Emma Watford, Partner & Head of Business Services Sector, Bridgepoint

Please describe your current role

I am a Partner at Bridgepoint. I am part of the Bridgepoint Europe investment team. This is our flagship fund which invests at the upper mid-cap end of the market which we define as businesses with enterprise values between €300m and €1bn. We have six sector teams and I head up the business services sector team which is comprised of colleagues from all of our 10 investment offices and 3 equity funds.

My role has three key elements to it – ensuring we continually evolve our investment themes in the business services sector to reflect market trends, sourcing new investment opportunities and working closely with management teams of businesses that we have invested in.

On top of this, I am involved in fundraising, recruitment and our diversity & inclusion efforts.

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

I started my career in investment banking at Morgan Stanley. It was here that I first came across private equity and decided that I wanted to try it. The attractions were the opportunity to work with interesting people, the ability to make decisions and see the outcome of those decisions, and the immense variety of the role.

I had the opportunity to join the industry after two years in investment banking but I had always wanted to study in the US and I thought I would benefit from broadening my experience base so, instead, I decided to spend two years at Harvard Business School getting my MBA with the intention of joining the private equity industry when I left. I am very glad that I made this decision and remain a strong advocate for this route.

I have now been in the private equity industry since 2005 and the reasons I enjoy it are still the reasons I joined the industry in the first place. It is a great privilege to work in an industry where you can be involved in meaningful conversations with business leaders that impact the strategy and outcome for the companies that you invest in and the people who work at those companies.

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

I couldn’t recommend the industry more highly. My advice would be:

  • Don’t be put off by the low representation of senior women in the industry today. This is changing very fast. There has never been a better time for women to join our industry. Lots of people will be invested in your success.
  • Take a long term view. Focus on finding a firm with a culture and with people that you can see yourself working with not just for one or two years but for many years. This is more important than the most prestigious brand or the highest compensation package. Private equity is an intense career where it takes time to gather the experience you need to progress to the highest levels. You will only succeed if you choose a culture that enables you to enjoy the journey and manage through the peaks and troughs of life as an investor.
  • If you love the analytical side of business but don’t enjoy the people side, then choose a different career path. Your ability to form relationships with management teams and win their trust and respect will define your success. The management teams you work with often become friends for life.

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

There has already been a very significant change at the majority of large private equity firms who have made significant strides in increasing diversity at the entry level. This will drive momentum in years to come as the women who have been recruited into the industry progress through their firms and the focus on achieving diversity in recruitment continues.

How quickly change happens all depends on how successful we are at retaining the talented women who have recently joined the industry and will continue to join the industry. Women who have progressed to Partner level are still quite rare so we need to look outside of our own industry to learn from other industries on how to provide women with the framework they need to sustain long and successful careers.

There is no silver bullet or “one size fits all” solution. Senior management focus and advocacy is key. When there is an authentic desire to reduce the gender gap, change can happen quickly.