply that to the big picture and not lose sight of the end-goal.
What goals do you have for your future?
In the fall, I will be going to business school and am excited for the variety of people I’ll meet and the different perspectives I’ll develop. I definitely enjoy what I do now, but I also want to see what else is out there and develop the optionality to do different things in my career. Overall, I’m excited and imagine the variety of experiences I’ll have will be similar to my time at UChicago.
What advice do you have for current student-athletes?
You’re only in college with your teammates and friends for four years. It’s hard to replicate the feeling of playing sports at such a competitive level with some of your best friends. Although I play in tennis leagues still, it’s definitely not the same atmosphere. Playing sports in college also gives you an advantage career wise. The athletic network is a wide net comprised of many schools: I recently spoke with a Carnegie Mellon graduate who played tennis and tried to help connect him with employers. Recruiters really respect someone who went through four years of a sport while maintaining a decent GPA.