The son of Haitian immigrants, Archel G. Desir was shaped largely by his parents’ emigration to the United states. “I grew up watching them re-establish themselves after they had basically been told that their academic and professional accomplishments didn’t count,” he says. “Their resilience and perseverance through it all are truly inspiring to me both personally and professionally.”
With his parents as motivation, Desir studied business and finance at Boston University before earning his MBA from Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, in 2014, as a member of The Consortium. Today, he combines his interest in finance with his enthusiasm for entrepreneurship and strategy in his corporate development practice, Hyperion Advisory LLC.
Through Hyperion, Desir works with technology firm clients and their respective fund sponsors to grow revenue, increase profitability and reduce operational risks for the strategic benefit of healthcare, manufacturing and renewable energy portfolio companies. Hyperion works on private and public sector projects alongside executive management teams at firms like Sika Capital Management, Anheuser-Busch InBev, New York City and New York State, among others.
Desir recently spoke with The Consortium about his passion for executing business strategy, his deep-seated desire to dictate his own fate and his thoughts on how the finance industry will look post-COVID-19.
Was there something in your childhood that sparked your interest in business, finance and entrepreneurship?
Whether it was my advancement as a Boy Scout or my attendance at a new school after a recent family move, my discoveries of how I could best add value to others comes from witnessing my parents be gracious as they progressed in spite of experiencing many setbacks.
The dividends they’ve earned over the years from the equity they’ve accrued — monetary and not — with the different people they’ve impacted sparked my interest in doing the same in business, finance and entrepreneurship. To this day, that understanding of how to interact with and earn the trust of others is the greatest gift my parents have given me. It serves me well in everything I do as a professional.
Would you say you’ve always been strategy-minded?
It’s interesting that you ask that. Outside of homework and school-sanctioned, mom-approved extracurricular activities, the only means of entertainment for our household was strategy games — chess, Rubik Cubes, etc. So, developing a strategic mind was part of my upbringing and has stuck with me.
I also really liked doing math problems and enjoy them still. A lot of what I do now — finding simple solutions to very nuanced business challenges — follows similar approaches that were applied to “winning” strategy games or solving math problems.
Have you always had a desire to start your own business?
Yes, there was always a feeling of career unease at each level of the encouraged route of convention. From college graduation to working for larger corporations, I felt uncomfortable with my role as just another employee.
I didn’t quite understand my visceral dislike of working for corporate at first, but at around 25 years old, I’d had enough. I was ready to dictate my own fate through a business of my own design. Though I didn’t know exactly what I’d end up doing in the future, I vividly recall saying to myself, “I don’t want to do this anymore. If I’m going to work this hard for someone, it’s going to be for me on something that I want to build.”
It was farther into your career that you launched Hyperion. Did you feel that you still had something to learn or gain from working at other companies?
I was indoctrinated to believe that my career had to go the way of others before me, that there was only one of a few limited ways to get to where I wanted to be professionally. So, in my mind, more infrastructure, finances and schooling was what was needed in order for me to advance. None of that was true.
In retrospect, I should have taken the entrepreneurial leap earlier. Since I didn’t, the experiment that was my early career served as a lab of sorts that helped me, through trial and error, prove certain theories wrong. Those outcomes helped me realize what I absolutely didn’t want to do with my life and career.
I failed a bunch but succeeded in building tons of professional confidence from an earned set of technical skills. Those learnings have allowed me to deliver higher quality work products much faster.
Was getting an MBA always in the cards for you?
I wouldn’t say that an MBA was something I always thought I’d do.
When I was 13, my father graduated with another advanced degree. At the post-ceremony luncheon, I said a few words of appreciation that included my vow to outdo his achievement. I hadn’t even started high school yet, so an advanced degree — let alone an MBA — was not on my radar yet.
When it came time for me to consider attending graduate school, I wanted to fast track my investment finance career. However, going the standard post-MBA route and becoming an employee again was the last thing I wanted to do. The MBA program I selected would have to align with my expressed intent of growing as an owner and operator while further exploring the inner workings of the private investment markets within the broader financial sector.
It was my general curiosity of how I could ultimately compete to win within private equity that led me to pursue an MBA.
What was your experience like at Tepper?
The biggest plus about my Carnegie Mellon experience was that the campus had top-tier programs for computer science, engineering, public policy and business. It was the perfect petri dish for building lasting interdisciplinary connections that would be useful to me during and after my time in Pittsburgh.
I was elected the vice president of cross-campus collaboration for the Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital Club, a role that required the active engagement of all commercialization-focused players inside and outside of Tepper’s walls. The post proved to me that a true businessperson is supposed to serve as a commercial catalyst between disparate specialist silos in a way that aligns the group toward delivering mutual value.
Business school wasn’t only about taking the theories of the classroom to the boardroom. My time at Tepper went beyond reading case studies and passing exams; it helped to sharpen existing soft skills that are inherent to bringing people of different disciplines — from the executive suite to the factory floor — together to execute on strategies that deliver meaningful impact.
What has your experience been like getting your business off the ground? How has your MBA aided you?
Starting my own business is the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted to accomplish. My overwhelming desire to chart my own path, to build something of my own design and to solve real-world business problems has been extremely rewarding nonetheless. Though the challenges have been many, and are often daunting, I would do it all over again for the personal and professional growth that comes with this life decision.
No academic institution helped me form these sentiments; my upbringing did. Learned behaviors like firm handshakes, direct eye contact, substantive conversations and fearlessness when asking for help came through consistent practice well before I considered an MBA.
I would say that the MBA helped to polish my communications, presented opportunities that I otherwise wouldn’t have had access to via the Carnegie Mellon alumni network and established a small yet high-caliber group of contacts who want to see me win.
Tell me about Hyperion. What value do you add for clients?
Hyperion is a corporate development firm that executes on the following sorts of engagements: investment fiduciary advisory on project finance transactions and alternative strategies (there are two current infrastructure projects within renewable energy and beverage bottling), corporate development advisory (JV structuring, strategic partnerships implementation and M&A strategy execution) and interim executive management as either CFO or COO for client firms.
We primarily serve private-sector clients but plan to grow our public-sector-facing business in 2020. We’ve begun conversations with the city and state of New York to potentially serve as the vendor responsible for financial modeling and strategic investment guidance to a select number of those government agencies.
What do you love most about what you do?
What I enjoy most about what I do is the detective work. Financial statements reveal key performance indicators that serve as proxies to underlying business issues that require hands-on management. Yes, we do all of that financial and operational number crunching, but the uncovering of real risks and addressing those root causes goes back to the strategy game approaches I enjoy.
Solving for business nuance requires doing the extra detective work that business textbooks or the case method don’t teach. Developing sustainable solutions that can immediately be executed alongside all internal stakeholders is the best part of working with each of the companies we touch.
Our team [translates] the quantitative measures of business operations into qualitative actions that, together, involve the edification of a firm’s personnel and the augmentation of its systems. Making sure that an entire organization is aligned and headed in the same direction via engaged execution is the outcome we strive to consistently deliver on each project
What impact do you think the pandemic will have on your industry? What changes do you predict?
The current pandemic will lead to a transition away from certain legacy practices of the finance industry. New business models that don’t fit the conventional frameworks of the past are going to emerge on the other side of the economic shutdown of 2020. As such, added perspectives when evaluating financial and operational performance will determine which financiers are successful post-pandemic.
Look for the disintermediation of a number of industry sectors that include banking, retail, travel, energy production and agriculture to accelerate. Also, look for other service-based businesses like those that improve water and air quality, health and hygiene, to trend upwards due to increased regulatory and consumer attention.