In conversation with Katie Beck
Partner, August Equity

06.03.2020

Please describe your current role

I am a Partner at August Equity, a UK-focused private equity firm which invests in  businesses with an enterprise value of between £10 and £50 million. I joined August in 2015 to lead and develop the portfolio function. In addition to board seats with a number of our investments, I am responsible for continuing to drive value creation across the portfolio. I am also a member of August’s Investment Committee and play a key role in recruitment and fundraising.  

 

What attracted you to a career in private equity and how did you get started? 

I started my career in the M&A team at Lazard in London. It was an excellent introduction to finance, but I wanted to work more closely with businesses and Private Equity seemed like a logical next step. After finishing the Analyst programme at Lazard I joined Doughty Hanson, a pan-European upper mid-market buyout fund. I was part of a small deal team investing in businesses across multiple sectors and geographies. I loved the variety! 

 

As a private equity investor you are in an incredibly privileged position. When you are working on a deal you have the opportunity to meet the founders and managers who have spent years building their businesses, you learn about markets and sub-sectors from specialists in their fields and, as a board director of these businesses, you have the ability to influence the strategy and development. For me, the people side of the job has always been the most rewarding and it was for this reason that I decided to move into the lower-mid market. At August we are typically a company’s first source of institutional capital and a key part of how we add value, in addition to building scale, is through supporting the transition from owner-managed to professionally-run businesses. Building relationships is absolutely essential for success!

 

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

Go for it! You need to be prepared to work hard, but the rewards are great; you’ll never stop learning and you’ll never be bored. 

 

Private equity firms come in lots of different shapes and sizes. Some are now quite institutional and others still have a more entrepreneurial focus. The job titles are likely to be the same and, with a few exceptions, the roles are likely to be similar, but the ethos and culture vary widely. It can be difficult to assess this from the outside, but do your due diligence. Ask lots of questions and seek advice from as many people who know the firm as possible!

 

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?

I feel optimistic about the prospects for improving the gender gap in private equity! I’ve been in the industry for 15 years and it feels very different today to when I joined. Diversity is on the agenda for most GPs in the UK, driven by a combination of more women gradually moving into senior positions within these firms, pressure from LPs, increasing recognition at senior levels of the commercial benefits of diversity for decision making, and organisations such as Level 20 building awareness.

 

The policy at August is to recruit at the junior level and grow from within. We have seen a noticeable increase in the number of female candidates that apply, but it’s still far from 50/50. Private equity tends to recruit from a fairly narrow pool (investment banks and corporate finance teams, consultancy firms and business schools) and so to a certain extent we are dependent on the number of women joining these organisations. To ensure there is a strong flow of women coming through we need to drive awareness of the career opportunities in private equity right from the graduate level. 

 

There is also still work to be done to overcome cultural issues within the industry that can create barriers to retention and progression. A firm’s culture is set by the leadership, so for there to be a sustained improvement in diversity, there needs to be a genuine commitment from the partners that is embodied by the working practices and policies of the firm. At August we recognise that people have lives outside work. There are of course times when we ask people to make sacrifices, but we don’t work long hours in the office as a matter of course. The team, men and women alike, are encouraged to go home and see their families, with an understanding that they will logon later if necessary. 

 

As a final point, I think women sometimes need to be encouraged to promote themselves more proactively. It’s a generalisation, of course, but in my experience, women have a tendency to believe that if they work hard and do a good job their hard work will be recognised and rewarded. Unfortunately, this isn’t always enough and can result in them being overlooked in favour of (usually male) colleagues who are more comfortable being vocal about their achievements. I think mentoring can play a really valuable role here, I certainly know I have benefited from it!