If you’re recruiting for the pre-MBA private equity associate role, you will probably be asked to complete a paper LBO in the interview process. This is an industry standard and it’s usually asked early in the process to weed out candidates.

## What Is Paper LBO?

Essentially, the interviewers give you a hypothetical investment scenario with some rough numbers. You do the LBO math on a piece of paper with a pen and ask for whatever information you need to figure out the IRR along the way. **No calculators allowed!** You have to do all the calcs manually but worry not, we’ll show you how to nail it.

Note: In most exercises, the interviewers are just interested in whether you can do the LBO math and arrive at the right returns profile. One exception to this is Centerbridge – if you’re interviewing with them, you should also provide your thoughts on the business, valuation as well as the transaction structure – their paper LBO is more like a mini case study.

## How Important Is It?

This is a check-the-box question. It’s used to weed out weak candidates from the get-go. Successfully completing it will allow you to continue in the process, but it won’t land you the offer. You must differentiate yourself in other areas, like showing that you can think like an investor or talking intelligently about your deals.

## How to Crush It

By the time you finish reading this article and completing the exercise, you will have a structured approach towards handling paper LBOs. Once you get that down, there’s nothing more to fear.

So let’s get down right to it. Suppose the following scenario:

*You are now a PE Associate and you have to figure out the expected returns on an investment. The company has revenue of $100 in Year 0, growing $10 every year. It has an EBITDA of $50 in Year 0, also growing at $10 every year. We’re buying it at the end of Year 0 for 10x LTM EBITDA with 5x leverage. Assuming we exit in Year 5 with no multiple expansion, what’s the IRR?*

Tip: Take notes when the interviewer is going over the exercise. You don’t want to be the candidate that asks the interviewer to repeat the prompt multiple times. On that note, bring a pen!

**Our first step is to derive the Sources & Uses.** At this point, some candidates tend to ask for things like existing capital structure, minimum cash and fees. You shouldn’t. As a general interview principle, try to keep things simple. The idea is to get the IRR in the simplest form. **In most paper LBO scenarios, you should just assume that there’re no fees, no min cash requirement and that you’re acquiring the company on a cash-free, debt-free basis.** So the enterprise value is the equity purchase price. Just say your assumptions out loud (that you’re assuming cash-free, debt-free, no fees), so your interviewer can follow your thought process. The S&U should look like this:

**Our second step is to project out the future Levered Free Cash Flows.** We recommend that you go from EBITDA to Net Income, and from Net Income to EBITDA. So the math will look like this:

Tip: We strongly recommend that you walk from Net Income to LFCF as opposed to going directly from EBITDA to LFCF bypassing Net Income as some Analysts do in banking. The reasons is 2 folds. First, because it’s more complex and you risk messing up the calculations. Second, your interviewers have a fixed “right” answer & approach in mind. What we’ve found through actual in-field experience is that when we try to walk from EBITDA directly to LFCF, we often get interrupted by the interviewers asking “Are you forgetting something?” So they’ll get the impression that you’re missing calcs / got the answer wrong, even if you’ll eventually get to all the cash flow items. So do yourself a favor and bridge to Net Income first and go from Net Income to LFCF.

Tip: Ask for information as you go rather than trying to figure out every item you need upfront. This will help the interviewer follow your work and save you trouble. So now you should ask for all the missing items like D&A, interest rate, taxes, CapEx and changes in working capital.

*Suppose the company has $10 of D&A, $10 of CapEx, and $5 of changes in NWC, staying constant through our investment period. Interest rate is 10% and tax rate is 40%.*

Usually, your interviewer will tell you to just assume debt repayment at the end, so no complex debt schedules. Our free cash flow build should look like this:

TIP: Present expenses in negative format (either with a negative sign or put them in parentheses). We see a lot of candidates mess up an otherwise great paper LBO because they confused the signs.

**Our third step is to calculate MOIC and estimate our IRR.** Because we don’t have any complex debt schedule, our exit equity value is just enterprise value less transaction debt plus cash, which is the 5-year cumulative LFCF (since we bought the company on a cash-free basis with no minimum cash and all debt is repaid at the end). The key thing you should memorize here is what the estimated IRR is for different cash multiples. The reason is that you can easily calculate the MOIC on paper, but it’s difficult to calculate the IRR without a calculator. The trick is to use the MOIC as a proxy for IRR. Most paper LBOs are of 5-year period, so you can use the table below to approximate the IRR.

So there you have it! You’ve done a paper LBO and if you practice a few problem sets, you’ll get the handle of it. Below are some practice problem sets for the curious minds.

## Paper LBO Problem Sets

**Problem Set 1 (Standard):** The company has a Year 0 revenue of $500, growing at a rate of 10% every year. EBITDA margin is 20% in Year 0 and remains constant throughout the holding period. We’re buying it at the end of Year 0 at 10x LTM EBITDA multiple. We’re financing it with 4x of bank debt @ 5% and an additional 2x of bond @ 10%. Assume $20 of D&A in Year 0, growing by $5 every year. CapEx = D&A. Fixed working capital changes of $10 every year. 40% tax rate. Exit at the end of Year 5 with the same multiple as at entry.

You can find the walk-through here.

**Problem Set 2 (Advanced):** The company is a retailer with 20 stores and has a Year 0 revenue of $5,000. Every year, the retailer opens 5 new stores. Opening each new store will require $20 in growth capital expenditures but will add $150 in sales in the first year of operation. Each new stores built after Year 0 grow revenue by $10 every year after the first year. The existing 20 stores’ cumulative revenue grows by a total of $250 every year. All new and existing stores has an EBITDA margin of 20% and need maintenance capex of $3 / store every year. Each store has a D&A of $5.

For maintenance capex and D&A calculations, include impact of new stores from the same year in the count. Changes in working capital is a flat $110 every year. We’re buying the business at the end of Year 0 at 10x LTM EBITDA and financing it with 4x of bank debt @ 5% interest and an additional 2x of bond @ 10%. Assume 40% tax rate. Exit at the end of Year 5 with the same multiple as at entry.

Commentary: Problem Set 2 is a challenging one and mirrors 2 paper LBOs we saw given out at 2 large PE firms. One was on a private school business and another on a healthcare center business that they own. It’s tricky in that you need to give thoughts to exactly how the financials are driven by the business model. But once you figure it out, it’s very straightforward.

#### Next Article:

What is Investment Banking? Explained in Simple Terms### About 10X EBITDA

We are a small team composed of former investment banking professionals from Goldman Sachs and investment professionals from the world’s top private equity firms and hedge funds, such as KKR, TPG, Carlyle, Warburg, D.E. Shaw, Citadel, etc. Our mission is to cultivate the next generation of top talent for Wall Street and to help candidates bring their careers to new heights. We’re based in the United States, but we have expertise across Europe and Asia as well.

Could we get the solutions to the 2 examples?

Yes, Lord Commander Snow. We’re working on it and will upload shortly.

When would it be available ?

Could we get the solution for the second example please? Thank you

Is the IRR by any chance 25%?

I got 22.5% (2.75x)

Let me know if this is correct –

MOIC = 1.75x

IRR = 11.84%

When will the #2 solutions be available?

Winter is coming and I need the #2 solutions.

Guys I cannot hold the door any longer! Please provide the solution to #2 in my last fleeting moments.

When will the #2 solutions be available?

I got 22.5% (2.75x)

got 2.48x and 19.96% IRR

How did we get cash as 110 in Returns profile table?

Any chance of the Problem 2 Walkthrough?

For Terminal Value, I get exit revenue of 10,500 being 6250 from old stores (5,000 grown by 250 x 5 yrs) & 4250 from 25 new stores (25 x 150 + 500 aggregate growth over 5 years). At 20% EBITDA Margin and 10x EV/EBITDA exit value that gives 21,000 sales price. After 6,000 of debt this gives 15,000 to equity, plus (by my calcs 3,045 of FCF in years 1-5) i.e MOIC is 4.51x (18,045 / 4,000).

Terminal value? Oof

It is 4.4x MOIC and 34.3% IRR

Would be great if results would come available. I got the same results as Betaboi:

MOIC 2.5

IRR 20%

I got the same answers as Betaboi and Tyrion: 2.5x MOIC and 20% IRR.

Year 5 EBITDA: $1,440

Enterprise Value: $14,400

Equity Value: $9,935

EV ($1,440) – Bank Debt ($4,000) – Bond ($2,000) + Cash ($1,535) / Sponsor Equity ($4,000)

*EV ($14,440)

I can support this solution!

When I try to calculate the IRR on excel, I get 33% for some reason. My cash flows are -250,10,16,22,28, 894 (the 894 is the 34+860), and then i just insert =Irr(cells in aforementioned order) Is there anything I am missing? Thank you very much!

That’s because when you use the formula in Excel, you’re modeling the company using the LFCF to pay the private equity sponsor dividends every year during the 5-year horizon, whereas we’re illustrating sponsor extracting cash flow at the end of the 5-year period. This difference in timing of the cash flow impacts IRR (time value of money). In a paper LBO, you don’t get to use Excel or calculate so you can’t calculate IRR based on annual dividend streams. Therefore, you have to accumulate LFCF to the Balance Sheet, which increases the cash amount at exit.

IRR = 21.5% and MOIC = 2.6x

Solution walkthrough?