In conversation with Kirsty McDonald
Partner, Growth Capital Partners

06.07.2021

Please describe your current role

I’m a Partner at Growth Capital Partners. I joined GCP in 2012 and have been a Partner since 2013.

At GCP, we partner with ambitious, like-minded entrepreneurs in growing businesses which are headquartered in the UK, but often international. We are typically the first institutional investor and we have a distinct partnership approach and track record which sets us apart.

Like other Partners, I’m hands on in origination and new investments as well as working with the businesses in which we’re already invested, and I’m also closely involved in Investor Relations. We are a Partner group of five, who own and lead GCP, so I also play a central part in managing and developing our own business.

I’m passionate about amazing food and hidden gem restaurants so my role often extends to making recommendations for those types of planning decisions too!

 

How did you get started in private equity and what was the career path to your current role?

I’ve been extremely fortunate, thanks to some thoughtful and generous people, and some unexpected opportunities, to successfully make my way along a rather twisty path to Private Equity!

I grew up in Prestwick, a town on the beautiful west coast of Scotland, and attended the local secondary school (a state school and the only one in the town).

I was the first person from my school to even apply to Cambridge University but when a family friend suggested it (whom I happened to meet in the supermarket the day I got my exam results) I applied and was accepted – so thought I’d better go! I studied engineering (fewer than a quarter of students were female) and did very well, graduating second top in engineering across the university for my year.

On graduating, I got a job with a strategic consultancy though before starting, the senior team with whom I’d interviewed decided to start up on their own and asked me to join. It was an incredible experience – working with some amazing clients (from start up to FTSE100 and including Private Equity), learning loads (strategy, structured thinking, problem solving and finance), and building my interpersonal, presentation and communication skills. At the same time, we had to run our own start up – doing everything from choosing a name and finding an office through recruitment and winning business, to preparing the monthly accounts, and it’s there I first learned the importance of cash.

I moved on to gain broader experience in a larger organisation and worked at a large plc in a Group Development role, reporting into its Executive Board. It was a strategy role that over time grew to incorporate M&A and it was there that I started “doing deals”. I was introduced to 3i and within 2 weeks, received an offer to join their minority-focused, global Growth Capital team – another opportunity I grabbed with both hands.

 

What attracted you to the industry?

I believed Private Equity would allow me to put to good use the skills I’d developed – strategic, financial, M&A and interpersonal – whilst working with really smart people, in a fast moving, ambitious environment that was international in its outlook. Thankfully, it’s absolutely lived up to that too!

 

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

In my experience, it’s one of the best jobs in the world. In fact, I’d never use the word “job”; it’s far, far more than that. It’s hard work (incredibly so at times), often challenging and demanding, and sometimes frustrating and tiring. However, it’s also rewarding – intellectually, emotionally and financially – beyond anything I could ever have dreamt of.

I work with remarkable people in some of the world’s most exciting businesses and in our own team, we have incredible team spirit, accountability and alignment. I’m extremely proud of our team and the way we behave at GCP, in the businesses we’ve supported and how the two have combined in partnership to achieve some outstanding achievements.

The advice I’d give anyone looking to move into Private Equity is take time and be thoughtful to find a role in a firm at a time that’s really going to work for you.

As the Private Equity industry has matured, the variety of firms, investment strategies, cultures and roles has become vast, and that’s hugely exciting for career options. At the same time, Private Equity remains extremely long term in its horizons – fund cycles, relationship building, deal doing and personal progression are measured in years (even decades) and longevity in a firm underpins the rewards flowing to investors, firms and individuals. Finding a firm and role that suits you is really important.

Cultural fit is absolutely key. I recall referencing GCP before I joined, and the feedback was so consistent that the team were straightforward, pragmatic, collaborative and do what they say they will. At the time I thought that was good, but I had no idea just how much our style (with a track record over five funds to demonstrate it) underpins our success and how important that would be not only to line up with my own personal values but also as this is the team with whom I am now fully committed as an equity partner for the long term.

On a more practical level, I didn’t appreciate 15 years ago just how important it is to have funds to invest (so ask about fund cycles, the LP base and track record) and also think about your own personal progression and whether in a given organisation, there is room specifically for you to grow. Given the range available, there’s also the opportunity to find a role that fits for you on a day to day basis – consider the specific tasks you’ll be doing, where you’ll be based and the amount of travel.

Finally, don’t be afraid of taking time to get experience outside of a more typical accountancy/ consultancy route. We firmly believe diversity of all types is central to our success and we’ve always had eclectic experience within our team (one of my partners was in the parachute regiment and then ran a distribution business with his brother). The market for a first role in PE equity is of course competitive and we see many candidates with top academic results and technical skills. Some varied work experience could allow you to bring new and valuable perspectives to secure your favoured role. Good luck!