Jeff Schwartz

Founder of Corbel Capital Partners

Jeffrey B. Schwartz is the founder of the private equity firm Corbel Capital Partners. His organization is known for providing creative structured capital to middle-market businesses, and he’s known for adapting his approach based on a fluctuating industry landscape. He opens up about his process and how he’s managed to come out on top in a competitive market.

What is your typical day, and how do you make it productive?

My typical day starts off with a game plan. My whole career has been built by understanding the markets, which means that I have to know how those markets are changing on a regular basis if I want to stay competitive.

Making my day more productive starts with having a set list of tasks to accomplish while still leaving enough flexibility to put out a few fires if I absolutely have to. I’ve been in this business long enough to know that you can’t always account for everything, but you can get into a routine that allows for the unexpected.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I rely on my instincts, work ethic, and team to get an idea off the ground. When I saw a clear gap in the lower middle market, I had to think about how companies could get access not only to capital but also to the kind of advice and support that would give them their best chance of success. Those kinds of opportunities were sparse at the time I started Corbel Capital Partners, so I needed to jump in and figure out a largely untapped market. Of course, I relied on my experience, but I also had to trust my instincts to kick in as I built my products and services from scratch.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I’m impressed by how much more hands-on portfolio management there’s been since the pandemic. While this clearly varies from holder to holder, there’s been a general trend for companies on both sides of private equity to implement stronger oversight. There’s a lot to be said for middle-market companies that have their eyes on the numbers. It certainly makes my job a lot easier when I’m trying to figure out the story behind the figures.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would tell myself that there is no wrong way to be an entrepreneur. When I was in school, I certainly didn’t think that finance would be the path for me. I was going to business school to start my own business, not to specialize in private equity. But the truth is that entrepreneurs are more about the drive than the specialty. Once I had the expertise down pat, it was an easier transition to go from having employers to being one.

Tell us something you believe almost nobody agrees with you on?

That’s hard to answer, especially in these days when there are a lot of competing views happening right now in finance. It would be easy to say that the outlooks are too optimistic for private equity in the North American and European sectors for next year, but we’ve also seen positions rally from far worse starting points.

What is the one thing you repeatedly do and recommend everyone else do?

I wouldn’t have a do-over. I’ve learned so much from my mistakes that it’s hard to hate them. It’s rare when a person actively wants to fail, but these attitudes miss the point of it. It cannot be said enough that the accomplishment is going back to the drawing board if it’s a goal that matters to you.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t pivot your strategy, staying light on your feet, so to speak; it just means that you can’t let those do-over moments get in your head — other than to help you make stronger decisions next time around.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?

I go for a walk. Actively moving around helps me clear my head so I can come back to the problem with more resolve.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business or advance in your career?

My strategy was always recognizing the value of who was around me, as opposed to taking things at face value based on a one-sheet or even a full portfolio. It was self-explanatory why banks were hesitant to fund small businesses; the ever-increasing regulatory pressures had a hold on them that would have been difficult for anyone to break. But that gap was real, and I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from giving the lower middle market the opportunity they deserved.

What is one failure in your career,  how did you overcome it, and what lessons did you take away from it?

I’d say my biggest failure was assuming that private equity wasn’t for me. Business has so many directions, which can be really intimidating for many people. But I see it the other way around. With so many different ways to go, it means that everyone can find their place in the ecosystem. I learned that by staying alert, I could parlay my experience at financial institutions like Lehman Brothers into a business that would fuel my passions for more than a decade.

What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?

You’re never going to know what you can do until you actually do it. That may not be expressly related to the private equity market, but it is a business idea that you can take to the bank. If you see a gap in the market that no one else is capitalizing on, do your research. It’s possible that gap should be there, but, more likely, it’s an opportunity sitting right in front of you.

What is one piece of software that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

I use plenty of spreadsheets throughout the day, both at home and at work. It helps me keep all of the numbers straight, so I’m able to see how and where things are coming together…or falling apart.

Do you have a favorite book or podcast you’ve gotten a ton of value from and why?

I recommend Private Equity: Operational Due Diligence. This may not be the most exciting book in the world, but it does present a lot of the arguments that help me do my job better. Corbel Capital Partners doesn’t just crunch numbers. It’s our job to give people real advice based on their market, and we can’t do that without an understanding of who they are and what they’re up against.

Key learnings

  • You’re never going to know what you can do until you actually do it.
  • There is no wrong way to be an entrepreneur.
  • Recognizing the value of who was around me