The interview below is part of a year-long effort by McGuireWoods to profile women leaders in private equity. To read previous profiles, click here. To recommend a woman for a future interview, email Amber Walsh at [email protected].
Elizabeth Burgess is a partner and head of the U.S Sustainable Growth Fund for Bridges Fund Management, which has its U.S. headquarters in New York. She has 30 years of experience in private equity and leveraged transactions across a wide range of industries and end markets. Before Bridges, Burgess was a founding senior partner at Altus Capital Partners, a successful lower middle-market buyout firm. Prior to Altus, she sourced and structured leveraged loans within Bank of America, GE Capital and The Chase Manhattan Bank. Burgess earned a B.A. from SUNY Plattsburgh with a concentration in international business and an MBA from Columbia Business School.
Q: What attracted you to working in PE?
Elizabeth Burgess: I was attracted to PE for several reasons. The first is that I saw an opportunity to provide strategic direction to small and midsized companies, and that this strategy could help spur growth, mitigate risk or enhance profitability. The opportunity to add value to small businesses and all the people involved in those organizations really excites me and motivates me.
The second attractive feature is that I liked the diversity associated with PE. We work with different companies and different management teams in different industries, which means I am continuously learning and meeting new people. Learning about new end markets, processes and efficiency techniques while also applying my experiences and lessons learned in new ways keeps it interesting and challenging.
Finally, it’s a longer-term process of building a business or expanding a business over a number of years. This keeps you vested in the decision-making process and challenges you in diverse ways over different economic cycles. It’s hard work, but it is also very rewarding.
Q: Why is it important for more women to work in PE?
EB: Gender diversity is important in many businesses and PE is no different. PE requires many ideas and strategies coming together to enhance value in an increasingly competitive and dynamic market. Women may bring a different perspective to the table, a different set of experiences, all of which can be used to leverage the improvements in a company or negotiations for a successful deal. I think men and women collaborating is a compelling business force as different traits, strengths, skills and experiences can pull together to arrive at the best outcome for everyone.
PE is definitely a team activity. The PE firm needs to work with different personalities on the various management teams. We need to negotiate with sellers, managers, lenders and customers, and we need to find ways to collaborate to achieve the best outcome. I think women are particularly strong in team building, collaboration and bringing people together for a common goal. We are also detail oriented, which is another important skill set.
With more women leading and running companies, it seems risky not to have women represented in the deal-making ranks within PE firms. Having women on the PE team is a smart business decision for all these reasons.
Q: What advice would you provide to a woman-led company interested in securing PE?
EB: The best advice I can give is to take time to find the right partner. While it seems that PE firms are similar and look for the same attributes in an investment, not all PE firms behave in the same manner.
A PE firm is made up of individuals who have vastly different personalities and experiences. Make sure you find the firm and people within that firm that provide you the expertise you need to grow your business, if you’re looking for a partner, or who will respect your legacy concerns, if you are cashing out. In addition to their expertise, determine if you can work with their personality and their operating style. Also, do not be intimidated. Take the time to understand what they are asking and how this affects you and your company. You don’t need to understand everything about how PE firms operate, but you should understand their key motivations and fund dynamics, and how decisions in the firm are made. Ask a lot of questions, and don’t feel the need to apologize for asking them.
Also, seek references from other entrepreneurs who have worked with the firms you are considering. Ask those references what the firms were like to work with, how they handled the problems and how they helped the entrepreneur. PE firms can be good partners, but not all firms fit with all situations.
PE practitioners are not magicians either. They can’t take a bad market and turn it into a good market overnight, but you should understand how they will handle tough situations and help your company going forward.
To contact Burgess, email [email protected]
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