Our feature, The Need for Women in Higher Places, highlights progress, but there’s a long way to go.
Ashley Evans, principal, at Carlyle Group
Evans was sure she was going to be a college professor. She studied Greek philosophy at Cambridge and was enrolled to attend the PhD program at Princeton. But upon graduation from Cambridge, Evans changed her mind. Instead of going to Princeton, she “happened her way into finance” to pay the bills.
“At that time, in 2006, I hadn’t taken a math class or opened an Excel spreadsheet,” Evans says.
Evans, who joined Carlyle as an associate in 2006, is a principal on its technology team and invests out of its latest flagship fund, Carlyle Partners VII, which closed in 2018 at $18.5 billion. She also sits on the boards of prominent software companies including HireVue, Veritas and ZoomInfo.
For any woman in PE, it’s important to grow in a workplace that provides a lot of support and flexibility, according to Evans. She found that support at Carlyle, whose workforce is 43 percent women, compared with an industry average of 18 percent.
“Seven years ago, when I was pregnant with my oldest son, I could go and talk to people at Carlyle about being a mom and what kind of support I’d need,” Evans says.
One person she talked to was Sandra Horbach, managing director & co-head of US Buyout at Carlyle, which represents almost $38 billion of assets under management.
“One thing Sandra told me: ‘Don’t ever let anyone make you feel guilty, don’t let your husband make you feel guilty, don’t let Carlyle make you feel guilty,’’’ Evans recalls. “This advice stuck with me and helped me stay focused on being productive.”
Evans, who lives in Palo Alto with her husband and two sons, has another important mission – to provide medical and emotional support to parents of children diagnosed with a rare intellectual disability called SynGAP, which is known to have no cure. She and her husband, whose oldest son was diagnosed with the disability, founded SynGAP Research Fund.
Jo Natauri, partner in merchant banking, Goldman Sachs
Natauri got an early start to her career — very early. She graduated from high school at the age of 16 with two years of college already finished. She ended up graduating from the University Virginia with degrees in biology and economics, as well as completing pre-med course work.
“The last couple years I was in college I began to understand that the business side of healthcare was actually quite important to understand and ultimately I wanted to get into healthcare policy,” Natauri tells Buyouts.
So, Natauri, 42, got into healthcare investment banking with the intent of transitioning into policy. But she found herself fascinated by the many aspects of the healthcare industry she could interact with on the finance side.
Now, she is a partner in the merchant banking division of Goldman Sachs. Last year, she played a key role in the $2.7 billion purchase of MyEyeDr from Altas Partners.
Outside work, Natauri is heavily involved with preventing domestic violence. She is on the board of directors of Safe Horizon, a victim assistance organization. She also is helping develop a quick-alert technology for people suffering from domestic violence.
“I was frustrated that the way we have been handling [the issue] through the system really has been stagnant for the past 50 years,” she says.
Natauri thinks there need to be more women in private equity in general. “[Women are] really underrepresented and its unfortunate,” she says. “The world is obviously changing and having a diverse set of opinions makes you a better investor.”
Jane Rowe, executive managing director and head of Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan’s Equities Group
Jane Rowe is among the world’s most influential private equity professionals.
For 10 years she has led the private capital group of Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, Canada’s third-largest pension fund, with net assets of C$201 billion ($152 billion; €138 billion), and one of the market’s top investors.
When Rowe took on the role, the PE portfolio held assets of C$10 billion. That number has since more than tripled to C$35 billion. Ontario Teachers’ today has ownership stakes in more than 90 private companies globally, more than 60 managed by Rowe and her team of 100-plus investment professionals.
While Ontario Teachers’ invests worldwide, one of Rowe’s first major deals was Canadian. In 2012, she led the sale of the pension fund’s stake in MLSE, owner of the Toronto Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs, for C$1.32 billion.
Rowe, 60, expressed her investment philosophy to Buyouts in this way: “When I started in private equity, I invested as if each dollar was my own. That’s an attitude I brought to Ontario Teachers’ and our entire team feels the same way.”
Rowe joined Ontario Teachers’ from Scotiabank, where she was an executive vice president in special accounts management and retail credit risk. She previously held senior roles with the bank’s PE fund and headed its mid-market merchant bank and mortgage operation.
Rowe received her bachelor’s from Memorial University and MBA from York University’s Schulich School of Business. Outside of work, her activities include supporting and mentoring women in the financial industry.
Jessie Cai, vice president, General Atlantic
Cai always had an entrepreneurial spirit.
She recalls that her parents, both scientists, were not surprised when their daughter decided to study business instead of following the family passion. During her four years of high school, Cai was one of the first employees at Peer2Peer Tutors, starting on a tutoring side and later moving on to working on the business side. She later got her undergrad at Northwestern and her MBA at Harvard, where she became co-president of the Private Equity and Venture Capital Club.
Cai’s career in private equity started at Summit Partners, where she was one of the first female deal professionals at the firm in 2013. At Summit, she helped develop a thesis around digitally native consumer brands and also helped create and fund Elevate Brand Partners, a holding company to Quay Australia, a digitally native sunglasses brand. Cai also backed the founders of Grand Design RV. The business more than tripled EBITDA within two years of Summit’s investment.
Now, at General Atlantic, she spends most of her time sourcing and executing deals as well as working with portfolio companies in the consumer, internet, travel and software sectors. Some of Cai’s recent investments include Kiwi.com, an online travel platform, and InvoiceCloud, a software payments company that Cai previously backed while at Summit.
“Fundamentally, growth investing is all about supporting the entrepreneur,” says Cai. “It’s about truly partnering with founders to help them think through different types of ‘good growth problems.’ Anyone who’s up for that can be good at growth investing.”
Saron Tesfalul, principal at Bain Capital Private Equity
One of five kids, Bain Capital’s Saron Tesfalul, 30, knows a few things about coming together and listening to different voices.
“Part of being a great leader in PE is about leveraging your team to come to the best conclusions,” Tesfalul says. “It’s one of my biggest strengths and differentiators.”
Tesfalul joined Bain in 2012 and is a principal in the consumer, retail and dining division. A major accomplishment for Tesfalul, besides joining Bain, was her work on the company’s $2.5 billion acquisition of Varsity Brands, a business that focuses on team sports equipment and apparel.
Her work at Bain has allowed her to put her sister through medical school and help her family in Eritrea.
One of the advantages of being a woman in private equity, according to Tesfalul, is that it allows her to offer different viewpoints when finding opportunities. “The more conviction you have in having a different perspective the better off you’ll be as an investor.”
She says that if women believe in themselves and be their most authentic selves there’ll be a spot for them at the table.
“If you can do that in the place you love, you can have a really rewarding career,” Tesfalul says.
She graduated from Harvard University with a degree in economics and a minor in African studies. She earned an MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
Erika Spitzer, partner at Leonard Green
Spitzer has a unique way of describing her role as the partner in charge of investor relations, public relations and limited partner co-investment activities at Leonard Green & Partners: she tells stories.
“I love the challenge of articulating our investment strategy to prospective investors and, to some degree, serving as firm historian by relaying stories, including pivotal moments and lessons learned, throughout our firm’s 30-year history,” she writes Buyouts in an email.
Spitzer, 35, joined Leonard Green in 2011 to inform potential and current investors—and to do it in a quick and engaging way.
“Our first interaction or meeting with a prospective investor is oftentimes quite brief, so we need to be thoughtful about our message,” she says.
Spitzer enjoyed the opportunity to build a department that did not previously exist at the firm. Since she joined, Leonard Green has raised more than $30 billion, including closing almost $15 billion in two funds last year.
Spitzer now leads a team of three, still lean by industry standards. A lot of the firm’s stories are only known by senior members. Spitzer says that memorializing them is an “ongoing process.”
Spitzer tries to make time to meet with younger women entering private equity in Los Angeles: “I believe that we, as more established women in the industry, have a responsibility to recruit, support, and retain the women who are starting out on their journeys in PE.”
Lauren Mulholland, partner, MiddleGround Capital
Mullholland followed her dream a few years ago when she joined forces with two former colleagues to form MiddleGround Capital.
“Doing something entrepreneurial was always something I wanted to do,” Mulholland says.
MiddleGround closed its first fund on $459.5 million in 2019. To help get the firm up and running, Mulholland says she worked on building out a sourcing function, leading deals, fundraising, finding office space and hiring talent.
“When starting a business, you have to wear many hats and figure out where to prioritize your time,” she says. “This level of multitasking has some parallels to my investing career.
At MiddleGround, a lot of what makes us effective and helps us prioritize our resources is focusing on sectors and business models that we understand and knowing the right questions to ask.”
Part of her philosophy at MiddleGroup is to create a culture of hard work, but with flexibility that allows employees to achieve work/life balance. Mulholland, who has young children at home, says she and the team need that balance.
“Recruiting and culture are really important,” she says. Mulholland, 37, spent 10 years executing transactions as an investment banker and private equity investor. She serves on the boards for five MiddleGround portfolio companies, including as chairperson for two of them.
She completed her undergraduate degree at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and received her MBA with honors from Columbia Business School.
Michelle Noon, co-founder and managing partner of Clearhaven Partners
Noon has come a long way from the cornfields of Illinois, where she grew up.
Last year, Noon, 39, co-founded Clearhaven Partners, a private equity firm that invests in software-focused technology companies, in Boston.
“I really wanted to focus deeply on micro-buyout software,” Noon says. “Deep sector specialization is incredibly important in this day and age as our own industry has become more mature.”
Noon previously worked as a general partner at Riverside Partners, Thoma Bravo and Morgan Stanley.
“This business is all about people,” she says. “The vision for the firm is to not only maintain a very high standard of performance, but also to be extremely partnership oriented.”
She got her bachelor’s degree at University of Notre Dame and an MBA at Harvard Business School. Noon believes women can flourish in private equity, but that the best way for PE firms to attract women is to retain those who are performing well.
Noon is a big fan of skiing and design. She lives in Boston with her husband and two kids.
Patti Melcher, co-founder, EIV Capital
Melcher is a rarity in North America’s private equity industry: a female investment professional who runs her own shop.
Melcher in 2009 co-founded EIV Capital, a Houston PE firm specializing in investments in lower mid-market, midstream energy opportunities. Today, EIV oversees about $1 billion on behalf of limited partners, while Melcher as managing partner leads an 11-person investment team that has backed some 20 companies.
EIV is presently marketing a fourth midstream energy fund with a target of $525 million and hard cap of $600 million. Melcher’s leadership of EIV caps a career of more than three decades in the oil and gas industry. After completing her BS in systems engineering at the University of Virginia and an MBA at Harvard, she started out as an investment banker with the energy-focused Simmons & Company International.
In 1989, Melcher took on her first PE executive role, joining SCF Partners, an investor in oilfield services and equipment companies. Eight years later, she formed Allegro Capital Management to provide investment management and consulting services to the energy industry.
Outside of work, Melcher, 60, is active in the non-profit community. Her activity includes co-founding The Joy School in 1997 to support children with learning disabilities.
Michelle Riley, general counsel, Bregal Investments
It’s not often you meet a lawyer who has worked on a presidential campaign and is a Tony Award winner, but Riley checks all those boxes.
Riley didn’t always know she wanted to go into private equity, initially having an interest in politics and theater.
“I started acting in school plays in high school,” Riley says. “In college in Washington D.C., I took theater classes and paid the bills by working as a lighting designer and technician in some of Washington’s many terrific small theaters.”
Hailing from Concord, North Carolina, she went on to study politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University. She grew to love finance and became an M&A lawyer for Debevoise and Plimpton and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.
Riley worked as in-house counsel for Sen. John Edwards’ US presidential primary campaign in 2004 and eventually rejoined the M&A world, ultimately landing at Bregal, where she is involved in the deal making process.
“I think we have a responsibility, as people who do have an impact on our larger global systems, to encourage young women to study math and science,” says Riley. “I think we women in private equity need to speak to the men around us about the importance and the benefits of having women in senior and junior roles at our firm.”
Riley lives in New York City. She won back-to-back Tony Awards (2018-19) for producing the musicals “Once on This Island” and “Hadestown.”
By Justin Mitchell, Milana Vinn, Kirk Falconer, Teddy Grant, Eva Fedderly and Chris Witkowsky