IR chief Defty leaves Advent Ventures to join search firm

Stevenson James has hired Josephine Defty in a bid to take advantage of GPs' growing need for high-calibre IR professionals in a tough fundraising market.

Josephine Defty, the former head of fundraising at Advent Venture Partners, has joined executive search firm Stevenson James as a director, as it looks to build out a specialist investor relations recruitment and advisory offering for private equity and hedge fund clients. 

Defty had been with Advent for two years, having previously worked for XS Investments, a Dutch-based placement agent, and Pantheon, the London-based fund of funds manager. Stevenson James managing director Richard Collins said her “deep knowledge of the LP community” plus her broad experience of the fundraising process – which includes client services, placement and investor relations – would “further strengthen” the credibility of the firm’s offering with both clients and candidates.

Founded in 2004, Stevenson James is a boutique executive search firm that specialises in the alternative assets market, particularly the IR and fundraising area.

According to Defty, the role of the investor relations professional has changed significantly in recent years. Before the financial crisis, IR was sometimes regarded as a relatively less prestigious back-office job. However, as LPs have become more sophisticated and capital has become harder to come by, the demands on IR professionals have increased substantially – from reporting, to co-investment co-ordination, to fundraising. This is changing the way the role is regarded, both internally and externally, she said – but it’s also making it more difficult for GPs to find suitable candidates.

Defty accepts that it’s not easy to find people who tick all the right boxes. “There’s a finite pool of experienced professionals who have successfully raised funds in the past. So that’s part of the challenge in this area: trying to find alternative avenues.” But one corollary of the greater prestige the role has acquired is that it’s now attracting a different sort of candidate. “IR has become an attractive career option to people in a way that it wouldn’t have been five years ago,” she said. 

For example, investment professionals, investment bankers and LPs have all made the move in recent months, as GPs look to improve the quality of their long-term client relationships. One notable example of an LP moving into this area was Christine Pastore, the former co-head of alternative investments at New Jersey’ state pension system, who joined Vista Equity Partners as a senior vice president and head of investor relations in March.

Defty said it was a combination of the firm and the career choice that persuaded her to make the move. “I was lucky to have offers of other IR/fundraising roles – but I'd been thinking about search for some time as I wanted to stay connected with private equity, enjoyed the sales/client relationship management side of the IR role and felt I had a number of skills that would transfer quite neatly across. I met with a number of firms as part of this process but it was Stevenson James as a firm that really clinched it for me. “