Please describe your current role
I am a founding partner at Apiary Capital, a £200m lower mid-market private equity firm investing in the education, healthcare, business and technology services sectors. My focus is on the investment side, working with businesses through their PE lifecycle, from originating all the way to exit. I lead our investment initiatives in the business and technology services sectors and currently sit on the board of TAG, a high-touch travel management company with a specialism in the entertainment market, and Conn3ct, a communications and connectivity provider. Beyond investments, I am involved with all the other aspects of running Apiary. Indeed, one of the exciting parts about founding a business is the ability to contribute to and shape everything, from the minor (such as branding and office décor) to the most critical (such as recruiting and investor relations).
What attracted you to a career in private equity and how did you get started?
I grew up on a farm in Hampshire and was the first person in my family to go to university, so I had no idea what Private Equity was until my 20s when I stumbled upon it! In the absence of a vocational passion, having dropped my medical ambitions, I found myself following the crowd from Oxford into consulting or banking. I went the consulting route, starting my career at a small strategy consultancy firm called Burlington (shortly thereafter, acquired by Deloitte) who had a strong commercial diligence practice. I loved the variety and pace of the work, but was frustrated by the short term and shallow nature of the engagements, plus I recognised where we sat as advisors in the food chain! After two years, I made the move to one of our clients, and shortly thereafter to the then little-known Inflexion Private Equity. After a great seven years of learning and gaining investing experience, I took what was initially intended to be a one year sabbatical to do a masters at Stanford University in California. Silicon Valley is a magnetically energising place and having done the hard part of stepping away from PE, I decided to take the opportunity to remain in the US and obtain some hands on operational experience. On graduation I founded an Education Technology company with two classmates, and went on a journey raising VC funding, building a team and bringing a product from concept to revenue. When we exited the business in 2017, I planned to get back to investing and that (combined with some luck in timing) led to a return to the UK to join Mark Salter in founding Apiary. The operational experience I had is both invaluable and a great differentiator in the market. I certainly have a lot more empathy for entrepreneurs and managers than I used to.
What advice would you give women interested in a career in private equity?
Given the breath of skills required to be successful in Private Equity, particularly the need for EQ and people skills, I believe women are naturally well suited to it. It is important to go in with eyes wide open though, so while I am optimistic about gender balance improving over time, it does remain a male dominated world which requires a certain level of confidence and determination to work in. It may not be politically correct to call out, but I will also say that we must remember the advantages of being female; it makes it easier to stand out and be remembered!
Once you’ve made the decision that PE is for you, choosing the right firm from the outset is critical given the long term incentivisation structures inherent in the industry, so I would advise spending plenty of time with the people in advance of joining anywhere. Furthermore, I’d highly recommend finding a mentor, either within the firm or outside it, and indeed that is one area Level20 is playing a key role in the industry.
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 have a bias to action, so I think role models will play a big part, and we are seeing progress there with a slowly increasing number women in the industry and in senior roles. Take Apiary for example – two of the founder partners were female, and on the investing side, two out of seven of the team are female. Increasing awareness, research showing measurable financial benefits with gender diversity and the broader the diversity and inclusion agenda are all positive trends. I also believe that the evolving demands of the younger generation – work-life balance and purpose – will provide further tailwinds for closing the gender gap.
Who has most inspired you in your career/who have been your mentors?
I have been lucky to work with many talented and genuinely nice people through my career, so I find it hard to pin down an answer to one or even a few people. On the professional front, one of my first mentors was a teacher from the BVCA Foundation Course who was hugely influential in my early PE career and we remain friends today. My Silicon Valley experience afforded me the chance to meet some hugely inspirational entrepreneurs striving to, or having succeeded in, having a huge impact on the world. More broadly, as an avid athlete, I have number of sporting heros – Jess Ennis, the Williams sisters, Chris Froome, the Brownlee brothers to name a few – and I strongly believe in the parallels between success in business and in sport.