Inspiring women: Dawn Marriott, Partner at Hg and Head of Hg’s Portfolio Team
“Diversity means welcoming more senior people in from other industries”
Dawn Marriott is Partner at Hg and Head of its Portfolio Team, having entered the world of private equity at the age of 45. Before that, she’d grown a large FTSE 100 company. Here she explains why she’s calling on the PE sector to expand its view of diversity to include encouraging more outsider senior people.
Are any two days the same for you in private equity?
The only constant for me is that every day is varied. When dealing with people, clients and collaborations, there are always surprises and challenges. I’ve learnt that you need to build time into your day for the unexpected. Otherwise, it’s impossible to be innovative and act on new ideas. The day you think all people and challenges are the same, is the day you should probably give up.
What was your previous experience of growing a FTSE 100 company?
I joined Capita in a junior position at the age of 25, but ended up as MD of one of their acquisitions quickly – within just 18 months. And then eventually on to become Group COO. I never set out to be the COO of a FTSE 100 company, but my skills were relevant to the journey Capita was on. Everything was about innovation, people and growth. I enjoyed it and luckily for me I was able to deliver well.
What was the move into PE like, after twenty years in a different industry?
Part of Capita’s journey was a heavy dependency on doing high quality, fast growth and M&A. So, the move into private equity wasn’t that different. It has a similar focus: how to build teams, relationships, execute M&As and get companies performing at their optimum, as fast as possible. At Capita we didn’t sell businesses, but I had 50 new deals under my belt by the time I left.
You’ve called Capita a meritocracy – why?
This may sound strange, but until I joined PE, I never really noticed I was a woman at work. I didn’t consider diversity or gender for myself as it didn’t get in my way; nor was a particular benefit. At that time, Capita culture focussed on living their values and delivering results. Diversity for me, despite being a minority as a senior woman there, was neither an advantage or disadvantage.
Did your view of diversity change, then, when you moved into PE?
Entering into PE at 45, I was made aware of being a woman at work suddenly. I was constantly being asked to comment on it. How did you get where you are, as a woman? That kind of thing. I was irritated by such questions. I was talked to less about being a CEO or COO and more about being a woman. The lack of diversity is apparent in private equity, that’s not a secret. But, it is getting better and there is a genuine focus by the sector on being more inclusive, which is of course going to benefit everyone. I feel a sense of obligation now to help less represented groups – be that women or other less well represented groups because I believe diverse teams deliver better results and have more enjoyment.
What does diversity mean to you?
I am a real life example of diversity at Hg. Not because I am a woman, but because I don’t have a background in PE. I think the industry could really benefit from having more people like me from industry – I call it ‘lateral entry’; higher level, later on in your career. This brings a different perspective and a different way of building value and trust. There’s nothing in PE that I’ve felt is so unique that I’ve had to go away and re-train myself intellectually. But, this is a generational challenge that can’t be solved overnight.
Who has been your most influential mentor?
Paul Pindar was the COO of Capita when I joined and he’s been the most influential person in my career. He taught me invaluable lessons like: how to get the best out of people and to compromise to get the best outcome at times. Being focused on the things that make a difference and matter, rather than bureaucracy and politics. To recognise when things aren’t working and course correct, even if it means admitting a mistake has been made. How it’s not about how smart people’s CVs read; you want entrepreneurial, innovative mindsets by your side. That’s not always obvious from a CV. And I’ve shamelessly pinched all those skills and hopefully put them to good use.
Are you now a mentor to others?
I’ve been a coach, a mentor and a leader. There is a blurring of those skills when it comes to mentoring. Today I have people within Hg that I mentor and some people in our portfolio companies. I enjoy that enormously. It needs to be a two-way thing, not a task. For me, every conversation is a chance to learn and give back; that’s exciting for me. And helping other people develop – and succeed – is hugely rewarding.
What keeps you hooked on Private Equity?
The intellectual firepower in PE is enormous and the sense of purpose. There are so many smart, curious brains in the industry. It’s a common thread – unique and energising. Also, binding people together with a sense of purpose for driving innovation is exciting! Everyone is constantly pushing forward, striving to do the best they possibly can. It’s a privilege to work in this environment. But I hope I have huge value to add too. Now there needs to be a groundswell to get people from industry in at more senior levels. This is where the sector should innovate next. And, I want to be a part of that.