Up-and-Coming Women in PE to Know: Polly Mack

August 28, 2020

The interview below is part of an ongoing effort by McGuireWoods to profile up-and-coming women leaders in private equity (PE). To read previous profiles, click here. To recommend a rising star for a future interview, email Amber Walsh at awalsh@mcguirewoods.com.

Polly Mack

Polly Mack is regional director of origination for The Riverside Company, which is based in New York and has nearly $9 billion in assets under management and makes control and non-control investments in companies with enterprise values up to $400 million. She covers the mid-Atlantic region for the firm, supporting deal origination for both platform and add-on investments. Mack has a B.A. from Colgate University and an MBA from Columbia University.

Q: Why is it important for more women to pursue entrepreneurship?

Polly Mack: It's important that more women and more people of diverse backgrounds, ethnicities and sexual orientations pursue entrepreneurship because creativity and genius are not limited to one type of person. For an individual, entrepreneurship can be a great way to build wealth and have ownership of your destiny, and we need people with varied backgrounds to create businesses that are relevant to the broader community. That diversity of experience causes people to approach challenges and opportunities with different perspectives and solutions, driving progress for everyone rather than a select few.

Q: Why is it important for more women to pursue careers in PE?

PM: Women make up an enormous percentage of the workforce, and many are in charge of day-to-day household spending and major decisions for their families. We pull more of the strings in the economy than we get credit for. That means a female perspective on any investment is crucial — not just for gender, but also for diversity of opinion.

I'm proud that Riverside is so good at that. We have women at every tier of the organization, including prominent leadership roles like fund manager. It gives us a better ability to relate to and understand the businesses in which we invest and their customers. This leads to better investment decisions.

Q: What both attracted you to PE but potentially concerned you about this chosen career path?

PM: I am likely one of the few people in my industry who did not have PE in mind since college. By the time I realized there was a role for me via business development, I was concerned that I had missed my shot.

I thought you needed to have a traditional investment banking background and that the industry was populated only with people who were great at math, building models and structuring deals. I didn't realize there was a space for relationship people. I thought that only existed in sales roles at the underlying portfolio companies.

Relationships are absolutely critical to PE, and I quickly learned that my skill set for building trust was a real asset to Riverside. Working with a financial partner is analogous to a business marriage, and management teams need to be careful which partner they choose. When everyone is offering similar prices for the same business, the strength of those relationships can make all the difference. For a company we recently acquired, references from both the banker and former executives regarding the strength of our team's character and the value we provided as partners tipped the scales in our favor despite not being the highest bidder in that process.

Q: What is a goal that you have set for yourself in the coming year?

PM: My goal for the coming year is to learn to not feel guilty about my ever-expanding to-do list. I am not saying I am going to work less. What I mean is that I am working on how to manage my approach to my work and my life so that I can be equally energized by and focused on both. When I am with my kids, I want to give them my full attention. If I am at work, I focus there. I recently started meditating for 10 minutes a day. I'm not good about doing this every day, but when I do, I can tell it allows me to be present in the moment. If stressing about more tasks won't get the work done, then I need to set those emotions aside. It's easier said than done, but I'm making incremental progress.

Q: What is a lesson that you have learned concerning what's required for success in PE?

PM: With thousands of PE groups out there competing for deals, multiples have gone up significantly in the last few years. It doesn't surprise me that even through a pandemic, we are still seeing full to frothy valuations for businesses that are performing well in this new normal.

That said, with so much money chasing deals, it's clear that relationships, values and experience matter. Entrepreneurs want to get market value for their deal, but they also want to be sure they are picking a partner that has weathered storms before and can roll up their sleeves alongside management and be a true partner. Riverside is incredibly good at doing that, which is why we have been able to close 15 buyout transactions since mid-February.

Q: How do you believe women of your generation will be able to influence in the PE industry, particularly as the career path continues to evolve?

PM: We are in a unique time when people can literally see over a video meeting the extent to which women are juggling day-to-day work and life responsibilities. I do not have enough fingers to count the number of times I have seen people's children or pets show up on a video call. A year ago, that would have been a big issue. Today, we are lucky this is perceived as normal. It's completely acceptable to balance being a parent and wanting to do well at your job.

But that acceptability does not make this balance any easier. In fact, working remotely is considered much harder by most parents with small children in their home. That said, there is an acceptance of the duality of parents' lives (men and women) that we should embrace. For those who are able to balance this nuance well and who can execute in this environment, I hope the current situation empowers them to take on even bigger challenges in the future and continue to set a higher standard for women in the workplace.

To contact Mack, email pmack@riversidecompany.com.

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