Shani Zindel Partner, LIVINGBRIDGE

Please describe your current role

I am the Chief Investment Officer of Livingbridge – a mid-market private equity firm based in the UK, US and Australia with £2.1bn under management. I joined the business in 1997 as an investment manager, and today I oversee all our new investment activities across the funds that we manage. We are currently investing Enterprise 2, a £220m lower mid-market fund and Livingbridge 6, a £660m mid-market fund. I am also involved in fundraising and do a few international roadshows a year.

What attracted you to a career in private equity and how did you get started?

I qualified as a chartered accountant in South Africa, where I grew up. I knew I wanted to do something business related, and an accounting qualification was the natural route at the time. After university I spent the required 3 years doing articles before heading off travelling and deciding what I wanted to do next.

In 1997 I came to the UK thinking I might do something in investment banking. More than anything though – I needed to earn an income. I was lucky and managed to go straight into an investment manager role at Livingbridge. I don’t think I appreciated at the time the opportunity that was ahead of me as a young newly qualified accountant, with absolutely no investment experience or even UK experience. It is so much harder to get into the industry today and I think that’s a shame as a lot of talent gets filtered out quite early.

Over 20+ years of doing deals, I have seen a lot, and I now try to spend most of my time working with the team to keep pushing ahead with our origination and deal conversion efforts and sharing that experience across the business.

Who has most inspired you in your career/who have been your mentors?

I am genuinely inspired on a regular basis by the entrepreneurs that I meet. I have such admiration for people who are prepared to take personal risk in order to do things differently. Most of the businesses we work with have been founded by people who will look at an industry and the way things are being done, and shift it. This allows for efficiency and creates room for innovation; and if done well can result in a lot of business growth even in difficult market conditions.

I am also inspired by talented people who choose to use their skills in the charitable sector. They really want to make a difference in other peoples’ lives. The selflessness and sacrifices they go through to do so is humbling. I would encourage everyone to get involved in a charity they feel strongly about. You learn so much and it is very rewarding.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your career and how did you address it?

Like everyone building a career, there have been numerous challenges along the way. The joy of being young and inexperienced is that what I faced earlier in my career didn’t feel so bad at the time – I just kept my head down and got on with things. Leaving South Africa, my family and friends and starting work in a new country, in an industry I didn’t know anything about was, in hindsight, daunting as well as exciting. If I had to pick an event, I think it was a deal I did in 1999 where I managed to lose not only all of our investors’ money, but also the banks’. It was a huge shock at the time and required a lot of resilience to learn from it, but keep moving forward. Many deals later (and a few more bad ones – but none as bad as that!) you learn to accept that we’re in the business of taking risk, and sometimes it just doesn’t work out. You have to be able to cope with that. That’s what I learnt and the advice I would give to others.

What advice would you give women interested in a career in private equity?

 Private equity is a tremendous career – for anyone. It is a privilege and a huge responsibility to be a private equity investor. This is not a job that prefers one type of person, and increasingly needs diversity – of people, skills, backgrounds – everything. The world is changing rapidly and what private equity needs above all is people who are commercial, collaborative, resilient (see point 4) and ambitious. Successful deals are created by bringing different skills together in a team and making things happen.

The advice I would give to women interested in private equity is the same I would give to anyone (with one exception – see below)

  • Private equity is not just about numbers and finance. It’s about people. Think about how you engage with people from different walks of life and how you adapt your style to them. Successful PE investors are able to do this well.
  • Private equity is a broad asset class. Decide which areas interest you most (venture v buyout, small vs large, new investment v portfolio etc), learn about them and then focus your efforts on those areas and firms. Don’t wait for a job to come up. Try and meet people in the firms you are interested in and start building networks. Then they will think of you when a need does arise.  
  • More specifically for women when the time comes to balance work and a family life: there will be some lean years when you are spending a fortune on childcare and not seeing enough of your family. This will feel hard and many are tempted to walk away from work at this point. You need to battle through these times and think about them as an investment in you and your future. It doesn’t last that long and once your children are at school, the investment will pay off.