As we've said before (and will undoubtedly say again), the road into the game industry is rarely an A-to-B journey. Some people make their way in after years of comp-sci studies, others land just the right internship , and still others – like Corp Dev Associate Carolyn Rohde – find opportunity in places most people would never even think of. Like finance.
What is your name and job title?
My name is Carolyn Rohde and I'm an Associate in EA’s Corporate Development (Corp Dev) group.
What does the Corporate Development group do?
Corp Dev is responsible for mergers, acquisitions, and strategic investments on a global basis. We source deal opportunities through regular meetings with gaming companies, investment bankers, VCs, and other interested parties to understand the changing trends in the industry and identify who would help EA maintain and strengthen its leadership position in gaming. If we think there is a fit with a certain company, then we engage them in an acquisition or investment discussion.
Our group is then responsible for valuing the company and negotiating the terms of the deal in conjunction with our executives and business unit leaders. For example, when EA acquired PopCap, KlickNation, Firemint, etc., the negotiations of those deals were handled by my group.
So we as a company are actively looking at the market to see who is for sale?
Yes, definitely. If we're interested in moving into a particular genre of gaming, or bolstering our presence in a certain area, then we'll look at the market landscape to see who's performing the best and who, of those companies, is a good strategic and financial fit for EA. Then we determine whether an acquisition makes sense.
Sometimes we hear from a banker that a particular company is for sale and we evaluate if we want to own the company or not. It's sort of like dating – we “date” a lot of companies, but it has to be a fit both ways for us to “marry” and integrate.
What's your role in all of this?
As an Associate, I spend some of my time in outward-facing roles. I attend conferences and meet with entrepreneurs, bankers, and VCs to understand the market and network with industry professionals.
When we're working on an acquisition, my role gets broken down into three parts. The first is valuation of the target company. We build pro forma financial models and apply various valuation methods such as Discounted Cash Flow analysis and comparables to understand the true value of the target. This sets up our negotiation to determine how much we're willing to pay.
Secondly, I'm responsible for managing the deal process internally and with the target – specifically, managing the due diligence process (going through all of their company documents) and coordinating internal meetings with folks within EA to discuss the acquisition.
Thirdly, we often have to put together internal presentations to our executives and board of directors for them to approve the deal, so I'm also responsible for putting together those decks.
Are you actually involved with talking directly to the target company?
Yes, absolutely. We talk with the management team on a regular basis to ask diligence questions, manage the deal process, and negotiate the terms of the deal. The actual negotiating part is handled by the more senior members in my group, but I'm highly involved with the diligence process and talking with the targets.
Can you explain to me how your group is organized and how big it is?
There are seven of us in Corp Dev. The head of our group, Mike Foley, oversees every single transaction that goes through the group. There are two Directors – Michael Chang and Charlie Wood – who also do outward-facing activities. They are more involved with negotiating deals and have direct contact with our executives and business unit leaders.
Then there are three of us Associates – Matt Cano, Matt Estes, and myself – and we're responsible for the things I mentioned above. We have a lot of Mikes and Matts!
Finally, our executive admin, Rachel Gonzalez, coordinates our calendars and meetings. On any given transaction, there will typically be three of us working at a time: Mike Foley, a Director, and an Associate.
You mentioned that the team works globally. Are there a lot of deals that have to be done in other countries?
Yup! I worked on the acquisition of Firemint, which is a mobile gaming studio in Melbourne, Australia. I also worked on the acquisition of MPP, which is a mobile porting company based in Russia.
Chillingo, another mobile company, is based in the UK. And so is Playfish, our big social gaming acquisition. The list goes on, but many of our acquisitions are cross-border.
Does that mean you get to travel a lot? Or just do a lot of early morning calls?
[Laughter] A lot of early morning calls and requests at odd hours. Usually we send one person from Corp Dev to do diligence trips, and that's usually Mike Foley or a Director.
Let’s talk about what led to this point in your career. Where did you go to college? What did you study?
I received my Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan (go blue!). Within the business school, we can choose emphases, so I chose Finance, Accounting, and Business Technology. I graduated in 2008 and moved out to San Francisco after graduation.
Are you from Michigan?
Yes, I'm from a suburb of Detroit called Grosse Pointe. My parents still live there so it's nice to go back home every once in a while.
What made you move to San Francisco after graduating?
I got a job post-graduation working at UBS in their technology investment banking group in San Francisco. I spent two years as an analyst doing buy- and sell-side mergers and acquisitions, as well as equity offerings for our mid- and large-cap tech clients. After two years, I looked for other opportunities that would allow me to leverage my financial analysis skills, have a little fun, and not work 90 hours per week.
When I was looking for jobs, I had a bunch of opportunities come my way from headhunters, but I actually heard about EA Corp Dev from a friend of a friend. When I heard about the job, the light bulb definitely went off and I thought, “That is exactly what I want to do!” I grew up surrounded by video games and I studied business, so this is somewhat of a dream job for me – to be able to use what I learned in investment banking and apply it to such a fun and evolving industry.
Did you get the job at UBS before you moved? Did you target San Francisco as a place you wanted to live?
Yes, I was lucky in that the business school at Michigan had a formalized process for interviews that started very early senior year. UBS flew me out to San Francisco in October of my senior year and I had never been to San Francisco before in my life. I did my internship in Los Angeles and everyone raved about SF, so I thought I would check it out. I also had an interest in technology, so obviously SF is the place to be for that industry!
I made a four-day trip of my interview weekend, chatted with some friends that lived there, and absolutely fell in love with the city.
When I got my offer from UBS, I accepted immediately and had peace of mind for the rest of my senior year at Michigan. Moving to San Francisco was the best decision I've ever made – I absolutely love it here and I want to stay for a very long time.
What advice do you have for a high school grad who wants a role like yours in the game industry one day?
I would say … take as many finance, accounting, and strategy-related classes as possible in college, but take a break and play some video games with your friends as well!
For this specific role in Corp Dev, we don't hire straight from undergrad, so it's important that the first job you take after college is in investment banking, venture capital, or consulting. Most people in my role come straight from investment banks. To get into investment banking is another story, but working hard and showing an interest in finance is key to getting to this job.
The video game aspect of the role is important, but less crucial than the finance portion. The job is much more interesting and exciting if you like to play video games and can talk intelligently about the industry, but you also have to have the finance skills to match your passion.
Finally, networking is a big part of this role. I would encourage high school grads to start learning how to network and how to leverage a network effectively. Go to career fairs, talk with your professors, meet everyone in your class, and join clubs that interest you.
With all the emphasis you’re putting on gaming, I’m going to assume you play as well! What games are you playing right now?
Right now, I love SSX. I haven't been able to go snowboarding much this winter, so SSX has been filling that void. I'm also obsessed with the Need for Speed franchise – probably because I'm a bit of a speed demon myself.
I'm pretty competitive, so I tend to prefer games where there is a clear winner. I also love Bejeweled Blitz when I have a few extra minutes to spare during the day and I'm also trying to get better at FIFA.
Do you have any interesting side hobbies?
I've been playing tennis competitively since I was kid. I also caught the running bug since moving to SF and in the last three years I've done nine half-marathons and one full marathon. I trained for a couple of those races with Team in Training, which is a non-profit organization that helps people train for races while raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I also love to snowboard and hike. My brother and I hiked Half Dome together, and I'm trying to convince him to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro with me at some point.
What's a typical day like for you? Are you always busy, or just when there’s an acquisition going on?
There's always something to do, but the busy times come in waves depending on deal activity. Typically, my time is split between the outward-facing stuff – like meeting with game companies, going to networking events, and talking with bankers and VC's – and the deal stuff – like financial modeling, presentations, and diligence.
When I'm not working on a live deal, the outward-facing activities take up a lot more of my time. Also, even if I'm not working on a deal, we're always evaluating companies that come our way and we often create presentations on a particular genre of gaming to bring to our business unit leaders.
When there is a live deal going on, my days are spent working on the financial models and valuation for the target (which are put into presentations) and chatting with finance, HR, legal, tax, and IT to talk about issues and implications of the deal. I'm also in constant communication with the target company to get the deal done efficiently.
That’s it. Thanks for doing this!
No problem! Glad to help!
Is there a specific video game job you'd like to know more about? Let us know in the comments! Plus, check out our interview with Senior Director of Business Systems and Technology, Jeff Bradburn, for more insight into the industry.