For anyone in the banking industry, 2009 was perhaps not the greatest time to be graduating from b-school. The economy was still reeling from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and the lay of the land, career-wise, was unclear at best.
For Justin Hand (’09), the moment provided an opportunity. After graduating from UCLA Anderson, he returned to his long-time employer, Provident Healthcare Partners, to open the firm’s Los Angeles office and grow the caliber of the firm’s transactions on a national level.
After a successful decade in that role, Hand was ready for a new challenge. He founded Westcove Partners, a boutique investment banking advisory firm that specializes in representing health care founders and organizations seeking to raise institutional capital for the first time. In addition to providing advisory services, Westcove aims to do good in the community, apportioning both time and financial resources toward companies, and devoting philanthropic efforts to such institutions as UCLA Anderson, as the company recently made a major gift to its founder’s alma mater. In addition to Hand, the Westcove team includes three additional Anderson alumni, as the company taps the school’s talent pool for interns and associates.
The launch of Westcove came after a period of professional soul searching for Hand.
“I took a sabbatical for about nine months, and, during that time, I had the opportunity to join several bulge-bracket and mid-tier investment banks to build out their health care business,” Hand, Westcove’s managing director, says. “But I continued to consider the benefits of creating a firm myself and the new challenges this would present, and it just didn’t pass.”
Hand put his time off to good use, taking several international trips, catching up with family and friends without the distraction of work travel, and, most important, building the confidence needed to embark on this next professional chapter. At a dinner with classmate Jeremy Round (’09), he learned Round had recently pitched the services of his company, Cultivate Advisors, to folks at the UCLA Anderson Venture Accelerator. While the Accelerator might seem an unconventional place for an experienced banker with nearly two decades of experience, Hand decided it was a place to reset good habits and to share ideas with other entrepreneurs facing the challenges of being a part of a startup.
“Ultimately, I decided to launch the firm in, mid-2020,” recalls Hand — who is no stranger to meeting the professional challenges triggered by global events that affect every market.
“It’s not exactly what I thought I’d be doing at 40,” Hand says of his Accelerator experience, “but it ended up being a really great community for me, and I thought the support that they gave me was really helpful.”
Hand was motivated to launch Westcove because he believed that the biggest benefits of specialized, boutique investment banks had lost their luster. He believed he and his team could find ways to bring some of the best characteristics of bulge bracket investment banking into the middle market sector. “We think we accomplished that through specialization in health care,” he says. “Our entire firm is focused on providing mergers and acquisition advisory work to health care organizations.” But, he adds, “the company aspires to move outside of health care in the future through the onboarding of other seasoned professionals who can bring their expertise to our firm; it was a strategic decision not to carry ‘health care’ in our name,” he says.
Westcove brings the benefits of bulge bracket services into middle-market investment banking services. “We bring the efficiencies and the pedigree that a firm such as Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan brings, and we bring them to organizations that typically aren’t experiencing that type of service from our competitors,” Hand says. “Having a deep understanding of what’s important to our client, knowing why they started their organization and how they contrast to their competitors — we really want to extract that story and passion, because we think that ultimately helps us find the very best partner for that organization, whether it is a private equity firm or a company coming in and looking to acquire the business.”
Hand says, “It’s a special moment for an entrepreneur to consider a sale or an outside partner. Our team plays a pivotal role in this small part of the entrepreneur’s story, but we’re fortunate it’s typically their most significant business decision.”
Hand’s Accelerator experience offered another benefit: exposure to the UCLA Anderson talent pool. Hand met Anderson students Dimitri Michalakis (’21) and Scott Schulkin (’21), and both interned with Westcove between their first and second years. They are now associates with Westcove, having landed full-time positions during the pandemic. “I don’t think I would have thought to source interns from Anderson if I weren’t on campus,” Hand said. After Michalakis and Schulkin joined the firm, Rebecca Phuong (’22) interned with Westcove and will be joining the firm full time in July.
Schulkin came to business school looking to go into venture capital. But after a couple of internships, he realized his risk tolerance and the high-risk nature of seed-stage venture capital didn’t really mesh. But, he says, he enjoys meeting founders and working closely with entrepreneurs and management teams, which makes Westcove the right fit for him.
“I pivoted in March or April 2020 to investment banking,” Schulkin says. “I started thinking, if venture capital is not the path, I wanted to see what investment banking held. I was fortunate enough to connect with Justin through the Parker Career Management Center when he was taking on a couple of interns for the summer. The interview was supposed to be 45 minutes and I think we spent an hour and a half on the call. We hit it off, and I believed in his vision and pedigree. It was a chance to work with someone who had proven that he can drive business and build a firm while, simultaneously, I would have the opportunity to help build something bigger than myself.”
Schulkin says there are some nice advantages to working alongside fellow Anderson graduates.
“Everyone on our team has unique capabilities and we can rely on the fact that, intellectually, we have a strong foundation,” he says. “Anderson attracts intelligent, vibrant people, and Westcove’s environment is kind of a continuation of that. We want to push ourselves, but we’re also trying to learn and grow together. Justin really wants to re-engage with the Anderson community and create opportunities.”
For his part, Hand is all about creating opportunities — for his company, his clients, his colleagues and the community.
“One of our firm-wide mandates is to hire underrepresented individuals, but I also wanted to find a way that we, as a firm, could empower the next generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders who may be overlooked in some way.” One way the company is working toward that goal is through the creation of a pool made up of financial contributions from each member of the Westcove team.
Westcove Partners also has philanthropic goals. Given the composition of Westcove’s staff, UCLA Anderson felt like a natural beneficiary. The company recently made a substantial gift to the school, which is focused on funding the graduate education of students from underrepresented communities.
“UCLA Anderson deserves a lot of credit for our current success at Westcove. I think back to what Anderson offered me in the years after graduating, where our talent came from, where we started in the Accelerator; and UCLA Anderson became an obvious place for us to give back in a tangible way. Being able to write a check collectively as a group was important, and it was a unanimous vote across all of us. This was a really good place for these dollars,” Hand says.