In conversation with Rikke Kjær Nielsen
Partner, EQT

16.03.2021

Please describe your current role

I am a Partner with EQT and focussed on healthcare investments in the Private Equity business. EQT is a purpose-driven global investment organization with close to three decades of consistent investment performance across multiple geographies, sectors, and strategies. At EQT we manage and advise a range of specialized investment funds and other investment vehicles that invest across the world with the mission to generate attractive returns and future-proof companies. Today, EQT has raised more than EUR 62bn and conducts its businesses through offices in 16 countries across Europe, Asia-Pacific and North America with approximately 700 employees. I feel very privileged and proud to be part of this ambitious organisation, that has played a huge role in shaping my career within private equity. As a Partner, I am involved with everything from fund raising, deal sourcing, negotiation, value creation, board work and exits to more internally oriented tasks like designing new investment strategies, committee work, branding and recruitment etc. I am currently responsible for three investments, part of EQTs Healthcare sector team and a proud sponsor of the EQT WIN (Women International Network) initiative.

 

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

Prior to joining EQT, I worked for 5-6 years in Investment Banking. Early 2010 I joined EQT as an Associate and was then promoted internally through to Partner. I very much enjoyed my years in banking and found it a good place to learn, but I also longed to stay with the companies post-transaction and work more holistically with value creation and take a broader ownership perspective.

 

What attracted you to the industry?

My parents are entrepreneurs and building businesses has always been close to my heart. With a background in banking and a passion for building businesses the move to Private Equity was for me obvious and attractive.

I really enjoy working with fundamentally changing, growing and improving businesses and – sometimes – even entire industries through great team work. From a young age, in Private Equity, you have the opportunity to work with amazing colleagues, top tier management teams, boards, advisors etc. and really learn from the best. This has been an invaluable experience to me. That full circle aspect and really driving change and positive impact with great teams and colleagues is what truly drives me.

 

What advice would you give women considering a career in private equity or to younger women already in the industry?

 

I can honestly think of few jobs that are as diverse, fun, rewarding and interesting as being an investment professional in private equity. It is about building great businesses with integrity and in amazing teams to future proof not only the portfolio companies, but also the private equity industry. If you have concluded this is for you, my best advice would be:

 

Go for it! Our industry is still embarrassingly poor at diversity and inclusion, but rapidly improving and sentiments have changed. Today, there is a very strong will to improve, albeit we remain behind the curve and many unintended mistakes rooted in unconscious bias are made every day. But have just a little patience with the industry’s incumbent white males 😉 If a door closes, open it or another one again. That’s how doors work.

 

Culture and values; private equity is for the long haul so make sure the firm and – more importantly – the manager you choose to work for shares your values and that the culture is in sync with what you thrive in. Anything less will not work.

 

Lean in; gender diversity will lead us nowhere if it does not bring diversity of thought and if these thoughts are not shared. At all levels, it is not only OK or encouraged to speak up – it is actually expected.

 

And finally, the best career advice I have ever heard is not related to private equity specifically, but more to career women in general. Make sure your spouse is genuinely supportive of your career, will be proud to see you succeed and has a modern mind-set sharing responsibilities at home. Make peace with the fact that you cannot be 10/10 in all aspects of life. Figure out what matters most to you and live accordingly.

 

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?

It is a communication task! Private Equity is all about human interaction and improving status quo – this should appeal as much to female as to male talent. I do not buy the argument that women are not interested in Private Equity or that there is insufficient talent. We have issues at 3 levels; (i) we are not recruiting enough female talent, (ii) we have too high relative unwanted churn among female professionals and (iii) we are not promoting them fast enough.

As an industry we have not been good enough at communicating what we do, and that hampers the recruitment of female talent. A lot of people do not actually know what we do and the broader narrative in society about Private Equity is not accurate. This is particularly important as female talent has fewer role models and a significantly smaller network of people who has made it into the industry.

For this reason, we have created a program at EQT called WIN (Women’s International Network) to promote diversity in our workplace. With recruitment playbooks, diversity requirements to professional advisors, mentorship programs, networking events and worldwide ambassadors WIN is aiming to put diversity at the top of the agenda and making EQT the front runner in our industry. This deliberate decision has resulted in several EQT offices now having gender equality at Associate level. We still have a long way to go, but I truly believe we can get there if we continue this great effort.

 

Just like we can decide to address the recruiting challenge, I challenge everybody to actively promote gender diversity and fight unconscious bias in everything we do. This is everybody’s obligation – no matter where you are in the organisation and irrespective of gender.