The following series features interviews with Black dealmakers and trailblazers in the private equity and finance community. To help us spotlight professionals making a difference in their career pathways, please email Greg Kilpatrick at [email protected] and Gerald Thomas at [email protected].
Q: What attracted you to PE?
Rich Grant: My path to PE was an indirect route that started with financial advertising sales roles with The New York Times and SourceMedia (Arizent). As an Association for Corporate Growth media sponsor, I had the opportunity to learn about and interact with PE firms and the broader ecosystem and liked what I saw. I was drawn to a business model that prioritized relationship building and maintenance, deep understanding of industry trends and the importance of fit between investor and company management. My sales role required me to live in that ecosystem and speak to the trends of merger and acquisition (M&A) activity in the middle market from the perspectives of PE investors, investment bankers and other important players in an M&A transaction. My years in sales and sales management led me to conclude that this experience — particularly given I had always prioritized the longer-term relationship over the transaction of a single sale — was good preparation for a role in PE.
Since making the transition almost two years ago, I am convinced the PE business development focus provided the perfect career vehicle to showcase my talents and continue in my never-ending pursuit to learn more and create opportunities for success for myself and my colleagues.
Q: Why is it important for more Black professionals to pursue careers in PE?
RG: While an increasing number of Black students pursue degrees and opportunities in the finance world, we continue to be underrepresented at large in the PE world. It is important for Black professionals to pursue and obtain these roles because of the exponential influence it will provide on the wider finance career-interested student. With PE often regarded near the top of the financial ecosystem, more Black professionals will uncover roles throughout due to an increased presence closer to the top.
Lack of opportunities has led many Black professionals to seek entrepreneurial ventures when they feel a ceiling is hit. That same innate drive to keep climbing can be achieved through a career in PE, as successful PE professionals must be entrepreneurial in their approach to their work in all phases of their career: from providing insights as an associate through modeling, to leading the management presentations to earn the chance to buy a business seeking a financial partner or buyout.
Q: What do diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) mean to you, and why are they important?
RG: DEI is important to me as it builds intentionality into the efforts of organizations to do a better job of increasing representation where groups have been underrepresented. A commitment to DEI requires every facet of an organization and each of us individually as professionals to challenge the status quo and expand representation that will allow our organizations to evolve with talent that was overlooked in the past.
A focus on DEI execution will expand opportunities available to young professionals and senior professionals alike as we open doors for a wider range of professionals. I try to make this point wherever and whenever I can to a variety of audiences ranging from predominantly white groups of PE and finance professionals to finance students at historically Black colleges and universities.
Q: What is your approach to understanding the perspectives of colleagues from diverse backgrounds?
RG: My approach is to enter every conversation truly and authentically with an open mind to learning. By expanding the perspectives and people I am learning from, I find that I quickly amass a different understanding than I had before that exposure. I also find being very candid with my perspective as a Black PE professional has helped to disarm those who may be unwilling to open up on the same level as I am.
As a business development professional, I am in constant pursuit of intel that can help better prepare myself and my colleagues to create wins when presented with the right opportunities but understand this is a two-way street. I believe my openness about my own experience and to hearing and understanding the perspectives of others has made me more effective at building the network of relationships that are the lifeblood of my business.
Q: What is something few people know about you?
RG: I was very fortunate to have several PE and M&A professionals who played a mentor role in my life. These mentors encouraged me to evolve from my media role into a consulting capacity for Growth Operators that focused on financial transformations in PE-backed businesses. This moved me even closer to transactions and increased my exposure to the challenges and goals of PE firms when they identify a great investment. I worked directly with PE professionals on issues relating to their portfolio companies. I began to focus on moving to the buy side as I came to appreciate how relationship-driven the transaction process was on both sides of any deal.
When an opportunity to join Northlane Capital Partners was presented, my years of constant learning and relationship building, and my direct experience as a commissioned salesperson and sales manager made me a great fit for the newly created role of director of business development at the firm.
Q: Who is an example of someone who inspired you in PE and why?
RG: Two senior PE business development professionals, one a very well-known woman, come to mind. Going back to my time in media, they pulled me aside and told me they thought I could take my professional acumen and use it to succeed as business development leader for an opportunistic firm. Both professionals inspired me because they also recognized and sought to address the racial and gender disparities in the PE community and lent their voices to challenge their peers. By providing support and serving as role models for where I could succeed in the market, they helped inspire and change my aspirations to be an impactful business development professional, both in deal sourcing and driving the diversification of the PE workplace.
Q: How do you believe Black professionals will be able to influence the PE industry?
RG: I think an infusion of Black professionals into PE will give minority business owners more confidence. They will see non-white professionals involved in the transactions at hand as well as all phases of a PE firm’s success. As a result of adding diversity to a firm, business owners who have minority-owned and -led organizations can feel represented by their future partners, perhaps making them more likely to transact.
Lastly, more Black PE professionals increases awareness of PE as a career track. This will motivate more young, talented minds to set goals of moving into PE and the various roles that surround a transaction, from investment banker to certified public accountant to M&A attorney. It is common for white college students who enter PE to do so because they know people in the industry, such as relatives, friends and neighbors. It is less likely that Black college students have that pre-existing network. One of my personal goals is to help build that network so PE becomes a more widely known career path for Black graduates.
About Rich Grant
Rich Grant joined Northlane Capital Partners in 2021 as the director of business development. Prior to joining the team, he was a director at Growth Operators, a consulting firm focused on advisory, outsourced finance and human resources transformation of PE-backed organizations. He also worked in publishing at Arizent (formerly SourceMedia) and was in SaaS sales at Cision.
Grant currently serves as co-chair of the ACG Global DEI Initiative Committee and is a member of the board of governors for Colgate University Maroon Council as chair of the council’s alumni of color department.
Grant received a BA in sociology and anthropology with a minor in African American studies from Colgate University.