Two of our Partners here at Valesco, Angie Henson and Heather Hubbard, were recently included in a spotlight of women in private equity. Women in Private Equity to Know is an ongoing effort published by McGuire Woods and serves to profile women leaders in private equity. Read the transcript of their interviews below:
Q: What attracted you to PE?
Angie Henson (AH): As a young, recently engaged college graduate, I thought my career path was heading down a much different path when PE found me 21 years ago.
I was approached by an old friend I had worked for during my college summers. He wanted to start a swim school. As this was a side business for him, I became responsible for the startup of the business, from finalizing the name, obtaining an employer identification number, marketing, scheduling and even teaching the swim classes. At the time I didn't realize it, but this was my first hardcore introduction to the world of business.
This friend ended up working at Valesco. When a position at Valesco became available, he thought of me. I was a little bit of a fish out of water at first, but soon realized that not only Valesco but PE was a right fit and where I would find myself long term. The opportunity to work with so many diverse companies and help to make a positive impact in the lives of the people surrounding those companies is like no other feeling. It's not always easy, but it's always rewarding.
Heather Hubbard (HH): My first business was a small farmer's market I started in my parents' kitchen where I took all of their food out and sold it back to them. I was on my second cash register by the age of eight.
I've always known that I loved understanding business, how companies made money and how managers organized people and operations. During my freshman year in college, I came across a small meeting of students in a classroom late one evening and listened in. The group was the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization and the speaker was a small business owner in town. He was telling the students about everything from how he started his business and marketing his products all the way down to commercial real estate lease rates and software packages. I was immediately hooked on the complexities as well as practicalities of running a small business.
I continued with my education and decided to major in entrepreneurship because nothing was more interesting to me than harnessing the creative energy of a dynamic business leader and understanding his or her business. PE was a perfect fit from my very beginnings in the industry.
As a member of the PE community, I am able to make a real and meaningful impact on the lives of business owners and their employees. My team and I get the great opportunity to impact all aspects of a small business to drive its operations to be better than it was when we started. I don't have a cash register anymore, but I still have just as much fun.
Q: Why is it important for more women to pursue careers in PE?
HH: I think its vitally important for women to pursue a career in PE because our perspective on the world needs to be represented. Women have a unique take on the environment around us and we interact with life in a different way than men. I think a balanced perspective is key because we all, whether man or woman, have unique life experiences to bring to each situation.
AH: The most important reason women should pursue a career in PE is the perspective we bring to the table. Women should continue to be loud and have a voice at the table, especially in such a male-dominated industry. Many businesses today are owned by women. If they invite a PE group into their business for whatever reason, I have seen situations where having a female from a PE group walk in the room can make a difference. The female business owner automatically feels more comfortable in when she feels she has someone in the room she can relate to and possibly see things in a way that men might not.
Q: In an industry where women leaders are still a rarity, what do you see as the value of two women of your stature working together at the same PE firm?
AH: Heather and I acknowledge that it is a rarity to have not just one but two female partners in a PE firm. We have an opportunity that many don't have to be able to share our perspectives and continue to instill diversity in our own firm. One example of a perspective we have been big proponents of is work/life balance. This has become especially important not only from a female perspective but from a generational perspective and vital to attracting and retaining talent. We share this perspective not only in our firm but with our portfolio companies and in networking conversations with other female colleagues.
HH: Two women working together in PE is a rare thing, Angie and I are able to relate to each other on a level that is unique for a female in our industry. We feel that we have tried to use our positions to continue to promote the hiring of great talent, regardless of gender. I think that we have a different perspective to offer. We manage our team and portfolio companies from a different angle than the men in our office. We value having a firm that reflects the world around us, balanced from a gender perspective.
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing women entrepreneurs? What advice would you provide to overcome it?
HH: There are not a lot of great examples of female entrepreneurs to model your life and career after as a woman and a business owner. We have personal lives, families, friends and hobbies to balance with work and we have the added perspective of a society that is not always set up to understand our unique situation and challenges.
My best advice is to continue to create your own path. We can't have it all; that's not a possibility. We can choose the things that matter to us most with work, family and life and not stress so much about the rest. Figure out where you will shine and let yourself off the hook for the rest.
AH: I think the biggest challenge many times lies in ourselves. We think too much that we can't hang with the boys, but, believe me, you can, you will and you will succeed beyond anything you ever thought imaginable!
Q: What advice would you provide to a woman-led company interested in securing PE?
AH: Explore your options — there are many PE funds out there today with many different strategies for how they partner with companies. Do your homework, ask questions, meet multiple members of the team, reach out to references and see who you feel most comfortable with. This will be your partner (and more than likely become a good friend as well) for some time. It's important that you are comfortable with them and their long-term strategy for your business.
HH: Focus on what kind of partnership you want to have with your PE partner and work very hard to get to know who you will be working with well ahead of a transaction. Whether you will be remaining as a full-time executive or taking a step back to do something new, your new PE partner will be a part of your life and your employees' lives for years to come. They will be shaping the next chapter of your business. You want to make sure that they are a good reflection of the values and vision for your organization.