The interview below is part of an ongoing effort by McGuireWoods to profile women leaders in private equity (PE). To read previous profiles, click here. To recommend a woman for a future interview, email Amber Walsh at [email protected].
Meahgan O’Grady is the head of origination at Long Point Capital, a lower-middle-market PE firm focused on investing in family-, founder-, management- and employee-owned businesses. At Long Point, she is responsible for sourcing and evaluating new opportunities. O’Grady is an active member of the deal team, heavily involved with all aspects of transaction execution. Prior to joining Long Point in 2017, she worked at Goldman Sachs. O’Grady is on the women of leadership committee for ACG New York and the board of XPX New York. She received an MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and a BBA from The College of William and Mary’s Mason School of Business.
Q: What both attracted you to PE but potentially concerned you about this chosen career path?
Meahgan O’Grady: Coming from a more institutionalized background, I wanted to be closer to the engine that was truly driving growth in the economy, including job growth: private businesses. At Long Point, we focus on partnering with family-, founder-, management- and employee-owned businesses to help increase the value and longevity of these businesses. Many of the companies that we invest in have been in the family for generations. That means this one transaction will most likely be a life-changing event for a multitude of reasons, outside of simply the financial ones. Given this is the premise of most of the transactions that I’m involved in, I feel like a trusted advisor.
There weren’t really any concerns floating around my head when I chose to make the “switch” into PE. Naturally, the change from working in an office with 30,000-plus employees to one where I can step outside my office door and see 90 percent of the firm in one glance is meaningful, but I quickly realized that it was a welcome change. When everyone needs to wear multiple “hats,” the learning curve is steep, and the organizational structure becomes extremely flat. Everyone’s voice is heard.
Q: What is a lesson that you have learned concerning what’s required for success in PE?
MOG: Three Ps and a C: perspective, patience, perseverance and a cool head. Maintaining the appropriate perspective is very important, not only for success but for sanity. You must have the ability to demonstrate that you understand that not only do the details matter, but also how those details fit into the bigger picture.
Having patience assists me in the maintenance of perspective. Although I always say that patience is not a virtue that I can claim, it is one that I aspire to have.
Perseverance is key for accomplishing one’s goals in any situation. It’s the old adages that you “lose every bet that you don’t make” or “you’ll never get something if you don’t ask for it.” I’m not afraid of “no.” I hear that word a lot. I’m able to keep pushing forward because I don’t take it personally, and I use each “no” as fuel to my “career fire.”
Finally, I always try to keep a cool head. This really ties into everything that I’ve previously stated. Overreacting or reacting on impulse is usually not the most advantageous path to take. I’ve had a few really impressive mentors in my past that I’ve been able to mentally reference when deciding how to handle a situation. I’ve learned that intellectual discord is not the same as conflict and the best businesspeople are ones who can get their point across and engender consensus without raising a tempest. It’s an ongoing battle and I frequently “check” myself, but I’m working toward being that cool-headed leader of consequence that I have so much respect for.
Q: Why is it important for more women to pursue careers in PE?
MOG: There is a sociology concept that centers on the fact that people have to “see it to be it,” the premise behind this being that when one sees someone who seems similar to them, then that person is more prone to say, “I’m going to be awesome at this too.” In finance in general, but especially in the PE space and then even more specifically in the upper echelons of the PE space, women are still pioneers. There aren’t hundreds of thousands that have done this before us, and the path in front of us is still one that is mostly uphill. Trusted relationships are key in this uphill movement. There needs to be a mindset shift for those of us who are already in these seats to one of “how do I get other women here.” I’m incredibly passionate about supporting women in business for this exact purpose.
It doesn’t have to be finance, but I think that a push to get more women in more seats of power and/or spheres of true influence is the only way to correct the current imbalance that we have in our society. That being said, I’d feel remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that financial freedom is power. Women shouldn’t be afraid to talk about money. Said in another way, women shouldn’t be afraid to ask for what they deserve, whether it be a promotion, a raise or equity. The worst someone can say is “no,” and then that just means that you have to employ the third P: perseverance.
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?
MOG: There needs to be more women-founded and -led funds. This ties back to “see it to be it.” I’ll try not to pontificate on this point, but women so frequently think that they need to “check all of the boxes” before moving forward with whatever their aspiration may be. In reality, we need to just do it — take calculated risks and be analytical about how you do so. Take measure of your value-add to the relevant stakeholders that you’re trying to influence or interface with (superiors, limited partners and business owners) and turn that into an actionable and measurable plan of attack. I believe that more women-led funds will lead to more investment in women-founded and -led businesses and thus encourage more female entrepreneurs to take that next step.
On the back of this, with the abundance of “dry powder” in the market, relationships are becoming more important than ever. Develop relationships that can bring value from both a hard- and soft-skill perspective. First-round institutional capital can make companies nervous, and with an overreliance on hard skills, the human element is often forgotten. In my experience, it’s this element that is key to making a smooth transaction occur. Whether it concerns legal, quality of earnings, insurance or other matters, having a network of trusted advisors who can both speak and relate to the folks on the ground as well as the investor base is becoming more critical than ever. As a woman, I feel that I bring a different perspective to the table, creating a significant advantage over the traditional process. I look to build long-term relationships with all parties in the merger and acquisition process, as you never know where the next opportunity will arise.
To contact O’Grady, email [email protected].