Silvia Oteri Partner, Permira

Please describe your current role

I’m a Partner at Permira, a global private equity business with €33bn of committed capital, where I have spent the last 15 years of my career. I initially worked on a number of deals across a variety of sectors in Italy but more recently I’ve focused more and more on the healthcare space, where I’m one of the two partners leading deals worldwide (last year I led a deal in Australia and I’m now on the board of the company). Healthcare is a great space where Permira has worked in partnership with outstanding entrepreneurs and managers to build and grow market leading businesses.

I also have the privilege and responsibility of leading the Permira Alfas initiative, which was established by my colleague and friend, Cheryl Potter, with the aim of empowering female Permirans to help them get the most out of their career. It’s a group of women within Permira that meets quite regularly to discuss topics of interest, sharing ideas and experiences and strengthening their network. And more broadly, diversity in Permira is a key area of focus.

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

It would be nice to say that I had it all planned from the beginning……but it wouldn’t be true! I was living in Brazil and working for a consulting firm when I decided to apply to Harvard Business School, with the initial plan of returning to consulting, which I really liked at the time. It was 2000/2001, everybody was speaking about Private Equity at the time, it made me curious and I decided to give it a try: I joined the private equity business of Bank of America for three years until the opportunity with Permira came up in 2004. Since then, I’ve always been based in Milan, although I spend a significant amount of my time travelling.

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

  • First of all, go for it! You won’t regret it, it’s the best job ever.
  • Choose carefully: performances come and go, but the team you are joining and the culture they share is what really matters. Many funds I could have chosen when I joined the industry are not even around anymore.
  • Speak up, share your ideas and views, no matter how weird they initially seem to you: some of the best deals were not so obvious on the way in.
  • Make sure you have the best partner in life, someone who not only understands the challenges of the job but is also supportive and proud of what you do: I wouldn’t have made it with a different husband I’m sure.

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?

I’d love to be optimistic, but after many years in the industry, with many of the relevant KPIs going in the wrong direction (or at least not moving in the right one), I have concluded that it will be a long journey and that there’s no easy fix. We can work on some “hygiene factors”, like making sure that women are sufficiently represented in hiring lists and offering mothers and mothers-to-be the appropriate maternity policies, but that won’t be enough to really make an impact. The hardest thing is not to get women into the business (don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s easy!) but to retain them and allow them to be successful. To achieve this, we will need to patiently change the culture of most firms, and that will take a while (and many more women!).

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

A man, surprisingly enough (or maybe not?)! For the first 10 years in Permira I had the privilege of working alongside what I consider to be one of the best private equity investors of all times, Paolo Colonna. He founded Permira in Italy, built a team around him, joined forces with his equivalents in UK, Germany and France and successfully partnered with tens of entrepreneurs in many successful deals. He taught me everything; how interpersonal skills are at least as important as analytical skills in understanding and ultimately winning a deal, how to create trustworthy relationships with entrepreneurs and managers, how to cope with difficult discussions and complex situations. And it may sound funny, but he never treated me differently because I’m a woman (except when I was pregnant and he often carried my suit case when we were travelling!).