This year’s 40 under 40: Future Leaders of Private Equity range from 30-39 years old, and are based around the world, from Stockholm to Singapore to Sacramento. Their careers have taken a variety of routes, but their professional trajectories, skillsets and the esteem in which they are held by industry stakeholders made them stand out for inclusion in this year’s Future 40.
How have they built their careers to this point? What advice do they have for more junior colleagues looking to forge their own paths in the industry? We asked a cross-section of this year’s Future 40 to provide some pointers and offer insight into what it takes to lay the foundations for a successful career in private equity.
Corporate partner at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson
Associate investment manager at CalPERS
Head of ESG and sustainability at Partners Group
Managing director, head of business development and investor relations at MiddleGround Capital
Senior principal, asset management at Whitehorse Liquidity Partners
What do you know now about private equity that you wish you knew when you started out in the industry?
Randi Lally: Private equity is an exceptionally fast-paced and continuously evolving industry. As the industry changes, so does the work – as a private equity attorney, I have the opportunity to create bespoke solutions and advise on market-shaping deals, which is what makes this work incredibly exciting. To that end, it is important to be creative, nimble and incredibly invested in the evolution of the market.
Benjamin Lee: I wish I had a better appreciation for the different types of careers an individual can have within private equity. When we hear about private equity in the news, we typically think about investing on the GP side. But there are many other interesting and dynamic jobs within the industry that are worth considering, including operations, investment relations or the LP side.
Carmela Mondino: I rejected another job offer because I thought private equity would entail less travel! I thought this was a quant-focused industry, but to make a deal, get a project running or get to know a new client, we must equally win hearts and minds and that can only be done face to face. But I also didn’t know I’d love my job and travelling so much, so it all worked out!
Christen Paras: I was surprised by how much fun you can have while working this hard! It starts from the top. Having a founding team that prioritises firm culture and shares values that align with your own can make being in the trenches that much better. I feel very fortunate to have found that with the team at MiddleGround.
Sebastien Siou: Embrace change – private equity is a constantly evolving industry. Surround yourself with great mentors – these folks will be amazing sounding boards. Focus on building relationships early on – have a long-term mindset.
RL: In order to be successful in this industry and as an attorney generally, you must have a fervid appetite for learning. It is critical to stay abreast of market trends, the deals that are occurring in the market, specific changes within industries, and new developments in the space.
BL: Intellectual curiosity. The industry is constantly changing and there must be a willingness to learn about disruptive technologies, new business models and different innovations. This is particularly true given the influence that private equity and venture capital can have on the overall economy. Acknowledging that what has worked in the past may not work in the future also requires a certain amount of humility.
CM: As head of ESG and sustainability, I’ve learned that ESG is very broad, so it is important to prioritise and focus on what matters. Fundamentally, being a successful ESG professional requires good stakeholder management, so people skills are needed to understand what people need and care about, which in turn is crucial for making a meaningful contribution. At Partners Group, as ESG is integrated throughout the platform, successfully managing teams and projects is a large part of the role. Lastly, ESG and sustainability are hot topics in our industry today, so it is key to communicate effectively, and demonstrate that you practice what you preach.
CP: In its most basic form, my job is to connect dots. Whether that means introducing our portfolio companies to potential add-on acquisitions or matching investors to relevant co-invest opportunities, I’m constantly connecting. The middle market is large and opaque with many competitors, so to do this well, a combination of relationship building, analytical and creative thinking, and data and process management, underlined by extreme organisation, attention to detail and effective communication is key.
SS: Creativity, nimbleness and a desire to operate within an industry that is constantly changing. People skills are critical. Approach everything you do with a win-win mindset as this is a relationship business.
RL: When you enter the legal profession, you have also begun a journey of life-long learning. You must always stay engaged and never lose that pursuit of knowledge. It is also equally important to form and maintain meaningful relationships with your peers, clients and mentors throughout your career.
CM: ESG in private equity is, in my view, the ultimate value creation: we deliver sustainable returns to our clients by transforming and allowing our portfolio companies and assets to fulfill their potential, ensuring that at the same time we are creating value for all the stakeholders of our assets such as portfolio company employees. I would say you definitely need passion, preparation and a whole lot of energy to make it happen – but ultimately it is really rewarding.
CP: If your firm offers you an opportunity to try something new, take it. If one isn’t offered – and you are excelling in your current role – create one. Be talented at as many aspects of the business as possible, and you’ll be more valuable and likely more fulfilled. I was hired to lead our business development effort and within a year of joining MiddleGround, I was asked to lead investor relations as well.
SS: Be passionate about what you do. Focus on intellectual compensation, not short-term financial compensation. Lastly, be kind to people – aim to have an impact, not just within PE, but also your broader community.
RL: There is a heightened focus on diversity in the private equity and legal industries. We have made significant strides, and I have experienced this first-hand at Fried Frank through the various D&I initiatives we have implemented in recent years. However, there is always more to be done and we must continue to advocate for those who are underrepresented to bring their voices to the table.
BL: Private equity continues to evolve. As the number of firms in the space grows, there is a greater emphasis on differentiation beyond financial engineering. On the allocator side, LPs are becoming increasingly sophisticated and want to become active partners in the investment process. I think there is real value to LPs that can provide consistent and reliable capital over long periods of time.
CM: I was lucky to join a private markets firm where ESG was already important four years ago, but it was still sometimes necessary to make the case for it to some of our investments or clients. It has been really interesting to see ESG rise to the top of the agenda. I hope the impact of ESG follows suit, and we can grow our positive contribution to society as an industry.
CP: Deal sourcing is constantly evolving. Knowing the right intermediaries is table stakes. To access the more limited processes, you’ve got to differentiate your firm long before you end up on buyer lists. This could involve developing in-depth investment theses and a marketing strategy to reach the right audiences, onboarding technology platforms to help identify acquisition targets, or engaging buyside advisors who will increase your bandwidth on direct sourcing.
SS: Secondaries are increasingly seen as the innovators within PE. LPs and GPs have become more sophisticated in terms of utilising the secondaries asset class as a liquidity management tool. Simply put, secondaries is no longer a niche industry, it is making an impact within the broader PE asset class.
There has been a growing focus on diversity and inclusion in PE; how do you expect the industry’s approach to this to evolve over the next decade?
RL: I am hopeful that this focus on diversity and inclusion will only continue, which will in turn drive growth in private equity. If up-and-coming professionals of all backgrounds can look to the industry and see diverse representation across all levels and role models in leadership positions in particular, it will instil confidence that diversity should be an asset, never a barrier, to achieving success.
BL: Generally, many private equity firms follow a rigid hiring process and a narrow set of hiring criteria. While this introduces predictability, the flipside is that the backgrounds of these individuals have become increasingly uniform. In order to stand out, my hope is that firms will acknowledge and place greater value on creating diverse teams – ones that truly have diversity in thought and experience.
CM: Diversity and inclusion is now in the right place on the industry’s agenda. Private equity firms want and have the best talent, and excel at delivering – this requires them to quickly get up the curve on D&I. It will take time to develop a pipeline, but now that the necessary commitments are being made, and people see the need to change, I believe the private markets industry will own the topic, transform itself and deliver on results just as it does on anything else.
CP: What’s exciting to me is hearing directly from more and more LPs about how focused they are on increasing their allocations to women- and minority-led private equity funds. This will hopefully give rise to a larger number of diverse managers who can then attract wide-ranging talent at all organisational levels, really transforming the industry. A major reason I joined MiddleGround was our leadership’s diversity, which has extended throughout our rapidly growing team.
SS: Diversity and inclusion are important in any industry, not just PE. It promotes better decision-making and, ultimately, better outcomes. At Whitehorse in particular, we are highly focused on attracting, cultivating and retaining diverse talent. We strive to emulate the level of diversity within the cities that we operate in.