Q & A:
- What was your favorite class, who was your favorite professor, or what is your fondest memory of Hofstra?
If hard pressed, I’d say I enjoyed Anoop Rai’s finance, Chuck McMellon’s marketing, and Stuart Bass’ legal studies in business courses. These classes conjure up good memories and provided tools that I continue to use. These were also charismatic professors that inspired, helped shape my career, and were always available to talk.
One of my fondest Hofstra memories was working as a GA for Graduate Business Career Services. Organizing professional events, like hosting alumni executive speakers, was educational and a lot of fun. It provided the opportunity to meet captains of industry, like Randy Levine (NY Yankees president) and James Campbell (former GE Appliances & Lighting CEO), which inspired my career trajectory.
- What was your first job after graduating from Hofstra, and what was the most valuable thing you learned there?
After graduating from Hofstra I worked for CMA (Capital Management Advisors), a boutique Swiss fund of funds managing $3.1B+ in over 100 funds. As a hedge fund analyst, I conducted due diligence, quantitative, and qualitative analyses on funds based on our investment criteria.
Dealing with European and Latin American investment markets helped solidify my interest in international business, working abroad, and foreign languages. Gaining exposure to influential individuals, like hedge fund managers, inspired me to challenge my career expectations and take more calculated risks, such as moving to China. The competition was high within this crowd, which really pushed me to think bigger and reach for goals perceived to be inaccessible.
- What is your field of specialty, and how did you come to work in the industry?
I participate in all phases of mergers and acquisitions, but specialize in post-acquisition turnaround management. I am currently the managing director of MADES (a former Raytheon facility in Spain), which manufactures critical electronic systems for defense, aerospace, industrial, and medical device applications. I’ve also managed other companies in different sectors and countries, for AIAC, prior to this role.
AIAC is a NYC-based private equity firm specializing in acquiring distressed manufacturing units of Fortune 500 companies. It owns 60+ world-class plants in over 15 countries with over 8,500 employees and $1.2B+ annual revenue.
I kind of fell into this line of work out of necessity during the recession, shortly after graduating from Zarb around 2008. The fund of funds I was working for was being acquired and could not keep most employees onboard. Through my boss I met an AIAC “deal originator,” whose job was to find acquisition targets. I learned more about AIAC’s niche strategy, saw an opportunity, and made a strategic pitch hoping to create a job for myself. My theory was that Western markets were highly distressed, and that would translate into less consumption, manifesting into troubled Chinese companies ripe for acquisition. I moved to China originally focusing in search of acquisition targets, and found success in the international management and operations side of the business.
- What advice would you give Hofstra students?
As Nicaraguan war refugees, my family immigrated to NYC when I was 6. With no English language ability, and raised in a single-parent household, my first job at the age of 7 was picking up empty bottles and cans from NYC subway tracks to help out. I haven’t stopped working since. Not having an inherited support network, legal status, or access to financial aid hindered my academic and professional opportunities. Hence, I strongly believe in no handouts, hard work, no excuses, and long-term gratification.
My point is study with passion and urgency. Don’t just do it passively to check a box and get a credential. Study as if your life depended on it. At least the quality of it does. Your competition is global, willing to do things most will not, and it is very hungry.
- In one word, how would you describe Hofstra?
- What is the hardest/toughest part of your job?
The work variety is a double-edged sword. One day I might be in the United States negotiating a missile contract with a defense customer, while another in Bulgaria, Italy, or Slovenia assessing acquisitions in metal recycling, railroad track, or automobile component manufacturing. The following week I might be testifying in a Barcelona courtroom for a bankruptcy in the commercial refrigeration sector. I’ve also confronted terrorist-tied unions that have taken management hostage, and threatened me with a car bomb!
A career based out of mobility, versatility and adaptability can be challenging. Dealing regularly with a wide variety of specialists can leave you feeling like a dilettante. It’s tough to keep up. In contrast, I could never go back to the confines of a cubicle, doing the same thing daily.
- How do you balance your responsibilities as both a managing director and as a vice president in an effective and efficient way?
It’s not a job; it’s a lifestyle, and there’s no magic tip. My social life suffers greatly. I’ve stood up plenty of people for drinks, and have recently started forgetting my own birthday! I work in multiple countries and industries, and wear very diverse hats. I have a lot of flexibility, but nights, weekends, holidays and vacations are all fair game. Fortunately, I’m blessed with very understanding family and friends. It’s better now, but over the past six years I’ve been home no more than 2 months total out of every year, and social media has become an important way to stay in touch.
The key to balancing job responsibilities is building a great team and effectively delegating. I like to say that if I’m the dumbest guy in the room, I’ve done my job well. Find the right people, provide the right tools, and inspire and then trust them. Being a leader is about your people, and not you. You have to motivate people by lighting a fire in them, not under them.
- How have your experiences abroad influenced you professionally?
Pico Iyer, a British-born essayist and novelist of Indian origin, said “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves.”
There is no substitute for the transformational power of living, working and learning abroad. I’ve been privileged to have lived in several countries across four continents, not to mention countless assignments in multiple cities across India, Thailand, Vietnam, Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, France, Croatia, Costa Rica and many more. I’m currently helping with acquisition targets in Egypt, Algeria and Venezuela. For the time being, this corporate vagabond calls Malaga, Spain, home of Picasso and Antonio Banderas, home.
Not everyone can pick up and leave, and my mobility has been the most positive influence of my career. My first move was in 2009 to Xiangfan, China, seeking bluer oceans amid the recession. It was a calculated risk that has paid tremendous dividends. I haven’t stopped moving since. Along the way I improved my Spanish, picked up Mandarin Chinese, and began working on my German. There is no better way to integrate into a country, culture, and economy than by showing the effort of learning the local tongue. I’ve made friends in most corners of the world, lived in postcard-worthy places, and regularly crave foods that are high on most people’s gag meter. It’s been a great ride that I hope to continue indefinitely.
- Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Where do you see your career progressing in the future?
It’s been said that if you can accomplish all your goals in one lifetime, you’re not thinking big enough. In the short run, I will be overseeing multiple international world-class manufacturing operations. In the mid run, I see myself as CEO of a Fortune 500 company or starting a niche strategy fund. And in the long run, maybe politics. Running distressed companies translates well into helping small troubled countries.
Jean Montalvan, a native New Yorker, currently serves as both the managing director of MADES (Malaga Aerospace, Defense & Electronic Systems S.A.) and senior vice president of AIAC (American Industrial Acquisition Corporation). His expertise includes management of complex international manufacturing operations, mergers and acquisitions, corporate restructuring, financial analysis, and business development.
He brings strong international experience working in the United States, Latin America, Europe, and Asia, and is proficient in English, Spanish, German, Italian and Mandarin Chinese. He holds a Zarb MBA with dual majors in finance and marketing, and a BA with triple majors in economics, political science, and liberal arts. He has also pursued advanced studies in International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), Six Sigma, and Chinese history.
In addition to participating in a variety of extreme sports, he enjoys experiences like running with the bulls in Pamplona and is currently planning a Kilimanjaro climb. He has taught university courses in the United States and China, and mentored a number of international students, including Hofstra students, through the MBA admission, international relocation, and adjustment process.