Jason Mozingo faced the same decision many prospective UCLA students face: enroll at Berkeley or go to school in Westwood. But for Jason, whose parents had gone to UCLA, the decision to become a Bruin wasn’t just an easy one, it was a rewarding one. At UCLA, his bread and butter was economics. Jason took difficult econ classes, including one with Jack Hirshleifer, a long-time professor and well-known economist. However, he also got the opportunity to take classes in other disciplines and meet students from a variety of backgrounds, an experience which he considers one of the best aspects of being a Bruin. Although Jason knew he wanted to pursue a career in finance post-graduation, he was less certain about which sub-sector would most interest him. For students not sure where to start their career (or for those graduating in a tough economy), Jason says do not worry too much about finding the “perfect” job after graduation since building a career is a process, not a single event. Furthermore, that process often includes graduate school or switching industries.
Despite graduating in a recession (early 1990s), Jason started his career in sales and trading at Merrill Lynch’s Los Angeles office. At Merrill he decided investment banking and eventually a career in investing would be a better long-term fit. He also knew he wanted to pursue an MBA. In the interim, Jason decided to join a boutique L.A. based investment banking advisory firm and complete the three-year CFA program. Upon receiving his CFA designation and reviewing his graduate school options, he decided to move to the East Coast and enroll at Harvard Business School. His transition between jobs was catapulted by his HBS experience, which thrusted him into a forum for recruiters from Wall Street’s best firms. He found his calling in private equity during the summer of his M.B.A. program at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, one of the top investment banks at the time. Jason had the fortunate opportunity to work on a live control private equity deal within the merchant banking (private equity) division that closed before he left back for HBS. Working on that transaction confirmed his interest in the field and convinced him to return to the firm’s private equity division for a full-time role after graduation. Moving from sales and trading to investment banking and then to private equity is generally difficult, but for Jason, the connections and experience he earned at Harvard enabled him to make the transition.
After a number of years working in his ideal job, he realized the private equity industry was changing. Witnessing billion dollar leveraged buyouts, acquisitions financed with a significant amount of debt, Jason saw potential for these acquisitions to fail and for the debt used in them to become distressed. Jason knew opportunities in distressed investing would rise and many traditional private equity firms would be unable to profitably invest in distressed debt. Jason identified one newly formed firm that would capitalize on these trends: Centerbridge Partners. Their focus on these two themes with a hybrid private equity and distressed investing model struck a chord with Jason and convinced him to make the difficult decision to leave his firm and join Centerbridge. His story shows another reason to not worry about landing the perfect job right out of college: opportunities and interests change over time.
After eleven years at Centerbridge where he was a Partner leading investments in consumer-related businesses and cumulatively two decades of investing experience on Wall Street focused on large and mature companies, Jason decided he wanted to pursue an entrepreneurial venture and start his own firm. That firm, Passkey Investors, LLC is a family office that invests in earlier-stage growth companies in the consumer and consumer-technology space. In addition to running Passkey Investors, Jason also serves on UCLA’s Department of Economics Board of Visitors, helping the department understand the market demand for different types of data and finance training.
Jason is a passionate UCLA alumnus and advocate of giving back to the school that means so much to every Bruin. UCLA is fortunate to have a wide array of accomplished alumni and he suggests undergraduates reach out to them to gain invaluable insight into potential career paths. UCLA is also no stranger to corporate recruiting events, and he also recommends young Bruins to take advantage of company forums on campus to gauge potential fit after graduation. But as he’s stressed, finding the perfect job out of college might not come right away, and that’s ok. After all, a successful career isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.
Written by Chris Lane.