Courtesy of Olivia Sanchez

Over 400 undergraduate and graduate students attended an annual symposium at the School of Management on Friday to hear some of the biggest names in the private equity industry speak.

The 17th Private Equity and Venture Capital symposium, hosted by the SOM Private Equity and Venture Capital Club, brought together a selection of private equity experts for a series of panels and keynotes that lasted all day. Attendees, including 100 undergraduates, purchased tickets priced between $25 and $200, and parts of the conference were broadcast to business schools around the world.

“Spring has been elusive, but I don’t think insights will be elusive here today,” said SOM Dean Edward Snyder, who opened the event with an introduction of keynote speaker John Denniston, board chairman of agricultural startup Shared-X.

Other keynote speakers included Joshua Bekenstein ’80, co-chairman of Bain Capital, and Hamilton James, president and COO of Blackstone — who spoke in the place of of well-known Blackstone co-founder, Chairman, and CEO Stephen Schwarzman ’69, who cancelled his keynote last month.

The conference also hosted eight panels of experts throughout the day, with topics ranging from geopolitical trends in the business environment to private investments in Latin America.

In their respective keynotes, Denniston discussed Shared-X, which helps to improve farming practices in developing countries, while Bekenstein discussed the founding era of private equity in the mid-1980s as well as private equity’s outlook internationally.

Broadly defined, private equity companies are those that invest their money through buyouts, venture capital, distressed investments and other methods.

In his talk, James examined the success of Blackstone, the largest private equity firm in the world, and shared some advice for attendees.

“If you’re learning all the time and you’re learning as much as you possibly can, you’ll reach whatever potential in whatever field you want,” James said. “Never opt for something that’s overly comfortable — learn, learn, learn.”

James discussed Blackstone’s expansion into real estate and the market effects of President Donald Trump, who made Schwarzman chair of his Strategic and Policy Forum in December and also spoke to “several” Blackstone partners about other cabinet positions, according to James.

Symposium co-chairs Andrés Martínez SOM ’17, Matthew Blumberg SOM ’17 and José Moreno SOM ’17 were excited by the turnout for the conference, especially among undergraduates, as well as the broadcasting of the talks to member schools of the Global Network for Advanced Management. Students outside the U.S. were able to ask speakers questions digitally throughout the event. Martínez added that the conference reflects favorably on the work of the Private Equity and Venture Capital Club, which promotes the positive aspects of private equity.

“Private equity is an industry that didn’t always have the best reputation,” Martínez said. “But looking at a conference like this one shows the power that business has to shape for good, which is something we believe in the PE field.”

Students who attended the symposium spoke highly of the selection of speakers and the information they shared.

Barjdeep Kaur SOM ’18 said that, though she does not plan to work in private equity, she found the talks to be “eye-opening and high-caliber.”

Jens Robatzek SOM ’18 agreed that the speakers were among the best in the industry and that they spoke to students in a very open way.

“It was great to hear candid, straight talk,” Robatzek said. “The speakers said what they felt, and it was very refreshing.”

According to their website, the Private Equity and Venture Capital Club Club has 705 group members.