Cheryl Potter , Global Co-head of Consumer, Permira

Please describe your current role

I co-lead the team that is responsible for consumer investing at Permira.  I also serve on the firm’s Executive Committee.  Permira is a global private equity business with €33bn of committed capital.  I joined the firm 19 years ago.  My role involves all aspects of the private equity role from idea origination, through deal execution, portfolio company value creation and ultimately exit management.  I currently serve on three boards, Dr Martens, Allegro and Schustermann and Borenstein.  Through my Executive Committee role I am also actively involved in Permira strategy and people development.

What attracted you to private equity and how did you get started in the industry?

I began my career at Arthur Andersen.  Having qualified as a Chartered Accountant in the Audit and Business Advisory practice I moved into Corporate Finance.  That role mainly entailed working with management teams to raise private equity for their businesses. I loved working with them to articulate a vision and plan for the business and helping them raise financing to support this.  The one area of frustration was the lack of involvement in the business post the deal.

From Corporate Finance I moved straight in to private equity and have had an amazing 20 years.  Building on the ability to create a vision and strategic hypothesis for a business, translating it into a more detailed value creation plan and working with some fantastically talented management teams to create better businesses and deliver strong returns to our LPs along the way.

What advice would you give to young women interested in a career in private equity?

Go for it!  It’s an amazing industry.  I am a huge advocate of private equity as an ownership model for creating better businesses.  The job is stimulating, rewarding on so many levels and varied – no two days are alike.  My top tips would be:

  • be an independent thinker.  The industry needs (and thrives on) diverse thinking in its broadest sense.  Diverse thinking drives better decision making and ultimately better returns.
  • be human.  Our industry is full of incredibly smart people.  Being smart is not a differentiator!  Your ability to connect with people is.  Your network will help you originate and hire great people.  Your ability to connect will enable you to motivate people when things are going well and importantly through the inevitable bumps in the road.
  • understand what you need to do to make your life sustainable.  A career in private equity is amazingly stimulating but it is also incredibly demanding.  For me what made it sustainable was having a supportive spouse, great childcare, regular exercise and an occasional unbridled belly laugh with girlfriends!  Everyone’s list is different but make yours non-negotiable.

What do you think it will take to improve the gender gap in private equity and do you think we will see a significant change in the coming years?

The bad news is there is no silver bullet, the good news is ‘what gets measured gets done’.  The focus which Level 20 is driving around this topic is therefore a very important factor.

The most important fact, for me, however, is that diverse groups drive better decision making and therefore better returns.  As an industry we are generally good at understanding what drives enhanced returns so I am optimistic that enlightened self-interest combined with increased focus will start to make a difference.

I have no doubt that the two factors above will lead to more women being hired into the industry.  The big challenge then is how the industry enables them to thrive (survival should not be good enough).  There are hygiene factors around maternity leave and periods of flexible working which should not be overlooked but the bigger change needs to be around culture.  As one of my male partners said in a recent discussion ‘we are all about alpha not about alpha male’.  I think this is increasingly relevant to both genders as younger generations think about their lives in a different way.