The Allegory of the Fearless Girl

An established principle in philosophy is that, sometimes in order to solve a problem, you have to shake things up.

Representative of the shifting tide for women in finance is the statue of “Fearless Girl”, strategically placed by Boston-based investment firm State Street Global Advisors (third largest asset manager in the world), in front of Wall Street’s “Charging Bull” — still synonymous today with a male-dominated finance industry. The fact so many are in debate about its significance only fuels its need, and its importance.

I was fortunate enough to speak at the 4th Annual Texas ACG Capital Connection Women’s Luncheon in April. The panel focused on Women in Private Equity: Strategy, Success and the Sixth Sense. Given the extent of positive feedback I am still receiving on the discussion, I thought it worth sharing some tidbits from the panel…..

Q. Share a brief background and how you got started in private equity?

A. I’ve spent most of my life living between Europe and the U.S. I was born in Madrid, Spain, raised in Newport Beach, California, went back to Spain for University, and finished my studies in the Boston campus of Suffolk University. My path into private equity (PE) is extremely non-traditional. I never dreamt of mastering excel models, and I candidly still count with my fingers.

My first love was art. When I first told my parents I wanted to be a painter, they laughed — and in the most constructive and loving-way — asked me to reconsider. I have worked in fashion, magazines, consulted for the Spanish Chamber of Commerce, as well as worked in my family’s food business. I even thought I could change the world at the tender age of 22 working in the Development Office of Mass General Hospital (MGH).

In my first few months at MGH, I quickly realized it wasn’t easy to build a philanthropic rolodex, and people weren’t lining up to give me money simply because it was a good cause like kid’s pediatrics! Who knew!?

But being naïve and tenacious does have its advantages….

In my frustration with not being able to move the needle, I went to the MGH database, and looked up who the biggest donors were and where they worked. It is there that I kept seeing the word private equity…interesting…buying companies, making them better, and selling them for a profit. Well that sounded fun! I then looked up the name of the top PE firms in Boston, and one in particular caught my attention, Audax Group. Great, I said to myself, I was going to work there.

This was a pivotal moment in my life where I decided to go from wanting to save the world to taking it over…

So I did the most reasonable thing I could come up with, I cold called Audax Group. For those of you who know the PE industry, and how the hiring process works, you understand how ridiculous this was… cold calling one of the most well-known PE firms to see if they had any “openings”. As you can imagine, the call didn’t go as planned. They told me I needed to call their headhunter, and that you don’t just cold call a private equity firm for a job. So I called the headhunter (who was widely amused). They had one job posting for Audax, it had something to do with logistics planning and planes. I said excellent! That will do just fine!!

All I needed was to get my foot in the door, and the momentum I would build would take care of the rest

And so it was. I went for an interview, and to my surprise, they didn’t have a job for someone with my varied skill set. Everyone I met with was amused with my tenacity, and that I clearly showed learnability, but they still didn’t have a job for me. Keep in mind what the PE landscape was like in early 2008: far more male dominant, banking background, finance inclination, and ivy league. I fit not one of the traditional boxes, but that didn’t stop me. I knew I was going to work there. The person who became my then mentor, and now dear friend and confidant, Jay Jester, had no choice but to hire me after I spent the following six months calling every single day until he hired me. Looking back 10 years later I still shake my head and laugh.

Q. What do you see as the keys to your success?

I believe the extent of the struggles you overcome untimely determine the extent of your victories

A. I credit my success to my ability of using adversity to my advantage. I think I get this in-part from playing sports. My parents had me playing competitive sports from a very young age — from tennis, to horse riding, to soccer, to daily/nightly swim lessons in pursuit of my — then — dream of swimming butterfly in the Olympics. The notion of “no pain, no gain” was hardwired in me. Its a type of adversarial growth that helped me develop the grit that drives me today.

Q. What advice would you give to your younger self?

Learn to tell the difference between what isurgent and what is important

A. It sounds far more simple than it really is — as I continue to find most valuable lessons are. What is important leads you to achieving your goals, and what is urgent is usually associated with achieving someone else’s goals. The PE industry is fueled by daily fire drills, and when you first start your career, you are really only there to support someone else’s success — this is just a fact of working for someone else, and indicative of most industries. BUT remember to keep the following in mind: if data shows that *40–45% of what we do every day is habitual, what types of habits are you supporting/reinforcing? If these habits are not aligned with your long-term goals it will be difficult (not impossible), but difficult to change later. Take this example — something I still struggle with today — checking your email the moment you open your eyes in the morning, even before getting out of bed. You are developing/enforcing the habit of starting your day reacting to someone else’s needs instead of utilizing the most important time in the day to focus on what is really important to you.

A HUGE and special thank you to: Gemma Descoteaux from Polsinelli, our moderator for the event, to Natalie OHanna from ACG Dallas, and my dearest friend Jennifer Grett from Weaver for her unwavering support and friendship.

*Source AND a fantastic read: https://hbr.org/2012/06/habits-why-we-do-what-we-do