Flor Kassai Partner, Inflexion

Please describe your current role

I am a Partner at Inflexion, a private equity firm with £4.4bn AUM investing in the UK and Europe. Our equity cheques range between £10m-£200m through our family of funds which includes a buyout fund, a minority fund and a small-cap fund. My sector focus is Business Services and I have responsibility for originating, evaluating and leading investment opportunities. I am also passionate about our diversity efforts and am involved in recruitment.

What attracted you to a career in Private Equity and how did you get started?

I joined the PE industry because I loved the combination of skills that are required for the job, which continue to evolve during your career. In the early stages, it helps to love numbers and assessing industry dynamics; but later on, the focus turns to issues with a much wider dispersion of outcomes: defining a clear strategy, objectively thinking through risks and assessing and understanding human motivations, how to engage to get the best out of people and the real meaning of a “partnership” with management. The biggest rewards come through the ownership of the decision-making process. For me, “living” the results of the recommendations you have made is what gets me out of bed in the morning.

My roots are somewhat atypical — I grew up in Argentina and studied Industrial Engineering. I joined JPMorgan’s Latin American M&A team in New York, fulfilling a dream of living abroad. I then went on to complete an MBA and MA at Wharton, which was a fabulous experience. Thereafter, I joined Bain &Co focusing on advising on PE transactions, and from there I made the switch to PE, joining HgCapital in 2006 and Inflexion five years later.

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

Early in one’s career trajectory, opportunity and pragmatism tend to lead the show in job selection. Over time, however, I have found that one’s longevity in PE ends up having as much to do with both passion and fit. What do I mean?

“Passion” has become somewhat overused in a career context, but its meaning still holds true. PE is a pretty demanding sector in terms of both time commitment and time horizon. Therefore, to me it makes sense — in one’s career, as in life — to be honest with yourself about what really matters to you, what makes you tick, what you enjoy.

Second, “fit” truly is central to endurance in your PE career. There is a very wide mix of PE firms out there, and no two have the same mix of focus, ethos and culture. This can be very difficult to assess from the outside. Take the time to identify the firms that fit who you are and whom you fit. Ask those at the firm to characterise its culture, but also question people who may have left the firm as well as advisors that can help you compare and contrast to other firms.

Once you join your dream firm, stay true to yourself. Though it is changing (slowly), this is still a male-dominated industry, and nine times out of ten, you may be the only woman in the room. Have the courage to share your convictions while being confident about keeping your femininity, your humour, your spark. At its core, a meaningful part of private equity is making human connections.

Finally, be clear of what success means to you. At times, certain considerations will take priority over others – being ready to take a break if and when you decide to have a family; when you are up for Partner, career will reassume centre stage. Each woman balances differently her roles as friend, daughter, wife, contributor to society, sportswoman, or any other element that is important to your personal definition of success.

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?

We have already seen significant, positive change over the last few years. Today, there is a much more open and receptive PE industry to the one I was introduced to back in 2006. Of course, we are still quite some way from equilibrium, but there is reason for optimism. Case in point, Inflexion have been very supportive of diversity efforts.

One cannot overstate the importance of mentoring of women execs. Having been the beneficiary of good mentoring, I appreciate how the perspective, encouragement and network support have been career pillars. Implemented as a program within a firm, it is a forum to anticipate and react when women execs may be hitting a wall and to intercept it before they get frustrated and leave. It is also encouraging to see progress being made on recruitment where a number of firms are now focusing on diverse interview slates and an unbiased process.

And while it seems so basic, it is essential to provide more informal networking opportunities for women. This requires being more creative as a firm to supplement golf and football with other activities that are more likely to attract women, so as to provide spaces for them to create strong bonds with other peers in their business and in the advisory community.

Ultimately, faster change will accompany having more women in senior roles who can be alert and responsive to issues. Support from the top is key to make things happen – time needs a bit of a “push” here with proper intervention from the senior ranks to accelerate results.