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].
About Amanda Kim
Amanda Kim is a vice president at Avante Capital Partners. Avante is a women- and minority-owned private credit firm and, as part of the Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) program, is proud to create opportunities for small businesses. Based in Los Angeles, Kim is responsible for identifying, underwriting, executing and managing investment opportunities. She joined Avante in 2016.
Prior to Avante, Kim worked at Goldman Sachs in its alternative investment and manager selection group where she was responsible for evaluating external managers, with a focus on environmental, social, and governance and impact investments. Kim is passionate about mentoring women in finance and launched Avante’s Small Business Investing Scholars Program in 2019. Additionally, she serves on the board of the nonprofit Community Health Councils, which seeks to create systems change and collectively build equitable systems.
Kim graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Bowdoin College. She lives in Los Angeles and enjoys singing, church, new mom life, and supporting her husband’s businesses at KOBUNGA Korean Grill and 3VERY Cashmere.
Q: What both attracted you to PE but potentially concerned you about this chosen career path?
Amanda Kim: One of the things I love about the industry is helping people fund their dreams and helping private companies grow. They are the backbone of the country.
What is unique about Avante is that we’re an SBIC. We receive some of our funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration. In the United States, women own about 50 percent of small businesses, but only about 5 percent receive venture capital-like funding. The statistics of women in senior leadership positions are similar to that small percentage. The explanation is pretty clear: People like to invest in people like themselves. If we don’t have women and people of color in investing roles, it’s hard to get capital funding for those businesses.
My husband is an entrepreneur. I’ve seen him go through the whole investing cycle. Getting to be in that seat where we use our background in finance or accounting operations to connect people who need money with people who have it is rewarding. For anyone who is interested in that concept, is interested in money and business and wants to help facilitate those interactions, PE is a great career path.
On the concerning side: This is a tough industry. It can be very technical if you’re on the investment side. You’re likely looking at long work hours. It can be “old school” in terms of how people view work-life balance, flexibility and what a team looks like. Some people used to go into finance for the money. The industry should really be something you are excited about and have the grit to work your way through.
Another hurdle in the industry is exposure. I started my career in asset management and got hired through Goldman Sachs’ Diversity & Women Conference. I didn’t really know what Goldman Sachs or finance was, let alone PE. I think it’s very valuable to have those different touch points of women to help you through that initial funnel. Having women in a position to reach down and help educate and fill that pipeline, such as by partnering with universities or investment banks, is critical.
At Avante, we started including local high school women in a lunch-and-learn series we have with our undergraduate interns. Giving exposure to women across all ages and backgrounds, early in the pipeline, will help continue to build the path for women in this industry. And then once you’re in it, make sure you have mentors and women above you who are continuing to help other women on that path.
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing women entrepreneurs today? What advice would you provide to overcome it?
AK: It can be lonely to be an entrepreneur, which is why it’s so important to find a community. I have a friend who is starting an events business. It would be easy for this friend to think she shouldn’t interact with her competitors, but I think it’s much more in your favor to get plugged in. In Los Angeles, we have the Association for Corporate Growth on the finance side, which is essentially a middle market mergers and acquisitions network. Some of my more creative friends are part of an organization called Yellow Co here. I think finding other women and men who have gone before you and can help you avoid some of the pitfalls is important for entrepreneurs.
A lot of women, including entrepreneurs, also struggle with “imposter syndrome.” I know I do. I’ve been with Avante for five years, I’ve been promoted twice and yet I still sometimes question whether I know what I’m doing. I sometimes fear that someone will lift the curtains and tell me I’m not competent to be in this role and job.
We need to be battling this mindset every day. If there is something you feel you are not up to speed on, get educated on it. Get your MBA, take a night class, do something online, work with your mentor to bulk up in that area.
Also, something a lot of women struggle with is that when they look at a job description, if they don’t check 100 percent of the boxes they may think they can’t apply for the job. My husband told me if he checked even just 20 percent of the boxes, he’d think the job could be a good fit.
I didn’t come from the traditional investment banking background. I didn’t have as much of the accounting technical know-how. That’s the first thing I was thinking when I walked into the Avante interview, but my husband suggested I walk in and tell them all of the qualities that I do bring to the table: my liberal arts background, my summa cum laude math major, that I’m a good writer and researcher. I have experience with large corporations where I’ve done investor relations, business development and different roles that are critical for the PE environment.
There are a lot of different roles that exist in PE. Leaning into your strengths, thinking about what you can bring to the table while still making sure you’re meeting the baseline on some of your weaker areas can really help in the investment industry. I think this is a lesson for entrepreneurs as well.
For a career, my grandfather always told me to look for the intersection of things that excite me, things that I’m good at and what the world needs. I thought that was good advice.
Q: Why is it important for more women to pursue careers in PE?
AK: I love that the industry is multifaceted. When I was looking for careers, I felt out of place. I like numbers. I was a government minor, so I also love knowing what’s going on in the world. I thought I might be a pastor, as I have a heart for people and wanted to help change lives. Does that mean I’m a misfit and can’t apply for a job because I’m not like my friend who is pre-med and has known since age 5 that all they ever wanted to do was be a doctor?
Our job has so many different parts. If you are passionate about helping to grow businesses and have a desire to learn more, this might be a perfect fit. I always say we get paid to learn. This morning, I was learning about tuning parts for cars. I am not a car enthusiast. Yesterday, I was on a call learning about induction heating equipment for the hospitality industry. It is so fulfilling to get to learn about all of these different things and get paid to do it.
I’ve seen PE make a lot of progress even during the five years I’ve been at Avante. Avante is a women-owned firm, and I believe we’re the largest women-owned credit fund in the country. After the tragic events in summer 2020, suddenly people were calling us to understand how to bring more women and people of color to the workplace. It was a diversity and inclusion reckoning. It was exciting to see some progress in the industry and progress on Capitol Hill.
Per Avante’s founder and managing partner — Jeri Harman and Ivelisse Rodriguez Simon, who have been around longer than I — the industry had come a long, long way before I became a part of it. I appreciate and understand that. I would encourage people to understand that we are not at parity yet when it comes to women in PE, particularly in investment roles. There will be barriers. There will be uncomfortable times. I would encourage people to keep fighting the good fight. Just because you run into uncomfortable situations or awkward conversations doesn’t mean you need to stop. Keep working through those situations. Reach out to your women colleagues and others in the industry to understand how they handled similar situations.
Be persistent. A lot of women with non-traditional backgrounds reach out and ask how they can get into this industry. I tell them it’s not easy. Getting into investment banking is hard and then getting into PE is harder, so you’re already behind the ball there.
But if you want to do it, if you’re persistent and keep reaching out to me and have a thoughtful email about why you want to connect, why you think you’d be a good fit for the firm and what you’ve done to try to get up to speed, I’ll probably reply to your email. I think the same can be said for other women in the industry.
Finally, I’d tell people not to give up and recognize that there’s still a fight to be had. It won’t be smooth sailing. If you’re not willing to fight that fight, then this may not be the right industry for you.
Q: In an industry where women leaders are still a rarity, what do you see as the value of multiple women working together at the same PE firm?
AK: It is so valuable to have a network effect at an organization, with women at all levels. And if you want to build a team like that, as Ivelisse says, you must be intentional about it. If you want a woman on the team, commit to doing what is necessary to find that person.
Diversity is so important to Avante, for happiness, culture reasons and understanding different perspectives. I can enter my female colleagues’ offices and talk with them about some things that I can’t necessarily always discuss with my male colleagues.
We also believe diversity is critical to having a good investment firm. If you are a consumer investor and 80 percent of consumer products are bought by women, then maybe it would be beneficial to have a woman on your team who can speak to that. It’s not just about how you look or who you relate to, but it’s about having that diversity of thought, background and ability to challenge each other that I think ultimately makes us better investors.
To contact Amanda Kim, email [email protected].