Inspiring Women: Frances Houweling, IK Investment Partners
“PE is about being sensitive, altruistic & connecting with people”
Frances Houweling is a Director at IK Investment Partners in the Netherlands, having previously been in banking, at J.P. Morgan.
How did you get into private equity?
So far, I’ve been able to make decisions based on the people I’ve felt a connection with. However, I was reluctant to ‘do what everybody does’ and tried to keep an open mind; a bit stubborn about finding my own way. So, after a couple of years in M&A, I found myself on the high-yield bond trading floor at J.P. Morgan when I met somebody from IK Investment Partners on a plane. While I wasn’t looking to move into private equity (PE) I related to his stories; the people and culture as well as the prospect of building longer-term relationships with management teams and the diverse nature of the job.
What do you like most about your job?
I really like meeting management teams for the first time. I work in a segment that works a lot with entrepreneurs and founders – they’re usually very passionate about what they do. It’s inspiring! Learning about their business, what makes them ‘tick’, brainstorming opportunities that may lie ahead and creating growth potential together.
What do you find most difficult?
One of the reasons I love my job is because there is room to continue to grow at every stage in your career. You evolve and so do the companies you work with. However, this also means that there comes a time to say goodbye to management teams. Given how closely we work together over the years whilst building a relationship, both professionally and personally, it can be sad to let that go.
Why should more women join the sector, in your opinion? What advice would you give women considering a career in private equity?
I think women can be really strong in a role similar to mine because it’s all about being sensitive, altruistic, connecting with people and steering things in the right direction. However, what’s important to develop for women (and something I’ve had to learn) is having self-confidence not only towards the outside world, but really feel it from the inside. Acknowledge your abilities and strengths, even though they might be different from the others in your team. At a closing dinner a couple of years ago, a banker mentioned in his speech “it was very refreshing to have a woman on the team, asking different questions that were super relevant and much appreciated by the founder”.
I’m convinced diversity is very powerful and makes a team perform better.
You are part of the Level 20 committee in the Netherlands. What do you find most rewarding about the work you do in the committee?
I love being able to share a perspective on the opportunities in the industry with women that are still studying or considering moving into this field, as well as show that PE is not always what it looks like from the outside. It resonates with others when we share that we are all just human and vulnerable and that everybody makes mistakes. That is more real and inspiring than having all these picture-perfect success stories. Above all, PE is about people.
What has been your experience of the Level 20 mentorship scheme?
I’ve been a mentee and I’ve been a mentor. And now in the Netherlands I’m organising the mentoring programme. It’s nice to have a mentor that’s not your boss, but who can relate to your boss’s thinking. I know a lot of women want a female mentor as it naturally feels safer, which I understand. But I was very happy that I had a male mentor. It was nice to reflect on various situations and different perspectives with him and rewarding to see that my stories and my experiences helped him understand how to empower the women in his firm.