Inspiring women: Nicola Gray, Investment Partner, Epiris
“I was told by several head-hunters that I wasn’t the right fit”
Nicola Gray is a recently promoted Investment Partner at Epiris. Moments from going on maternity leave, Nicola reflects on the importance of forging a path for other women following in her footsteps.
What do you love most about your job?
I have been doing this for just over ten years. I started in pure origination – the very front end of a deal. I still get the buzz and excitement of seeing a company for the first time, meeting the management team, and understanding a new industry. It’s the people aspect that continues to be the most interesting and inspiring.
In corporate carve outs, there is an exciting journey to go on by liberating teams from their corporate parents and giving them a chance to be masters of their own destiny, setting out that vision alongside us.
What more still needs to change to entice more women into private equity?
We are moving in the right direction; certainly there are more women coming in at a junior level. These foundations have been laid over the last couple of decades – more recently thanks to Level 20’s efforts. For everyone in the industry, there needs to be a recognition that diversity means embracing and celebrating differences. We make better decisions with diversity of thought.
What advice would you give your former self, when you joined the sector ten years ago?
When I moved over from strategy consulting, I spent the first few years trying to conform to what I thought the industry was like. But, for the last five years, I’ve been more of myself – bringing my true personality to work. Also, I am more confident that my opinions might be different – and that’s a positive thing. It’s what gives you the edge.
What attributes do women bring to the table that are key in private equity?
You have to listen constantly, you need to read a room, working out what the key issues are – marrying up the data with people and their personalities. Life is not always rational and people may not do what the spreadsheet predicts they should do. Understanding that allows you to read into the commercials in a nuanced way, that’s not just black or white.
When I first joined private equity, the book to read was ‘Barbarians at the Gate’. The UK mid-market is more about collaboration, building relationships, partnering with management teams, inspiring growth, and creating value. It couldn’t be more different from that adversarial approach.
You’re going on maternity leave – how is your firm handling it?
Epiris has a twelve-month maternity policy and more importantly, a commitment from my partners at Epiris that they want to make it work for me – in terms of what flexibility looks like and interaction while I am on leave. This is the first time the firm’s done this. We’ve been discussing how I will get back involved in deals. I am challenging myself to be more open about what I want. I need to be the advocate for me, my family – and for women coming up through the ranks after me.
How important have mentors been to you in your career?
I did the first Level 20 pilot mentoring scheme in 2015 and I found it really helpful – for advice, but also as a period of reflection. I went on to mentor a couple of women within the industry, so I’ve seen it from both angles. The network it creates makes it feel like you’re going through shared experiences; you don’t feel alone because the challenges are not specific to you alone. That’s been hugely helpful.