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 protected].Patriot Capital
Q: Who is an example of someone who inspired you in PE and why?
Stacey Wittelsberger: An example of someone who has inspired me in my PE career to date is the former president of one of our prior portfolio companies that specialized in the production and design of wireless antennas. She started the company with her husband in 1997 during a time in which female CEOs made up less than 0.5 percent of all Fortune 500 companies. Her financial acumen, integrity, positive attitude and democratic leadership style were some of the key drivers of the company’s success and our ultimately strong investment outcome. Not only did the company encounter many challenges during her time as president, but she faced struggles in her family and personal life that alone would be enough to distract any good leader. She comes from a very humble upbringing and worked very hard to get where she is today. Since selling the company, she hasn’t taken her foot off the gas and has started a new venture: an internet service provider currently serving the Mid-Atlantic region. She has inspired me not only in my professional life but also to be a better person, partner, mother, colleague and friend.
Q: What is a goal that you have set for yourself in the coming year?
SW: A goal that I have set for myself in 2019 is to complete a new investment in the healthcare services industry. While we are generalists and have historically taken a diversified industry investing approach, we also view healthcare as an area of strength in our prior and current investment portfolio. Healthcare as an end market offers a number of different positive attributes from an investment perspective: significant component of overall GDP, ability to make a difference (double bottom line), market fragmentation, compelling demographic trends making healthcare services ever more important and, finally, the diversification across the various sub-segments.
A secondary goal would be a more concerted effort to work with women. I look forward to more opportunities to invest in female-run companies, build relationships with female limited partners for our fund, recruit women for our firm or invest alongside other females in PE.
Q: Why is it important for more women to pursue careers in PE?
SW: For investments, we look at each opportunity with a holistic perspective; from the viewpoints of the key internal and external stakeholders — the suppliers, consumers/customers, employees, government, etc. Our firm is made up of an awesome group of individuals of varying backgrounds, including both operational and financial. This, in my opinion, gives us an edge in our analysis, but I would love to see more women around the table — a desire which is shared across our firm.
For us and the industry as a whole, if our firms aren’t diversified in all aspects, including gender, how can we be sure all perspectives, especially that of half the population, have been considered? Women just look at things a different way than men, a characteristic I believe to be invaluable in decision-making.
Q: What attracted you to PE and what also concerned you about this chosen career path?
SW: What attracted me most to PE was the opportunity to experience the variety of businesses that exist in this day and age. Each day offers a new concept ranging from a restaurant franchise to a manufacturer of plastic parts for industrial applications to a multi-unit, specialized physician practice. I am constantly learning and being challenged in this role and business, which is not something that can be said for many career paths.
In addition, I truly enjoy and am motivated by the time spent with company founders and management teams, hearing how they built their businesses from day one and working alongside them in the decisions they face on a daily basis. The relationship building that takes place over the three- to 10-year period that you are active with a company is very unique and something I treasure. Some of my closest friends are people I have met in my PE role, including my colleagues.
One thing that potentially concerned me about this chosen career path, and I still view as an area for improvement, is the lack of diversity in this industry. Nearly 50 percent of the world’s population is female; the last figures I saw, while improving, stated the percentage of women in PE was less than 20 percent. I became a mother for the first time in 2018, to a little girl, and can only hope that when she begins her career search down the road, the female representation in PE and other careers won’t ever be viewed as a hurdle for her. Continuing female-focused recruiting efforts and fostering strong mentor-mentee relationships are two ways we, as an industry, can improve this statistic.
To contact Stacey, email [email protected].