Lessons from M&A Expert Javier Enrile

Javier Enrile’s pursuit of an M&A career led to success and meaning in his professional life

Javier Enrile, M&A Expert (Photo by Yulia Nar/ CEOportrait Studios)

When Javier Enrile first came to the United States from Spain, it was supposed to be a six-month stay to study English. But when he took an opportunity to audit business classes, which he says blew his mind, he convinced his parents to let him enroll at the University of Texas–Austin as a full-time math and economics major.

It wasn’t until his junior year in an mergers and acquisitions class, however, that Enrile truly found his place. In the class, he was awestruck by the professor’s discussion about intrinsic value, complex forecasting and valuation tools, and how M&A is an aggressive change agent in the business economy. From there, he wanted to learn more about what factors create a successful deal; what elements are key for a company to become as sustainable, profitable business; and how M&A can be a powerful tool to create value.

“I was immediately hooked by the idea that M&A is a multidisciplinary field that requires practitioners to master creative, interpersonal, analytical, investigative, and communications skills,” Enrile says. “The fact that every deal is unique and demands something different made it even more fascinating.”

A Journey of Discovery Begins

After earning an MBA at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, Enrile went to work for Citi in New York, where he handled corporate lending and M&A. As his career progressed, he realized he wanted to go beyond transactional work and use M&A as a tool to achieve strategic growth objectives for his clients.

He eventually began working for Principal Global Investors, a subsidiary of Principal Financial Group, where he was a managing director of strategic M&A. In that role for the past eleven years, he developed a cohesive investment process that has transformed deal activity into a strategic capability for growth.

Enrile says that a consistent, disciplined investment process drives good outcomes and enables good judgment in investing. In particular, it helps to avoid deal frenzy and ensures consistent, analytical rigor.

In achieving his M&A objectives, Enrile was able to address an element he felt had previously been missing from his professional life. His career was challenging, he was doing what he liked, and he was learning new things. Meaning in his professional life, however, was missing. He wanted to know that he was making a positive impact in the lives of others and that his work went beyond himself.

Principal’s ethos of bringing the voice of the customer to everything it does enabled Enrile to find that missing piece. “At Principal, I found the meaning I was looking for,” he says. “I feel that my efforts in M&A ultimately play a role in providing Principal’s customers with the financial help they need to get through some of the most challenging times of their lives, whether that’s dealing with disability, loss of a loved one, or moving into retirement.”

The Power of the Mind

Ten years ago, a friend of Enrile’s introduced him to meditation. He was stunned when the practice’s quiet and contemplation helped him realize how many thoughts were constantly racing through his mind.

“Learning to have a more balanced, quieter mind has been extraordinarily helpful in M&A, which is intense and, very often, confrontational,” he says. “It’s also helped me recognize when negative emotions are driving my behavior.”

He uses the power of contemplation in very practical ways. If a disagreement with a colleague is creating anger or frustration, he finds a quiet place, thinks of the colleague, and wishes him or her happiness and to be safe and at ease. “Letting go of negative emotions can be incredibly hard,” he says, “but they end up being replaced by empathy and understanding, which leads to progress, compromise, and better results.”

Empowering Others

Striving for empathy and treating others with respect are also part of Enrile’s core belief system and have made him a better leader.

Focusing on empathy and caring for those who follow him have helped to create an environment in which employees feel empowered. He says that they know that he understands what it means to be in their situations and that their efforts and ideas matter. Enrile also believes that respect for team members and the experiences he shares with them are more important than job hierarchies or official titles. That belief, he says, leads to self-sacrifice to support those who follow him, which is the ultimate expression of his respect for them.

“Even though supporting your team can sometimes make things more difficult for you,” he says, “nurturing these relationships is a key element of having an effective, well-functioning team.”

The Confidence to Be Humble

Looking back on his career to date, Enrile expresses a combination of confidence, pride, and humility. He feels he has gained a great deal of M&A expertise, which has led to helping many firms reach their strategic objectives. That, in turn, has helped them improve the lives of their employees, shareholders, and clients.

As he has evolved as a leader, he has had a positive impact on those who work for him by creating a safe environment in which they can develop professionally, discover their strengths, and, as he puts it, “try the impossible.”

“I have a long way to go, but I have become a better human being who is less focused on self-promotion or being first in my profession,” Enrile says. “I would much rather be recognized for improving other people’s lives.”