- PwC Digital Accelerator
- Financial due diligence
- Other services under the deals umbrella
- Learning about jobs without applying
Ali Wahba left PwC once but came back for more! He started his career in tax, left for an industry position but recently re-joined the firm in their deals practice.
I grew up in Overland Park, KS and went to Kansas State University. I double majored in accounting and finance, and then I got my masters in taxation in 2018. Afterwards, I started working full time at PwC in tax. I spent about two and a half years in the industry tax practice group working on public and private companies as well as high net worth individuals. Kansas City was a good environment to start in. It exposed me to a lot of different company structures, including partnerships, S-corps, individuals, and corporate. I got to see it all in a variety of industries versus people that went to a bigger market and maybe had to find a niche sooner. So I was really appreciative of that experience. Towards the end of my time in the Kansas City office, I got accepted into a role called Digital Accelerator program. It is an initiative of PwC to be working through automations. So we spent a lot of time building time-savings applications using Alteryx, Tableau, UI Path, etc. The Digital Accelerator team worked to build automations to implement the concept of standardization for various processes and client services.
The firm had a goal to save 5 million hours in five years. Anything you thought you could do on the client side, you would try to automate it, standardize it, and try to bring it to a bunch of different platforms across the firm. So hopefully, you can automate manual tasks that take you hours and hours, and instead spend more time bringing value to your clients. The first Digital Accelerator class crushed it. They hit the 5 million hour goal in a year.
Yes. During the summer of 2020 I thought I needed a change, something different. So I popped over to industry to work for a Cboe Global Markets. I spent about a year there. I had a great experience, working with a phenomenal team. They exposed me to so many things both technical tax as well as business operations. But I came to realize that tax wasn't what I wanted to do long-term. Luckily while I was there I spent some time working on some deals. I got to see the diligence side and see how that process works. And I knew that's what I wanted to do. So I started networking with some people and talking to my old contacts at PwC. I told them my story and how I wanted to be working in M&A. I got in contact with the financial due diligence group in Chicago’s PwC office. I got an offer and joined the group. I’ve seen a lot of interesting work, it’s fast paced with a huge learning curve. I'm learning and definitely headed in the right direction.
When I was doing diligence work over at Cboe and seeing how the team communicates with the target companies, I just realized that's something I want to do. It feels value-add, it feels very fulfilling and super interesting. Every project is a new challenge. I really have to put my brain to the test every day. Everything here is much more subjective. You’re trying to make an assessment based on the information you have.
We work with a lot of private equity firms to help them assess a target company they’re looking to acquire. My group works on all the pre-deal stuff. We get all the target company’s information and focus on three things: quality of earnings, net working capital, and debt/debt-like items. We start with the financials and build them into a deal model. We look through management’s assertions, normalize earnings, and then work through diligence adjustments. Then we build out a report for the client that shows what we discovered.
There’s a bunch - deal analytics, corporate finance, tax, HR, IT, etc. There’s almost every kind of service that’s needed in a transaction. For example, HR services include transitioning employees from the target to the acquirer. IT includes marrying or transitioning systems between the two entities. Tax works through all the tax implications of the deal. Corporate finance is structuring and funding the deal.
That experience definitely brought data analytical and data wrangling skills that I didn't have prior. Data tells a story, everyone needs to be using it. The tools we used allowed me to take large sums of data, manipulate it into what I wanted to see, and then use it to tell a story. In this new role, we use a lot of data from different sources. We have to sift through a lot of things. Those wrangling and analytical skills have definitely helped.
It depends on which vertical you’re in. A lot of people do FP&A, some go the investment banking route, some people will go over to private equity shops. There’s a variety of ways you can take your career from here. The work in the deals practice is varied, some audit work, but a lot of analysis and trending as well.
Funny that you ask, I was just trying to think about which discipline I know the best. I only spent two and a half years in tax and less time in automation. I can look at a tax return and have a good idea of what’s going on. I can take an automation process, troubleshoot it or rebuild something from scratch. But going forward, I think the best skill is just always working hard. I’ll continue to learn a variety of things, but I want to make sure that my work ethic continues to grow and that I’m always pushing as hard as I can.
I think the best way to navigate is just to build good relationships. Even if you don’t like your job, always work on relationships. You never know when those people are going to pop back up. It took a lot of networking for me to get into this role. I heard a lot of “no’s”, a lot of people were like “you’re just a tax guy”. So you can’t be too hard on yourself. It’s a rollercoaster and life is just a ride. You just have to do your best and keep trying. You’re going to make mistakes. But at the end of day, nothing is permanent. Just keep pursuing what you want to do and keep learning.
I would look at roles and then find people at the company in a similar role and shoot them a message on LinkedIn. Just a cold message saying “Hi my name is Ali Wahba. I was looking at this role at your company and saw you were in the same position. Do you have 15 minutes to chat about your responsibilities and day-to-day so I can learn more?” By the end of those calls everyone was willing to give me a referral for the role. I took a few of them up on that offer, but this is a great way to learn without applying.
First off, I wanted to see how the person was and how they spoke to somebody else. So honestly, just a character check. Then I asked three questions around the role:
As much as you don't want to focus on exit opportunities, I wanted to know what could be next if I hit my limit. And everyone was super personal, super kind. Obviously I'm cold messaging someone, and they're willing to get on the phone with me.
Being in the accounting and finance world, roles are ever-changing. When I first joined PwC, I thought my role was just going to be tax returns and work papers. But my role quickly shifted to automation. I want to keep learning more about that. I'm obviously focused on learning my FDD role, like assessing quality of earnings but also industry and business trends. I’m reading the Wall Street Journal more, trying to keep tabs on what’s going on real-time. I’m also focused on the healthcare world as our Deals office has a large emphasis on that industry.
I typically read articles from CNBC, but I also get daily emails from the Morning Brew or the Skimm. I would recommend both of those for people waiting for a high level overview on what has been going on in business as well as the news. In addition, I started getting a taste for podcasts on Spotify through some friends’ recommendations including: Industry Focus Motley Fool, The Flip Side by Barclays, and Brewin Dolphin. Podcasts are great especially for the commute on public transportation. But generally, whatever topic you are interested in learning about I would try to: find a podcast, forum, book, and follow any key players in the topic on Twitter. That’s pretty much all the ways to key yourself in current discourse.
Yeah, I would say what motivates me the most is making a difference in people’s lives. Whether it’s business or personal, I want others to feel like they can approach me. Even if they hardly know me, I’ve obviously been the sender of cold outreach messages. I am happy to be the recipient of them and pay it forward. That’s what drives me, just building relationships and making a difference.
If you would have asked me six months ago, I would have said my goal was to work in deals. Now that I'm here, I'm along for the ride. I really just want to learn this role and be a sponge. Also, at the moment, my goal is to enjoy Chicago. I made this move to a new city and it's been a good experience thus far. So long-term goals? None right now. Five years down the road I don't know where I'll be. But as long as I keep learning and growing, I'm sure this will take me in the direction I want to go. But for now, I'm just trying to really live it up and enjoy it. Life's all about experiences.