The interview below is part of a new, yearlong effort by McGuireWoods to profile up-and-coming women leaders in private equity. To read previous profiles, click here. To recommend a rising star for a future interview, email Amber Walsh at email@example.com.
Melinda Baglio is chief commercial officer and general counsel at CleanCapital, based in New York City. She oversees due diligence and project acquisitions, as well as all aspects of CleanCapital's legal affairs, including structuring, negotiating and implementing the company's investment strategies. Baglio began her career in the nonprofit sector advocating for clean energy legislation with the New York Public Interest Research Group. In 2008, she switched gears to practice law and gained extensive experience representing investors and developers in energy financing transactions. Most recently, Baglio was a senior associate in the Energy, Infrastructure, Project and Asset Finance Group at the global law firm White & Case.
Q: What both attracted you to PE but potentially concerned you about this chosen career path?
Melinda Baglio: I started my professional life working for a nonprofit where I focused on environmental policy generally and clean energy specifically; those areas have always been my passion. After law school, I was lucky to continue working in the energy industry in the project finance groups of two large law firms. I tried to focus my practice on renewable energy, but it didn't always work out that way.
When I joined CleanCapital last year, I was happy to be refocusing on clean energy and excited to be working for a startup, which is so wildly different than life in a big law firm. At the same time, I was nervous to take on the role of general counsel. I was nervous that I wasn't qualified for the position, which is unfortunately all too common for women. You may know it as "imposter syndrome." As a mother of two young kids and the primary breadwinner in my family, it was also scary to leave what I felt to be a relatively secure and well-paying job. I was absolutely convinced that CleanCapital was doing great work and had total confidence in the company's future, but since it was only a couple of years old, it lacked a proven track record to rely on.
A year later, I say with absolute confidence that the move to CleanCapital was the best decision for me, both personally and professionally. I've embraced the commercial side of the renewable energy industry and been forced out of my comfort zone on a regular basis, but I've excelled at both and, as a result, I no longer feel like the imposter I thought I was a year ago.
Q: What is a goal that you have set for yourself in the coming year?
MB: When I was working in a law firm, I easily fell into the role of mentor for some of the more junior associates, especially women who were wondering if it was possible to succeed in law and have a life and family. I spent the past year really focused on getting my bearings in a new role and a new part of the industry and often worry that I'm not providing the same level of mentorship to the women I work with now. Goals I've set include making myself more available to answer questions and address concerns and actively setting aside time and attention to helping other women in the industry grow.
Q: Why is it important for more women to pursue careers in PE and/or entrepreneurship?
MB: By now, I assume most of your readers are familiar with the McKinsey study that says companies with more women in top management perform better than the industry median. Similar research was recently published in the Harvard Business Review and showed that the same applies to countries that are led by women.
I would take it a step further and posit that it is the diversity of voices that leads to peak performance. To that end, I would encourage not only women but people of color and others to pursue careers in areas where they are typically underrepresented, including PE/finance and entrepreneurship. And I encourage men in leadership positions to actively seek out diversity in all levels of their hiring, but particularly in the boardroom and C-suite. The co-founders at CleanCapital openly acknowledge that our company will succeed if we embrace diversity at every level and talk about it openly with the team.
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing women entrepreneurs today? What advice would you provide to overcome it?
MB: I think one of the biggest challenges facing women entrepreneurs is the same challenge that women face in any male-dominated industry. We used to hear advice that we should act more like men, and then we were told we had to lean in. My advice is a version of "fake it 'til you make it": Push yourself out of your comfort zone and you will quickly find that you are capable of way more than you give yourself credit for.
To contact Baglio, email firstname.lastname@example.org.