Please describe your current role
I co-manage a European growth capital fund that is an extension of a successful US headquartered fund focussed on the digital transformation of asset intensive industries such as transportation, energy and manufacturing. We invest in later stage venture rounds and in more mature growing companies with primary and secondary capital.
In addition to some of the leading financial investors, our LP base is comprised of large industrial companies in our key sectors. They provide us not only with capital but also due diligence support and most importantly our corporate LPs are keen buyers of the technical solutions that our portfolio companies provide. In our first fund, EIP generated over $175 million of revenues from its corporate LPs to the benefit of the portfolio.
How did you get started in private equity and what was the career path to your current role?
I thought I was going to go down the managerial path to become a CEO. Back home (Nazo was born and raised in Kabul, Afghanistan), my family including my father, uncle, mother and aunts started their own businesses.
Early on in my career I was promoted to a VP role reporting to the CEO of a newly IPO’d laser technology company in the US. I felt I needed to round out my managerial experience with greater financial training so I applied to Columbia Business School. Columbia had a very good private equity programme, with alums such as Kravitz of KKR and Robert Smith of Vista Capital, not to mention Warren Buffet – this was really my first introduction to investing. At the same time, my brother who was trained as an Engineer was working in the tech industry in San Francisco. He encouraged me to move to Silicon Valley where the first wave of internet driven innovation had taken hold. Which is how finance and technology nicely came together for me.
Just after my graduation, in 2000, The Carlyle Group launched its first European technology fund so I picked up and moved to London from San Francisco to become employee #4 for that fund. After 12 years and three funds, I decided that it was time for me to strike out on my own, which I understood from your recent survey, very few women – zero to be precise – aspire to do. I helped to launch a specialist tech fund, C5 Capital, before joining EIP, which gave me the certainty that this was the right track for me.
What attracted you to the industry?
It was impossible to not get drawn to technology in the heady 1999/2000 days during the period which we now refer to as Internet 1.0. As I have grown up in this industry, what I love about it has not changed that significantly. There is a constant intellectual challenge, because you meet so many very bright and committed founders and entrepreneurs who are taking big risks with their ideas and their time. I also adore the ability to engage deeply with management teams, where the engagement is far less formal and more frequent. Working with a great team is still one of the joys of investing.
What do you think it will take to improve the gender gap in private equity/venture capital and do you think we will see significant change in the coming years?
In my opinion, the most important catalyst for change in terms of diversity was the introduction of ESG reporting which became part of the GP due diligence and selection process. These fairly high-level questions, raised diversity as a point of consideration in an industry that needed a wakeup call. We really owe the forward-thinking pension funds and other LPs who introduced the ESG questionnaire a debt of gratitude.
Looking ahead, we need to work at all levels to attract women into the industry by building awareness of the gender gap and how to counteract it. I really appreciate the initiatives that Level 20 has undertaken because they have been thoughtful and holistic, rather than reactive and headline grabbing. I take part in Level 20’s mentorship programme which pairs senior women in the industry with those mid career to ensure a pool of talented women progress through the promotion ranks.
Diversity within the leadership level is critical to ensure that the topic is not only thought about each time an ESG questionnaire needs to be filled! At EIP, 50% of our new hires at every level have been women or ethnic minorities and 33% of our partner level team are women/ethnic minorities.
I have great expectations that our industry will become far more diverse than we currently are in the next few years. One of our biggest challenges will be how to keep women in the industry and progressing during their child-bearing years, especially in segments of the investment market where bid deadlines lead to highly demanding and inflexible working hours.
What advice would you give your younger self?
The advice that I would give to my younger self would be to be more daring and explore opportunities early on in one’s career. I wanted to make my mark in one place but in reality, the early years of one’s career are a perfect time to taste what’s on offer. Organisational fit is key, so keep moving until you find the right environment.