Women in PE to Know: Gillian Francis and Angela Zenon

January 19, 2021

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 [email protected].

Gillian Francis

About Gillian Francis

Gillian Francis is a co-founder and managing partner of 3antas Capital Partners. Founded by three friends whose relationship began over a decade ago, 3antas Capital is an operationally focused independent sponsor firm unique in its emphasis on preserving economic sustainability by making growth equity and leveraged buyout investments in lower middle market companies to catalyze economic advancement in emerging domestic markets. Francis is involved in the strategic and operational management of the firm. She also serves in key roles related to deal structuring, investment origination, portfolio management and investor relations. She is a member of 3antas Capital’s investment committee and board of directors. Francis is involved with various tech incubators and accelerators and serves on boards of several charitable and professional network organizations.

Francis received an MBA with a concentration in private investment management from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. She received her bachelor’s in political science from Rutgers College. An avid amateur squash player, Francis shares her love for the sport as a mentor for StreetSquash College Access & Success and Alumni Support Program.

Angela Zenon

About Angela Zenon

Angela Zenon has extensive lending and investing experience and has completed over $100 million of various equity and debt transactions. As a co-founder and managing partner of 3antas Capital, she is involved in the strategic management of the firm as well as board governance and investor relations. Zenon has built a track record of success over her professional career and is involved in deal sourcing and origination, deal structuring and bringing operational efficiencies to 3antas Capital investment companies.

Zenon earned an MBA in finance and real estate from Columbia Business School at Columbia University. Zenon also received a bachelor’s in mathematics and computer science from Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She enjoys teaching children’s yoga and mindfulness and cooking dishes from her native Louisiana.

Q: What attracted you to PE?

Gillian Francis: I come from a Caribbean background, where parents work hard to send their children to college to become doctors or lawyers. That’s it. So, I chose law until I worked at a commodities futures and options brokerage firm during the year I took off after college to study for the LSAT. Once I was introduced to the finance and capital markets world, I was pretty much hooked. At first, I liked the transactional and fast-paced nature of the public markets. However, I eventually realized I was more of a problem-solver, strategic thinker and builder.

PE was attractive because it has the right combination of technical and people skills that suits my personality. Also, when PE is applied to companies, especially those in the lower middle market, it can have a significant effect not only on the growth of those companies and the local economies, but also on the lives of the owners and employees and can create multigenerational wealth for them and their families. Being a part of that impact on local economies and people’s lives, especially those from underrepresented groups, is what gives meaning and passion to my life’s work.

Angela Zenon: I grew up in a small town in North Louisiana. During my junior and senior years of high school, I worked at the local bank in customer service. It was a really big deal to get that job. I never forgot how accomplished I felt being involved in transactions and helping people.

Fast forward to college. I had an aptitude for math and landed a job as a software engineer after graduation. In this position, I worked closely with the sales and finance teams. I became intrigued with finance at that time because I wanted to understand the economics of the deals for myself. I was also deeply involved in serving my community.

I decided to go to business school with the intention of working in finance in a role that would allow me to direct capital in a way that had some long-term positive impact on the community. My first job out of business school ended up being part of a fund of funds PE team investing in socially responsible PE funds, real estate funds and affordable housing tax credit funds.

Q: Why did you choose to launch your own firm? What was the experience like?

AZ: My first experience with private equity was transformative for me and planted the seed for me to launch my own firm one day. Honestly, I wanted the freedom to do what I enjoy, which is directing capital to lower middle market companies in underinvested communities in a way that aligned with my values and role as a mother and wife.

Fortunately, I had developed great relationships throughout my career, and while on this path of starting my own PE firm, Gillian and I connected and somewhat simultaneously decided that, along with our partner, Patrick, we should embark on this journey together. Thus, 3antas Capital was formed.

The partnership is compelling and exciting because of each of our unique business backgrounds, grounded in concrete experience in a variety of industries, academic training in finance and real estate and an unusually broad perspective on how the economic structure around communities results in thriving businesses. The experience is what I would describe as that rare opportunity to work the way you choose, doing work you love with like-minded, really smart people.

GF: The opportunity to start 3antas Capital with my business partners Angela and Patrick was too good to pass up. I have known them separately for over 10 years. We all have a passion for applying our varied and complementary institutional investing, consulting and operational backgrounds to the challenges of financing and investing in lower middle market companies in underinvested communities. We also all live by the mantra of “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

Before we launched 3antas Capital, Angela, Patrick and I thought long and hard about how we could harness all of our talents, experiences, industry expertise and transferable skills and package them into an investment structure that worked for us to invest in what we are passionate about. With the independent sponsor model, we are doing just that. We can be opportunistic, and with the right capital partner, offer the best deal structure for the future organic and inorganic growth of our investment companies.

Whether it be growth equity or leveraged buyout in manufacturing, service or distribution, we are agnostic, as long as we are positioning the company and our team for success and generating alpha and significant returns for our investors. So far it is going extremely well, and we are having fun and learning a lot along the way.

Q: In an industry where women leaders are still a rarity, what do you see as the value of two women of your stature working together at the same PE firm?

GF: Angela and I actually add another layer or two to that rarity because we are black women. Research shows that “4 million new jobs and $981 billion in revenue could be added to the U.S. economy if the average revenue of women of color-owned businesses match those of white women-owned businesses.” A significant reason for this inequity is that capital and other economic resources are not equally accessible to everyone even if they have a successful business.

3antas Capital is looking to be that equalizer, using the mere-exposure effect — the psychological phenomenon where people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them — to our advantage so we can create strategies for more diversity, equity and inclusion in our sourcing and investment processes. Women, especially black women, are the fastest-growing demographic of entrepreneurs and business owners building successful businesses that are solving relevant problems in a changing and more diverse world. One of 3antas Capital’s strategies is to partner with many of these successful businesses to create value and grow them organically or through strategic add-ons.

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

AZ: I quote the Morgan Stanley report, “The Growing Market Investors Are Missing: The trillion-dollar case for investing in female and multicultural entrepreneurs,” which states: “Women and people of color have long faced barriers starting their own businesses and raising capital to fund them. Some barriers have been structural, others cultural, but all have been costly — often in ways we’ll never be able to quantify. We can only imagine what businesses might have taken off, what products consumers might have enjoyed and what innovations and returns might have been realized had women and people of color enjoyed equal access to capital and opportunity.”

This report provided evidence of what I had long known was true: There is a glaring imbalance in the capital and support women and entrepreneurs of color receive. Research shows the median investment by equity investors in business opportunities is nearly $1 million. Yet, for women and minority-owned businesses, median investments are only $213,000 and $185,000, respectively. Despite these nominal figures, a majority of investors interviewed said females and entrepreneurs of color receive the right amount or more of capital than their business models deserve, but still investors underinvest in this population.

3antas Capital will be a catalyst to address this inequity by being unapologetic about raising the issue and demonstrating through our investments that the female and minority entrepreneurs generating $2.4 trillion in revenue, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 Survey of Business owners, are equally as deserving of capital and the advisory services to increase profitability and scale if they choose.

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

AZ: Quite frankly, it is vital that more women pursue entrepreneurship because there are simply fewer women entrepreneurs than men and there is only upside to balancing this equation.

Women are natural nurturers and caregivers, which extends beyond their households. Studies are showing that when women gain access to their own financial freedom, they are lifted out of poverty, children begin to become healthier and overall economic growth occurs. Women invest a larger percentage of their earnings back into the local economy because they are spending not only on themselves but also on their children and families.

Q: What advice would you provide to a woman-led company interested in securing PE?

GF: Besides contacting us at 3antas Capital? Be true to yourself and your company. In the past, women-led companies were forced to make compromises on strategies for their companies because they were trying to appease certain investors who did not really understand their vision.

I can appreciate the time and effort it takes to get that “yes” from an investor. But a yes without the offer of support, value creation and alignment of vision for the future of the company can do more harm than good. Choosing the best investors is more than following the money. Women-led companies need investors with the right perspectives and capabilities to help their companies scale.

To contact Gillian Francis, email [email protected].

To contact Angela Zenon, email [email protected].