The interview below is part of an ongoing effort by McGuireWoods to profile up-and-coming women leaders in private equity (PE). To read previous profiles, click here. To recommend a rising star for a future interview, email Amber Walsh at [email protected].
Nicole Byers is a vice president at Housatonic Partners, a PE firm investing in growing, recurring revenue services businesses. She joined the firm in 2019 and is responsible for originating, evaluating and managing investments within the healthcare sector. Byers previously worked at FFL Partners and Bain & Co. She holds two bachelor’s degrees from Indiana University and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Q: What both attracted you to PE but potentially concerned you about this chosen career path?
Nicole Byers: I was attracted to PE by the diversity of the experience. In my time in the industry, I’ve been fortunate to see a wide range of sectors, strategies, operational initiatives and management styles. Every day is different, and I am always tackling new challenges. I believe this has allowed me to learn to recognize patterns, which in turn has made me a better investor.
Without having run a business myself, I was initially concerned about whether I could offer useful advice to business owners as a board director. While I was getting my MBA, I worked at a startup to try to build those operational skills. What I found was that it is incredibly difficult to get that big-picture perspective when you’re on the ground level of a company, managing day-to-day operations. I have immense respect for entrepreneurs and believe they don’t need to be told how to operate their businesses.
Instead, I can help to surface patterns that they may not be able to see, ensure that the company is guided in the right direction and help the team get the connections and resources they need to be successful.
Q: How do you believe women of your generation will be able to influence the PE industry, particularly as the career path continues to evolve?
NB: I think women can help diversify the PE industry beyond just a gender perspective. PE firms have historically relied on a handful of investment banking and consulting firms from which to recruit associate candidates, and most of those firms aren’t particularly diverse themselves. I also saw firsthand how difficult it was for some of my business school classmates without prior industry experience to break into PE. I think, as an industry that wants to attract the best talent, we need to invest in training people from different backgrounds who can bring fresh ideas to the sector.
I believe diversity is critical for the PE industry’s continued growth. PE has undergone intense scrutiny by the media, politicians and the public, and I attribute this in part to the lack of diversity. Women can change both how the industry operates and how it is perceived, which should ultimately make PE more resilient in an ever-evolving economy.
Q: What is a goal that you have set for yourself in the coming year?
NB: I want to be intentional about expanding my network to include more diverse perspectives, which I hope will surface new opportunities for years to come. I think “networking” gets a bad rap, but that comes from the fact that many people pursue it in a very transactional way. I try to approach every conversation from a place of genuine interest and curiosity, and then see if there naturally evolves a way that I can be helpful.
Ultimately, PE is a relationship-driven industry, and it is important to find people you respect and will continue to learn from. I am fortunate that my career enables me to meet people constantly, which keeps me energized.
Q: What is a lesson that you have learned concerning what’s required for success in PE?
NB: I have learned, and am still learning, to trust my own judgment. Early in my career, it was easy to get caught up in the analysis or the model and lose sight of what would make a deal successful. Now, I know I am never going to hit my investment case exactly, so I focus on understanding the risks we are taking and the upside opportunity if things go well.
In my mind, leadership is the element that can make or break an investment, so trusting my judgment with regard to people is important as well. By building those relationships over weeks, months or even years, I feel like I am better positioned to develop mutual trust with those teams. I’ve been fortunate to find great people leading impressive companies, and that’s ultimately what makes PE such a rewarding career path for me.
To contact Nicole Byers, email [email protected].