Updated: Sep 23, 2020
If you are interested in an international career, consider getting an education, doing research on careers you are interested in, and networking. Clark Nielsen, former Senior Managing Director of Darby Technology Ventures, relates his advice for students that are interested in international business.
James Oldroyd: I’m James Oldroyd at InternationalHub. It’s good to be with you. I’m here with Clark Nielson, who was the senior managing director and general counsel of Darby funds. We are going to be asking him some questions today. So, Clark, thank you. Thanks for coming and joining.
Clark Nielsen: My pleasure.
James Oldroyd: A lot of a lot of industries, a lot of professionals, are thinking about doing business internationally, and it’s highly complex. If you were to take your 20 plus years of experience in emerging markets, what are some tips you would give, if you were to boil it down to three tips you would give people as they’re thinking about moving, particularly into emerging markets? What would you offer?
Clark Nielsen: As a career?
James Oldroyd: Yeah.
Clark Nielsen: Well, obviously, get your education. That’s an important thing too. I would probably do some research on what industries are most active internationally. Try network as much as you can.
James Oldroyd: So can I dig into that. So when you say network, say I knew nothing, where would I would I begin that process?
Clark Nielsen: Well one place to start would be just at your school. Let’s saying you’re in business school. They’re probably professors in your school that have done work internationally. Students that lived and worked abroad. Start with that, and then I think there are lots of companies around that would be more than happy to look somebody up and just sit down talking to pick your brain for a while. Most people, I think, are pretty willing to talk about the experiences.
James Oldroyd: Just be proactive?
Clark Nielsen: Just be proactive, yeah.
James Oldroyd: Okay, so start to build a network. Do some investigative research.
Clark Nielsen: Do some investigation. Look at industries that maybe interest you and also where there’re opportunities abroad. Obviously, finance is a big one. That’s where I came from. There are lots of opportunities finance globally. Through banks, investment firms, all sorts of things. Industry, obviously. This globalization has taken over. Firms have global networks now. Supply chains. So lots and lots of opportunities internationally.
James Oldroyd: Imagine I’m a professional, I’m trying to make this decision. Would you suggest like industry is more important or is it what I want to do? Do I need to pick finance or is it…?
Clark Nielsen: Well, I would start with what you’re most interested in because I think if you’re most interested in it, you pursue it with more vigor and passion. So I would start with what you’re interested in and just start digging away some of those companies or industries or sectors that are most active internationally.
James Oldroyd: So can I push on that just a little. When you say dig in or investigate, could you get a little more specific? Is this reading popular press?
Clark Nielsen: Oh, yeah. I think it’s I think it’s all sorts of things. I think it’s, again, reaching out to your network. I think it’s reading. Reading is really important. Reading newspapers, trade journals, research on the internet. Look at companies. If you see a company that looks pretty interesting, grab their annual report. There’s a wealth of information in company annual reports. Look at analyst reports on sectors and individual companies. I do that all the time. If I see something I’m interested in, I’ll look and see if Merrill or Goldman or JPMorgan Chase or one of these companies has an analyst that follows the company or writes about the sector, and you can usually find pretty good information if you just spend a little bit of time.
James Oldroyd: Okay, so we’ve got research. We’ve got network. Is there anything else that you would recommend?
Clark Nielsen: Again, if you find something that you’re interested in, try to find someone who’s got some experience in that sector or in that industry, especially working abroad, and just sit down and talk to them. There’s nothing like having a conversation with someone that’s actually been there and done that.
James Oldroyd: So as we look at your career, you started into the international business
Clark Nielsen: Fell into it.
James Oldroyd: Yeah, fell into it. You had some great mentors frankly, which you were surrounded by.
Clark Nielsen: Yes, I was very much fortunate in my mentors.
James Oldroyd: But as you began this, you started from the U.S. to Latin America, like you understand the Latin American Market. Is it just time on task, you just literally just dig in and start reading and digging in? Is there any shortcut? Was there any trick?
Clark Nielsen: There are no shortcuts in life. There is no substitute for just sitting down and doing the work. There’s no substitute for that. But in my case, I really had very little background in it before I started doing it. I’d gone to law school. I’d practice law. Focused on banking. I’d worked for the government, the Treasury Department. But I hadn’t spent 20 years in emerging markets private equity. Frankly, nobody had spent 20 years in emerging markets private equity because it was a completely new field of investment while I started in it. We were, I think, probably the second PE fund targeting emerging markets like that. So it was really a learn by doing. Just figuring it out. The interesting thing about life and business is your very rarely inventing the wheel entirely from scratch. Somebody has probably done something at least similar in the past, and obviously, private equity had a long history in United States and in Europe. Some of the folks had experience in private equity in the United States. So it wasn’t like you were starting entirely from scratch. You could look at deal processes that had already been well developed in other places. You could look at investment processes that had already been developed in other place. You could look at legal documents, just adapt them for local circumstances. So it wasn’t like it was a complete blank slate, but there was definitely a learning curve, especially taking practices and principles that had been developed for a market that had been around for decades really and then try to translate that into a place where there really hadn’t been a history of private equity before. It was a learning curve for us. It was a learning curve for the companies we were looking at. It was a learning curve for the investors and funds. Is was interesting.
James Oldroyd: In 93, when you began in earnest, it was pre-internet. You’re not asking Google how to do this. Do you think that was actually an advantage in the sense that you had to reach out to people, form those relationships? Often it seems students now, it seems like they’re overly dependent or reliant on Google. You would have had to build those ties that then maybe years later could have been more beneficial for you.
Clark Nielsen: Yeah, we did. This was definitely pre-internet. It forced you, I think, to really look around and find people with good experience or background. This is true, I think, in any endeavor in life, pre or post internet. It’s very important to surround yourself with good people because if you are surrounded with good people that share your values and you can rely on to do the right thing, you can then focus on the things that really matter in terms of bring your business forward.
James Oldroyd: So when you say good people is that good in that they’re competent or good in the they’re trustworthy?
Clark Nielsen: In all aspects. Yeah, good in terms of competency. Good in terms of reliability. Good in terms of strong values and principles. I think good in every respect. We had a particularly good group of people at my firm that had unbelievable experience and large networks, and that made a huge difference in terms of just setting up the company, raising money, finding transactions to invest in. It was really critical.
James Oldroyd: What was your favorite part of being on the cusp of international investment, international business?
Clark Nielsen: Well, it’s interesting to deal with people in other countries, other cultures. Obviously, in private equity, you’re dealing with business people, right? So in some respects they’re the same as business people everywhere. In other respects, they’re different, right? Because they’re in a different context. So that was always very interesting to me. It was always very interesting to see how practices that we sort of take for granted here how they translate into other contexts. Legal contexts. Local customs and cultures. It’s not always a perfect fit, and some countries, it’s a simpler transition. In other countries, it’s a much more complicated transition. That was always interesting. I always liked the deal work because private equity is interesting because unlike public trading securities, where you’re just doing research on the company and push a button and invest. Every deal is the spoke. You have to do research from scratch. You have to learn about the company and management from scratch. You have to structure the deal from scratch. And that was always an interesting thing for me. Just sort of putting the puzzle together getting it done. All the work we did, it was never it was never repetitive. It was always sort of a new something going on all the time.
James Oldroyd: What was your least favorite part of your of the experience?
Clark Nielsen: Travel can be wearing. That’s one thing you need to bear in mind with current international business. You’re traveling a lot. Sometimes, like in any business, deals go bad. You have just accept the good with the bad and just work through. There’s always, I think, in every job and every career, you would like spend all your time on the exciting stuff, but there’s always some mundane stuff. Proofreading documents for the 20th time. It can get little old. Meetings that don’t seem to be leading to any firm conclusions. There’s always the mundane stuff, but the mundane stuff comes with good stuff. So you just take it all take it all.
James Oldroyd: Okay. So final question. Imagine you’re an 18 year old or 19 year old bright students, and you’re thinking “I like international. This is to be something for me.” Do you have any advice for that individual?
Clark Nielsen: Again, I would just say, really focus on your education. There’s no substitute for that. Do the homework and really do the homework. Talk to people. I tell this to anybody to ask me for career advice. It’s always really important to just find people that are doing things that you’re interested in doing and just talk. Because you’ll learn more from that than hours of Google. You really will.
James Oldroyd: All right. One last question. How much does somebody need to embed themselves in the language? Would you suggest they a learn a language?
Clark Nielsen: It’s helpful. It’s not necessary. It’s definitely helpful. But you know, you may find yourself a fluent speaker of Spanish, one day going to meeting in Seoul surrounded by native speakers of Korean. I think one of the interesting things about a career in international business is just being able to adapt and be flexible, figure it out. You’re not gonna learn every language. It’s helpful though. It’s definitely helpful. Time spent living and working abroad, that does give you, I think, a better sense of what’s involved in living and working abroad. So generally helpful.
James Oldroyd: Thank you.
Clark Nielsen: You’re welcome. Glad to do it.