In conversation with Laura Schroeder
Director, KKR

19.07.2021

 

Future Leader: Laura Schröder, KKR

“It’s important we don’t limit diversity to gender.”

Laura Schroeder is a Director in the Frankfurt team of KKR – a leading global investment firm. A founding member of Level 20 Germany, she’s been in private equity for ten years. Also a mother, she’s learnt to find balance between professional deal-making and negotiating family life.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

It never gets boring. You get up in the morning – you may have an agenda, but new topics come up that you haven’t thought of. This makes it diverse and challenging. It’s also a very social job, since you work with people. There is a stigma that private equity has – that we crunch data all day and do the financial modelling. Of course, that’s part of the job. But ten years in, the majority of my daily business is collaborating with people, and thinking of new growth plans and strategies. It’s the interpersonal skills that are very important and from my perspective, very rewarding.

What are the challenges?

The challenge is that you never feel like a real expert. It depends on your specific role and the fund you’re working for. But for me, it’s a broad role – I cover multiple sectors and topics: financial, commercial, tax, legal. You need to get comfortable with the fact that you won’t become the tax expert, but you can tap into expert resources. That makes it easier to overcome the challenge. But, you cannot be an expert in everything.

What’s Laura like now compared with the Laura who entered PE ten years ago?

I don’t think I’ve changed, per se. But I am more confident in what I am good at and I’ve become clear on my strengths. This is the advice I’d give to anyone starting in private equity: teams benefit from diversity – gender and background, but also, ideas. Everyone brings a very unique skillset to the table. Everyone has development areas they need to improve on, but by focusing on the strengths, teams can be very complimentary. I had to learn this; it didn’t come naturally. I feel more confident today – I know what I am good at. And I also know where others are better.

What PE skills play to women’s strengths?

As you get more senior, the interpersonal skillset defines a successful private equity career, from my point of view. In our competitive environment, you have to convince a management team or founding family that you are the right partner for them. This is about building trustful relationships. Women are particularly good at this. We have a feel for how to connect with people – what their interests are and how can we make them feel comfortable.

What’s been the importance of role models for you?

Role models have been extremely important to me. First of all, role models are a great opportunity to have a more senior colleague, that you can tap directly into for their experience and ask: how did you do this and that? After I became a mother, I had the benefit of a senior colleague in my team who had already established a modus operandi. I am a mother now, and I can organise my day so I am at home at 6pm and spending time with my children. That was already acceptable. And it helped me know that there is a way that works and that allows me to combine private equity and family. The more women we have in private equity, the more the diverse the culture will be. And diversity is hugely important for teams. Although, it’s important that we don’t limit diversity to gender.

You were a founding member of Level 20?

I was a mentee in 2016 for the UK Level 20 mentoring programme. It was super valuable. I was then excited to be responsible for the mentoring programme in Germany. We launched the programme in 2018 and since inception we’ve had more than 70 mentoring pairs in Germany. This is exceptional and not just for the mentees. I get lots of positive feedback from the mentors too. We don’t just have women mentors, we have men too. We believe it’s also important for the mentees to get a perspective from a male professional.

Any final words of advice?

It’s one thing to attract women to private equity, it’s another to retain them. We see very talented women who are really good in their job, but worry about combining a family and a career. The advice I’d give is: be confident that you can do this job and that you do bring a unique skillset. Be brave to take on new opportunities – don’t hide yourself. I had to learn this. But also, be patient. It’s complex and you can’t learn it overnight. You have to build it over years. But no one expects you to know everything from day one. Take your time, move up the learning curve, be curious – and above all, be good to yourself.