Women in PE to Know: Katie Harris Storer

January 21, 2020

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].

Mina Nazemi

Katie Harris Storer joined The Carlyle Group in 2016 and is a vice president focused on U.S. buyout investment opportunities in the consumer, media and retail sector. Prior to joining Carlyle, Harris Storer was an associate at Wellspring Capital Management, a middle market PE firm in New York. Previously, she worked at Deutsche Bank, where she focused on the consumer and retail sectors.

Harris Storer received her MBA from Harvard Business School and BS in business administration from Washington & Lee University.

Q: What attracted you to PE?

Katie Harris Storer: What initially attracted me was the involvement you have in strategic business decisions, and that comes with exposure to senior executives and management teams at a very early stage in your career. I don’t know many other careers that provide the opportunity to sit in corporate board meetings and be involved in important strategic conversations in your 20s.

What has kept me attracted to the industry over the course of my career to date is the character of the people and the caliber of the people I work with at Carlyle, at portfolio companies and among our advisers.

PE attracts incredibly smart and creative people who come together to invest in and support the growth of companies worldwide. It is a uniquely dynamic and stimulating environment. And it’s the type of environment where you are on the front lines of business trends with frequent exposure to new leaders and business models.

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

KHS: There is plenty of evidence that diverse groups make better decisions. I know that fact is true and am encouraged to see it becoming more widely accepted. And this is the simple foundation for why there should be more women in private equity.

Beyond that, there are a number of sectors — e.g., consumer, healthcare, media, technology — that are consumer-facing industries, and women make up 70-80 percent of the purchase decisions.*The pace of change in many of these industries is faster than it has ever been, and it’s critical to stay in front of trends in consumer behavior and to understand how it impacts businesses. Since women are a majority of these consumers, there’s a closer, more direct connection to the changes in purchase patterns and consumer demand.

I am fortunate that there are several senior female investment professionals at Carlyle. In fact, about half of our $222 billion of assets under management is managed by women. This influenced my decision to join the firm and has been an important factor in me viewing PE as a sustainable career. Similarly, I try to pay it forward and encourage junior women to pursue and continue in PE because it’s been incredibly rewarding, and the industry needs more women at the table.

Q: Why do you actively support providing capital to women entrepreneurs?

KHS: There are so many reasons to support providing capital to female entrepreneurs. For one, women are at the forefront of many industries and have unique, direct experiences in those industries. Similarly, women often approach business questions from a different perspective and with different life experiences. In many cases, women experience life as the ultimate multitaskers — they are more likely to be not only the entrepreneur, but also the professional, the soccer mom, the school council chairwoman, the carpool driver, you name it. Those experiences and perspectives can contribute to effectively solving critical business and societal problems in a new way.

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing women entrepreneurs? What advice would you provide to overcome it?

KHS: A year or two ago, I would have said raising capital was their biggest challenge. But there is now a good deal of awareness of the funding gap for females and some progress made against it. We certainly have a ways to go, but there is now momentum to allocate more capital to companies owned and/or run by females.

Another critical challenge as a business grows is managing the priorities of various constituents and effectively aligning investors with your business strategy. I think it’s important for all entrepreneurs, male and female, to build a board and set of investors that align to their strategy and vision, with diverse representation of thought and experience.

It takes time to build brands and businesses. Some investors are patient, others less so. Some will focus on top-line growth above all else to gain scale and win in the market. Others will encourage an earlier focus on profitability. There is no clear right or wrong; it’s oftentimes sector- or company-specific, but all entrepreneurs should keep in mind who is on their board and in their capital structure and try to create alignment that will support the growth of the brand in healthy ways. It’s also important to supplement an existing management team with investors and board members who bring capabilities that are complementary to your own

Finding investors who are aligned to your business strategy, both long-term and near-term, is important. And as a female entrepreneur, having female investors supporting you as an investor or board member is even better. From an investor’s standpoint, I can tell you that Carlyle is very focused on increasing diversity within our management teams and on our portfolio company boards because diversity of thought and experience unequivocally leads to better decision-making.

Q: Can you share a personal story that you feel exemplifies the value of women entrepreneurship?

KHS: As a consumer investor, I see many categories within the industry where a woman recognized a problem or need in the market and capitalized on it with a new, innovative product combined with a disruptive business model. I can point to entrepreneurs in skin care, hair care, footwear, intimates and many others. These women are creating millions, if not billions, in value with their businesses.

To contact Katie Harris Storer, email [email protected].

*Per multiple sources, including Bloomberg.