Two leaders in the private equity industry carry forward the tenacity gained from their University of Waterloo education to become prominent in their fields.
by Alyana Versolatto
When running due diligence on transactions and tax planning on multi-million-dollar deals, what exists between Jocelyn Blanchet (MAcc '00) and Benjie Thomas (PDAcc '98) is a desire to deliver the best with a unique camaraderie and mutual trust.
However, it wasn’t always like that. They were once professional competitors, which began with their time at the University of Waterloo.
Discovering their career paths
Blanchet, a native of a Montreal suburb, and Thomas, a London, Ontario native, studied in the BA/Chartered Accountancy program at the School of Accounting and Finance a couple classes apart.
Blanchet’s interest in the Tax field began during his undergrad. He enjoyed his co-op work terms – mostly centered around tax – so much so that he negotiated with firms to work part-time in April to do personal tax returns. Unlike Blanchet, Thomas wasn’t as sure of where his passion lay during his undergrad. He completed co-op work terms in Audit, and it wasn’t until after he graduated that he heard from a friend about a growing practice called ‘Transaction Services’ that piqued his interest.
Thomas took his friend’s suggestion and started as employee number three within the new Transaction Services practice at KPMG, and Blanchet started in the Financial Services Tax practice at another professional services firm. In the early 2000s, both alums moved to Toronto — Canada's business and financial capital.
Leaders on the ground in a growing industry
As Thomas tells it, twenty years ago the private equity industry looked nothing like it does now. Notably, banks were spinning out their private equity funds to create standalone funds owned by management teams, while one of the largest pension plans made the bold move to start directly investing and taking control positions in companies. As Thomas highlights, the number of deals and amounts invested in Canada increased significantly.
“I think it's important to understand how big the private equity investment community has become in Canada. When you think of the timeline from 2010 to 2014, according to PitchBook data, $35B was invested across 845 deals by private equity funds, and between 2015 and 2019, private equity funds invested $70B across 1,281 deals. So, when you think about the growth, that's essentially a doubling in a very short period.” - Benjie Thomas
Both alums were working in Toronto when private equity was at its infancy and were maturing leaders on the ground advising and making an impact at their respective firms. Though competitors, their reputations preceded each other, they shared mutual admiration for one other, and often crossed paths. Thomas remembers the reputation Blanchet had as an outstanding tax planner.
From competitors to colleagues
In 2011, luck would have it that KPMG was looking for a Leader on their Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) Tax team, and rumour had it, there was one person at the top of the list to fill the role—Blanchet. According to Thomas, with an asset like Blanchet on their team, they could build one of the strongest private equity advisory practice in the country.
Pairing Blanchet’s deep experience in tax with Thomas’ strength in due diligence, their offerings and teams grew. The alums came together, and their productive working relationship evolved into a great friendship.
“Now on a transaction, we handle it from soup to nuts. We start from the very beginning helping the client scope out the transaction, put it together from a tax perspective, and when the transaction is closed, we've got elements of the team that help portfolio companies improve returns and achieve good outcomes for their private equity owners.” – Jocelyn Blanchet
In their notable twenty-year careers, the duo has accomplished what few have. Benjie is now the Canadian Managing Partner of Advisory Services at KPMG, and Jocelyn is now Partner and National Leader for KPMG’s M&A Tax practice. They have advised on some of the most prominent Canadian transactions and their respective practice areas have more than tripled in size over the years. Blanchet’s specialty is assisting private equity, venture capital and hedge funds to plan and execute acquisitions, reorganizations and divestitures. And Thomas’ specialties include advising on private equity and corporates in buyside and sellside quality of earnings across a number of industries.
“Our collective practices have likely worked on the majority of Canadian private equity transactions over the last ten years.” - Benjie Thomas
Navigating through rough pandemic waters
At a time of incredible uncertainty, both continue to be trusted advisors to some of the most prominent Canadian investors. Last summer, in particular, they did their best to help portfolio companies navigate the early days of the pandemic.
“Business isn’t quite back to normal, but not too far off. People are back doing transactions now. There's still a fair amount of capital to be put to work even though we can’t always meet businesses and entrepreneurs face to face or visit facilities.” - Jocelyn Blanchet
“Right now, our teams are the most active we have been in a very long time. And it shows Canadian resilience, living through a pandemic and still being able to find opportunities, perform due diligence, and make investment decisions without being there physically.” - Benjie Thomas
Career Path Transcript
Canadian private equity pension plan Transcript
KPMG strategies implemented Transcript
Final thoughts Transcript