Please describe your current role?
I am a partner at Oakley Capital, a European mid-market PE fund, based in London and Munich. Oakley was founded by an entrepreneur and has a very different culture and approach to other PE funds and, in part, my role has been to make it more addressable to institutional investors without losing the differentiation. I am involved both in the deal side of the business but also broader strategy and marketing for the firm. I led the recent raise of our fourth fund, which is almost double the size of its predecessor.
Unusually for a partner at a PE firm, I work part time to provide me with the flexibility to combine work and family life – I have three young children and my husband is a partner at another PE fund.
What attracted you to PE and how did you get started?
After university I went to Bain & Company as a strategy consultant and spent time working on due diligence projects for PE funds, when that was just a nascent part of the consulting industry. I really liked the combination of quick assessments of companies in varied industries but also helping clients make an investment decision, so it was a natural step for me to then move into PE.
I joined Cinven in 2002, where I stayed for 11 years and was one of the first female partners, working in the healthcare and consumer sectors. It was an exciting time to be in the industry as it was growing and changing rapidly from a relatively unknown European market to a truly global asset class.
After having my second child I decided to change direction and get back to what I enjoyed about PE most – meeting great managers and working with them to grow their businesses, while also having more time to spend with my young family. I worked directly with entrepreneurs and founders, investing alongside them and helping them raise their first institutional capital.
I was not looking to join another fund but I met Peter Dubens, the founder of Oakley Capital, which had just raised its second fund and for the first time had institutional investors. Oakley was intriguing because it was not like any other private equity firm I had come across – it was very entrepreneurial, with great investment performance but in the early phase of developing into an institutional platform.
I found the appeal of working closely with entrepreneurs and founders, but in the structure of a private equity fund, compelling and joined Oakley in 2014 as one of five partners.
Today I spend less time on deal origination, and focus more on fund investment and portfolio strategy, marketing and, importantly, recruitment and development of the team. I am proud to say we have increased the number of female investment professionals from zero before I joined to four today and the team is committed to building on that.
It is clear to me, and the team I work with, that a flexible career does not mean any less commitment or contribution, but just my role is structured in a different way. Having a fund that embraces that has enabled me to continue to be active in a role I enjoy greatly, and be part of a high growth, high performance team. I was fortunate to find in Peter Dubens a managing partner who is concerned with what value I can bring to the firm rather than how many hours I am at my desk.
What is your advice to women interested in PE?
Aim high and run hard for your goals because there is a huge opportunity for talent in private equity, and in particular for females because people are so aware of the gender gap. It is not about positive discrimination but creating opportunities and providing clear role models and career paths for people at all stages of their career, not just at the entry point.
Women working in PE need to be comfortable with the pressure found in these kind of industries, but it is an enormously rewarding and privileged role to have. My sense is that many people are looking for flexibility of different kinds now, and it should not just be about helping parents but creating a motivated and engaged workforce.
What will it take to improve the gender gap?
I think that firms are now much better at recruiting from more diverse backgrounds at entry level, but the challenge is to keep that through to senior leadership roles. In many industries (e.g. law) you have 50% or more females at entry but at mid-level, that proportion quickly declines. We need to provide the right support networks internally and with external mentors, as Level 20 has been doing. Firms need to honestly assess their own internal processes to see if they create hidden bias, whether it is the investment committee process, promotion criteria, staffing model or simply marketing events.
For women who are thinking about having families and then returning to work after maternity leave, there is lots that can be done to provide help and advice and a third party like Level 20 is well suited to be able to do this as people may find it hard to talk to someone at their own organisation.