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Career Life Stories: Alejandro Guerrero, Silicon Valley Bank

Alejandro Guerrero is the Managing Director at Silicon Valley Bank in LA - over 50% of all VC-backed companies in the U.S. bank with them. He talks to us about what makes a successful startup and the best paths to get into corporate development, as part of the Robert Walters Career Life Stories series.

What drew you to a career in corporate development and how did you get your start?

I went to Stanford Business School with a very open mind; I saw it as an awesome opportunity to evaluate a lot of possible career paths. I found that I was continuously drawn to discovering how businesses operate financially which led to me pursue a variety of finance VC, PE, and M&A tracks. I did a summer internship in Merrill Lynch’s investment banking group doing M&A and corporate finance. I loved it and was lucky enough to be selected to join the team full-time down in LA.

I gained very diverse industry experience while with Merrill Lynch, but at a certain point, I wanted to get more specialized. I found a role with Technicolor in their corporate development group which was primarily M&A related.

Al Guerrero

For those that don’t know – what is corporate development and how is it different from business development?

Corporate development is often focused on reviewing and executing M&A or joint venture opportunities and, increasingly, on evaluating venture investments. In my experience with Technicolor, our corporate development team acted very much like the corporate SWAT team, dropping in whenever there was a project that required strategic resources or guidance to evaluate or move it forward. Corporate development is very consultative and equally quantitative. Often times, you’ll see corporate development people come up through management consulting or banking backgrounds.

Business development, broadly speaking, tends to be more sales- and partnership-oriented.

What was it like to transition from investment banking at Merrill Lynch to Technicolor in the digital media space?

The transition was relatively seamless. I started at the macro level at Merrill Lynch as a generalist and throughout my time at Technicolor my scope became more and more granular. I eventually found myself at the incubation stage, launching Technicolor’s venture fund.

You had a very successful career within Technicolor – what skillsets or behaviors do you think contributed to and/or accelerated your success?

I’ve always had a fascination with how companies and business models work, and that intellectual curiosity has threaded the needle for me in every role I’ve held. In addition, having good communication skills and being collaborative by nature served me well in my time at Technicolor and continues to support me in my role today with SVB.

We’d like to give our readers some context about your current role. Can you tell me about Silicon Valley Bank? What are your responsibilities as Managing Director?

Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) is unlike any other bank in that we focus exclusively on banking for the innovation economy. We go deep in that sector and because of that, our expertise is unrivaled in the space. We over 50% of all VC-backed companies in the U.S. and over 60% of all VC firms in the U.S bank with us. We play in the intersection of the startups and their financiers.

I focus on the LA market, and more specifically startups that have raised at least a Series-A within the direct-to-consumer space. My team and I are the tip of the spear for the bank to those clients. We are tasked with trying to understand their pain points and to find solutions that can alleviate them.

We often ask ourselves, “What else can we be doing?” to increase our clients’ probability of success. We consider ourselves more than a traditional banker – we really try to be a partner and advisor in many ways.

Another part of my role includes identifying and developing relationships with the next wave of B2C companies that are not currently banking with us.

You have a lot of experience vetting startup ideas, launching businesses and advising teams – what is your litmus test for an investable idea and/or team worth betting on?

The biggest indicator of success is a founder who has grit and a founding team that is perfectly fit to run that business – something we call having a “purpose-built background”. There are some founders who are purely opportunistic with their businesses, without a real passion for the space. It doesn’t mean opportunistic founders won’t be successful, but when times get tough you have to wonder if they’re going to be as committed as the founder who is deeply convicted and passionate about their product or service. Other important success indicators are obviously a big market opportunity and early signs of product-market fit.

For young professionals interested in a career in corporate development, what key developmental roles would you suggest they seek out?

Corporate development is a role that has a lot of different paths. Again, many people transition into corporate development from consulting or banking, but there are also plenty of opportunities to develop from the ground up by starting in a junior corporate development role.

If you are particularly passionate about a certain industry and spend several years investing your time in learning everything about that vertical, that knowledge can be a fantastic foundation for a corporate development role in that space. Your expertise and network will absolutely be valuable and interesting to firms looking for someone who can help evaluate opportunities in that industry.

What is one question you like to ask candidates during the interview process? Why?

What is a direct-to-consumer industry that you follow and find interesting?

I like to hear how they think through the market opportunity for that particular industry and their opinion on who will be the winners and losers in the space. Their opinion could turn out to be completely wrong, but the fact they have researched and thought about it shows passion and intellectual curiosity.

What resources would you recommend to someone looking to expand their knowledge about corporate development or leadership in general?

If you’re interested in corporate development, don’t just read about it; talk to as many people as possible who do that job. You’ll be surprised at how many people are willing to spend 15-30 minutes to tell you about what they do. Try to get beyond the superficial to figure out if it really is what you want to do. You will be much more persuasive in an interview if you’re clear on your “why.”

The book Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett is great for helping you think through your career progression and life decisions. My understanding is that Bill Burnett’s class at Stanford on the topic is the most popular one offered.

What is the best way for people to connect with you?

People can reach out to me on LinkedIn or via email at aguerrero@svb.com.

If you enjoyed Alejandro’s career journey, please navigate here to read other stories of impressive leaders within our network.