When Private Equity International unveiled its 40 under 40: Future Leaders of Private Equity list for 2020, we were in the eye of the covid storm with little visibility on how the pandemic would play out or impact the private equity market over the longer term. 

The individuals selected for the Future 40 list 2021 were thrust into the crisis at pivotal moments in their careers. The experience may prove formative, not just for these 40 professionals, but for the wider private equity industry. 

Despite pandemic-related disruption, or perhaps because it demonstrated individuals’ ability to put their skills to much-needed use during a critical period, we received a record number of nominations this year. PEI’s senior editorial team reviewed more than 530 nominations to select a group of professionals working across investing, dealmaking, fundraising, operating and legal functions who are forging an impressive path through the industry. 

Those included in the class of 2021 demonstrated innovation, leadership, expertise across high-quality deals, fundraising programmes and other initiatives, or a certain flair that sets them apart. Most importantly, they are considered to have the potential to lead the private equity industry forward at a time when numerous external and internal forces look set to reshape how it operates. 

The youngest member of this year’s Future 40, at age 30, has been making his mark at the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, where he has also been appointed the team’s venture capital lead. Among those joining him in this year’s ‘investor’ category is a 34-year-old in CPP Investments’ London office. This young professional has been directly involved in making over €6 billion of commitments across 20 private equity funds and is a founding member of the Canadian pension plan’s London Diversity & Inclusion group.

Meanwhile, one individual in the ‘fundraising’ category played an instrumental role in Nordic Capital’s €6.1 billion virtual fundraise at the height of the pandemic, while those in the ‘operator’ category have been supporting portfolio companies through the uncertainty that followed the covid-19 outbreak. This year’s rising stars have also been facilitating deals since the market came off pause – a secondaries specialist at law firm Proskauer has worked on more than $10 billion-worth of secondaries transactions on behalf of clients since September alone.

The Future 40’s career paths are as varied as their achievements. There is the COO who cut his teeth in management consulting and senior roles in the technology sector before joining growth technology-focused Verdane; the managing director who initially joined MiddleGround Capital in a business development capacity who was soon tasked with leading the emerging manager’s investor relations efforts; the founder who began lower mid-market firm Soundcore Capital Partners working out of his apartment in New York City; and others who have made the jump from LP to GP and vice versa. 

When PEI asked some of this year’s Future 40 what tips they would give to more junior colleagues looking to progress their careers, some common themes emerged: strong communication skills; the ability to keep abreast of new developments and adapt to change; an ongoing passion for learning; and relationship-building.  

These themes are echoed by Gail McManus, managing director at recruitment specialist PER. “We can’t always predict where our working lives will take us or foresee shifts in the market, so setting plans in stone isn’t the best way forward,” she tells PEI, instead recommending that early career professionals pay close attention to three career-building principles: reflection, personal branding and networking.

“Working hard and getting your job done isn’t the way to get ahead; it’s the way to stay right where you are,” says McManus. “Demonstrating that what you’re passionate about can bring additional value to the business makes you valuable.”