Hiring Circle meets Aude Doyen, Head of UK Debt Advisory at Lincoln International
Hiring Circle's Georgie Banfield met Aude Doyen, Head of UK Debt Advisory at Lincoln International.
Having spent the start of her career in M&A and transitioned to Debt Advisory during the global financial crisis, Aude joined Lincoln International in early 2011 at a time when the practice of debt advisory was still niche. Over the course of the following decade or so she has seen both the sector and her career evolve considerably. Now MD and Head of UK Debt Advisory she reflects back on her career so far. In this interview she gives thorough insight into careers in debt advisory; both from a day-to-day perspective and how the role changes with seniority. As someone who has forged a highly successful career, she shares excellent advice for anyone looking to succeed long term.
Aude, tell me more about your early career and what attracted you to debt advisory.
I began my career working in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) after business school, focused on sectors like business services and technology, media and telecommunications (TMT). I started there because most of the recruiting out of business school was tailored for M&A. At the time, debt advisory was still a small, niche practice. However, early on, I was lucky to have the opportunity to work on a few debt advisory projects and had the technical skills to do well on those assignments. I enjoyed the debt advisory work because it presented a challenge and was focused on the fundamentals of the borrower and data analysis. Over time, I continued to touch more and more of these assignments, and eventually a Managing Director I previously worked with was hired by Lincoln International to establish its debt advisory practice in the U.K. We were just two members on the team back then, and I liked the prospect of taking a position that was very entrepreneurial and the opportunity to help build Lincoln’s debt advisory practice.
Can you describe a typical day in debt advisory and how has your role evolved with seniority?
One of the great things about debt advisory is that no two days are the same. That said, the work itself is always a balance of execution on deals and origination. The execution side involves deal preparation, including assessing debt capacity, drafting presentations and building banking models, negotiating terms directly with lenders, working alongside diligence providers to address lenders’ credit questions, and collaborating with law firms to deliver the facilities agreement.
"One of the great things about debt advisory is that no two days are the same..."
At a junior level, a debt advisory role primarily involves working on the deliverables, such as models and client-facing materials that are reviewed by MDs. But, it is also the right time to build the technical skill set required to understand term sheets. As I have become more senior, my role has an increased focus on negotiating the terms of the financing deal, managing client relationships, origination and providing guidance to junior team members, as well as working with internal partners when there are opportunities for cross-product collaboration.
Finally, origination and keeping in touch with market participants – financial sponsors, lenders, borrowers, and advisers – becomes a growing component as individuals progress through their debt advisory careers.
Are there any deals that you have been particularly proud of and what made them successful?
In debt advisory, our success is measured by client outcomes against their financing objectives – whether that’s about quantum, pricing, or flexibility in specific documentation terms. Success is not a uniform concept and varies based on client goals. I am always most proud when I have been able to deliver above client expectations on a particularly difficult or complex deal, or able to bring innovation to market terms.
"Success is not a uniform concept and varies based on client goals"
Most recently, I have had a personal focus on sustainability-linked loans and ESG ratchets, which are relatively new to the mid-market and track a company’s performance and improvement against environmental, social and governance goals. I am proud that our U.K. team has implemented ESG margin ratchets for its clients with several finance providers (both banks and credit funds) because I believe these have helped move the market in a positive direction that contributes to societal changes. It feels as if we have reached a new milestone and that is very gratifying.
You have had a very impressive career, having been promoted to Head of UK Debt Advisory and Managing Director at a young age. What do you feel are the keys to promotion and what advice do you have for someone looking to succeed in their career in debt advisory?
When beginning a career in debt advisory, it is very important to build your technical skill set from a modeling and legal perspective because that is how you establish credibility with clients, lenders and other advisers. In my experience, I greatly benefitted from the guidance of senior debt advisers who took the time to answer my questions, share their expertise and discuss learnings from navigating a variety of situations.
"Debt advisory remains an ecosystem where there is value in the relationships and trust you establish over time"
To succeed long-term, I think it is important to have senior role models and seek out opportunities to work with people who will help you grow in your career. Debt advisory remains an ecosystem where there is value in the relationships and trust you establish over time. As an employee becomes more senior, it is also important to focus on new client origination, negotiations skills and identifying your management style.
You have been at Lincoln International for over 10 years. What is it about the firm that first attracted you and what has made you stay for so long?
Lincoln as a firm is very entrepreneurial and, as I mentioned earlier, the debt advisory practice was really a blank sheet of paper when I joined. I was attracted to the opportunity to shape the team and build a new line of business for the firm.
"I have never been bored and there is constantly fresh momentum in what we do on a daily basis"
Over time, the debt advisory practice has grown to over 25 professionals in Europe. Diversity in assignments and financing structures, increasing collaboration with our sector teams, and growing opportunities to work on cross-border deals with our European and North American colleagues are all reasons why I really enjoy the firm and getting to work every day. I have stayed at Lincoln for more than a decade because I have never been bored and there is constantly fresh momentum in what we do on a daily basis as the firm grows and the industry and financing markets change.
How does Lincoln differentiate itself from other debt advisory firms from both a business and cultural perspective?
Lincoln is incredibly client-centered. From a debt advisory perspective, delivering to clients means providing guidance and advice throughout the duration of the project and the life of the debt facilities, which stems from Lincoln’s ethos that we are building a long-term relationship with our clients. We believe that the service we provide extends beyond the deal itself and that it is important to build sustained relationships as a trusted adviser.
"We believe that the service we provide extends beyond the deal itself and that it is important to build sustained relationships as a trusted adviser"
Lincoln’s culture is very strong and as we have grown, the firm has maintained a flat structure and entrepreneurial mindset. Our leaders are very approachable and will make time to answer questions or share their experience. Lincoln also embodies a philosophy that good ideas can come from anyone, so there is widespread encouragement to speak up and work beyond your title or job description. I found this very beneficial for my development because it allowed me to pursue topics or work that I found most interesting.
What type of person suits a career in debt advisory and Lincoln in particular?
Within debt advisory, successful employees will stay curious and always be willing to learn new concepts – the market is constantly evolving with new structures and terms emerging all the time. Debt advisory is also very technical, so it’s important to flex those skills at every level. And, of course, you need to be driven by client satisfaction, time after time, to remain an adviser.
At Lincoln, our transactions are senior-led and we are firm believers that MDs and other senior leaders need to be hands-on to deliver the best outcomes for our clients. That means that anyone wishing to pursue a successful career at Lincoln will need to be on board with this collegiate approach valued by our clients.
"...you need to be driven by client satisfaction, time after time, to remain an adviser"
What were the impacts of COVID-19 on the debt advisory market and how do you envisage it will look in the future?
From a financing terms perspective, the COVID-19 impact has been short-lived. There were many covenant waivers at the onset of the pandemic and some defaults also, but overall debt advisers helped their clients navigate this initial period. COVID-19 adjustments have been and still are an important aspect when assessing the financial performance of a prospective borrower. However, compared to the global financial crisis of 2008, the market has not faced a liquidity crunch and financing has remained available. This allowed for a very active 2021 on the performing credit side, with M&A at a record level driving acquisition financings and borrowers taking advantage of favourable terms via opportunistic refinancings and recapitalisations.
The pandemic also shifted many of our standard ways of working and I expect that as we move toward a post-pandemic reality, we will continue to adopt a hybrid approach. On one hand, there is inherent value in face-to-face meetings and in-person collaboration. However, I believe we will adopt a hybrid model because of the convenience and speed remote work allows. For instance, video conferencing has enabled us to schedule meetings more quickly during the deal process. Over time, I expect that each company and industry will find the balance that best suits the demands of their work.