Hear from Laura, a corporate finance partner in the Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) team, how she works with fast-growing consumer companies and private equity firms to put together successful partnerships. She leads the consumer brands team, working with companies ranging from watch and clothing brands to social media and retail tech platforms.
Private equity investment is particularly relevant for the consumer sector because the businesses tend to be “high growth, fast-moving companies that need some kind of capital investment on their journey,” she says.
When did you know you wanted to work with private equity clients?
“Historically, founders who had grown their business to the point where they needed help to take the growth to the next stage had little option but to sell to another trade buyer,” says Laura. Private equity has opened a whole new option to founders who want to continue on their journey and over the last twenty years, private equity-backed transactions have become a staple part of the market creating a whole new world of buyers that have come into the market.”
Most importantly for Laura, private equity gives company founders and leaders options:
“If someone's built an incredible brand and they've got it to a point where they know they’re getting to the limit of where their competence lies, typically that might mean it’s the end of the journey – they sell it to trade and it's brilliant, it makes them a significant amount of money. But for a lot of our clients, they don't feel quite like they've finished,” she says.
“Private equity allows them to be part of the business’s journey into the future, but perhaps de-risk - put some cash on the table and then work with it. They also gain an experienced partner that has been there and done it.”
What is it about private equity that keeps your interest?
For Laura, founders understanding how the private equity model works is essential to a successful transaction. “Typically my clients have always been entrepreneurial, looking to the next thing, whether that be to grow a business or buy a business, and so private equity has always been a fundamental part of what I've done,” she says.
“Throughout my career, I've always been quite an advocate of private equity,” she adds. “My view is if founders understand it, it can add great value to a business. It can be a brilliant part of a company’s journey. Where it goes wrong is when people don’t really understand what they’re getting into.”
This means Laura must stay close to what private equity firms are looking for. “I've always wanted to really understand what drives private equity and what makes them money, because I think it then makes us the best adviser,” she says. “That is an ever-changing job in some ways, because private equity has to evolve as the market changes. It's a really interesting part of my role.”
Do you think that there's one thing that the sector needs to do differently to improve diversity?
“Openness to change is the key element to improve diversity of all kinds,” says Laura.
“Private equity and professional services firms are long-standing entities that have done things in a certain way for a very long time,” she says.
“Naturally, that creates barriers. Instead, it’s recognising that everyone is quite unique and different. This is a generational change and that means that very long-standing ways of doing things will need to change for people to see themselves working in the industry.”
What advice would you give to other women interested in a career that aligns with private equity?
Laura acknowledges that the industry still lacks senior females but believes the gender balance is changing for the better. Her advice is for young women to “not be afraid to do it if it’s something that really interests them”.
She recalls walking into meetings early in her career where she was the only woman, and “it might feel daunting, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't challenge yourself or you shouldn't do it.”
Laura has previously been a mentor for the 30% Club, which campaigns to improve the gender balance on boards and executive committees. She believes mentoring by people within the organisation, or an external supporter is an important part of building up women’s confidence to progress in careers in private equity and corporate finance.
“It's not just the people you work with, it's somebody else to give you that independent opinion, and it may be just a coffee and a chat, but it challenges you both personally and professionally,” she says.
What is the one thing that could be done by the PE industry, advisers, government, trade bodies or education to ensure we will have a more diverse PE sector in the next five years?
“Working more closely with the education system is a really interesting thought. The opportunity for people to understand early what professional services businesses do or what private equity really means is a great start to improve diversity within the industry I have been invited to speak about my career at the university I attended.”
Laura concludes: “These opportunities provide a great platform to promote what a career in and around private equity could look like for the next generation.”
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