Please describe your current role
I am the Managing Partner of Pollen Street Capital, a London-based alternative asset management firm with a focus on specialist financial and business services. We manage c $3.5bn AUM across private equity and credit strategies.
What attracted you to a career in private equity and how did you get started?
Having a very maths based education, I decided at an early stage to go into the financial services industry. I started my career trading interest rate swaps on a derivatives desk. I soon realised that numbers on their own were of limited interest to me and limited optionality in terms of career development. I realized that what I enjoyed most was understanding the “what” and “why” behind the numbers plus the human interaction of working with and leading teams to deliver results vs the more narrow focus of just working with numbers in a trading environment.
What were your motivations behind starting a new private equity firm?
I and my co-founders have worked together since 2005 when we led the Principal Finance business for RBS (a large UK bank). Our initial mandate was to invest on behalf of the bank’s own balance sheet, but in 2007, we took the step to raise our first external fund (“Special Opportunities Fund”). The majority of capital for the Fund was raised from a number of external institutional investors. RBS also allocated directly to the fund to retain exposure to our strategy and investment approach. We spun out and created Pollen Street Capital in 2013, with the support of our external investors, to focus on specialist and business services.
The idea to start Pollen Street Capital very much ties to the factors that have motivated me from an early stage: understanding the “how” and “why” behind the numbers, combined with the human aspects of working together and leading a team to build something lasting.
I and my co-founding partners decided to start Pollen Street Capital because we had high conviction that a specialist focus was a compelling and sustainable strategy for generating top tier returns, particularly given the changes that both regulation and technology have and continue to have on the broader markets. In addition, the attraction of creating something that could be innovative and nimble, but still working within the financial markets, was also very appealing for us. Since we started in 2013, we have seen our approach bear fruit in terms of generating top tier returns for our investors: seeing our company grow in terms of new talent; and seeing our business grow in terms of new opportunities. As a team we have several years history of successful investing in credit as well as equity opportunities, therefore the launch of a dedicated vehicle for credit was a natural next step. Our specialist credit strategy, which is now two funds strong and is highly complementary to our private equity strategy both from a sourcing and investing perspective. We see continued exciting growth opportunities in both those arenas going forwards.
What were the key challenges in starting a new firm?
One of the biggest challenges for us as a spin-out from a bank was to demonstrate to the market and to investors that we had the skills and the wherewithal to go it alone as a new and small team. The world of private equity is extremely competitive, investors are spoiled for choice, and the bar for investing in new funds is a very high one. While we had built many strong investor relationships via our first external fund (“Special Opportunities Fund”), Pollen Street Capital itself was still a new firm and as such we had a long process to go through to build our brand and our investor base further. We closed our last private equity fund, PSC III, in late 2017 and now manage $3.5bn in total assets across the firm.
Another key challenge of starting a new firm is the amount of time required by the founding partners on non-investment aspects of the business. I believe as a manager you need to make a decision at an early stage (or even pre-launch) on the type of firm you want to create. My Partners and I decided very early that our goal was to be an institutional manager and therefore establishing a best in class operational infrastructure was essential. The establishment of this infrastructure took considerable time and resource, but I am now pleased that over half of the 80 person team are on the operations side of the business.
What advice would you give women interested in a career in private equity?
It is as interesting and diverse a career as almost any other role that I can think of and that is fabulous. There is always more that you can do and always another idea you can have. But you need to be patient. I talk of daily impatience in a framework of patience. You also need to be very self-disciplined as to deliver high growth you need to constantly drive the business
Also be yourself. I am a passionate believer in true diversity. Different people have different perspectives and the cumulative thinking, in my opinion, brings better decision making – both risk and upside. Don’t try to mimic others’ behaviours as it does not lead to diversity of thought and/or enhanced decision making.
Recruitment, recruitment, recruitment
It is incumbent on each asset management firm to work hard to include (and insist on) diversity within recruitment list and for recruitment firms to go the extra mile to search for and find the talent
Who has most inspired you in your career/who have been your mentors?
I have had some incredible mentoring from Don Robert who led Experian for a number of years. Don has been one of the most progressive leaders and one true champion of diversity with some of the most impressive women within his former team at a very senior level. True diversity occurs and embeds in a business when the leadership really believe in its benefits and not just managing to thresholds and floors.