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].
Kelly Lineberger is a partner at Ridgemont Equity Partners, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based private equity firm. She focuses on origination and capital markets, including sourcing new investment opportunities for the firm’s funds and portfolio companies and the group’s relationships with its intermediaries, financing sources and other transaction partners.
Prior to joining Ridgemont’s predecessor firm in 2010, Lineberger was an associate at Sterling Capital Management, a Charlotte-based investment management firm. She holds a double BA in economics and sociology from Davidson College, where she was a member of the field hockey team and Davidson Scholars Program.
Q: What excites you about the PE industry? What has been unique about your experience?
Kelly Lineberger: I love that our business is very dynamic, and a relatively small group of people has the potential to create so much impact at the individual business and broader market levels. There are many fascinating stories to be told from the private equity business. It continues to be an industry filled with opportunity and ingenuity. Although I have always focused on investment origination and relationship management, there have been various other secondary needs to address for our partnership and within the portfolio, so I have worn many hats over my tenure with Ridgemont and tried to add value across the investment life cycle.
I joined our predecessor firm in early 2010 and was part of the original Ridgemont team that spun out and raised our inaugural fund. That whole process, as well as some of the projects I work on today related to sourcing and developing our network, are very entrepreneurial in nature and require a lot of accountability and resourcefulness. I have learned a lot — on the fly — through my role on the front lines and have had the privilege of a front-row seat witnessing how capital gets raised and deployed, and the substantial ripple effect of individual action.
It has been rewarding to be part of a PE partnership that has the innate ability to move the needle in short order through executing growth initiatives — driving job creation, acquiring market competitors and starting new chapters of historically family-run businesses, to name a few. Even over the past 12-plus years I’ve been in this seat, many things have evolved in our industry as capital has been pumped into the asset class and more and more privately held companies have taken on institutional investors and accelerated growth initiatives that would not otherwise be within reach. Since our spinout from our predecessor firm, we’ve raised approximately $7 billion of equity capital and nearly tripled the size of our team to build a scalable platform with significant staying power.
Q: Why is it important for more women to pursue careers as PE investors and entrepreneurs?
KL: Just over the past few years, I’ve noticed more women getting involved in the PE business, from the associate level through partners and across different areas of expertise. Within Ridgemont, we now have four female members of the senior leadership team, three of whom — including me — have been hired or promoted over the past two years or so.
It’s widely acknowledged that having different perspectives around decision-making processes is a net positive. In many cases, having women at the table to represent another perspective can help improve outcomes and shed light on overlooked opportunity and risk. Outside the workforce, women are powerful consumers/wealth managers and often centers of family and community life, which has enabled many women I know to have exceptional communication and interpersonal development skills and great intuition around what a broader group of participants might desire. It’s table stakes at some point that a successful investor or entrepreneur must be smart and ambitious. Therefore, these additional instincts can be differentiating.
Understanding what makes people “tick” is an important quality for investors and entrepreneurs. Pair that multidisciplinary, emotional intelligence with consistent market support — such as access to resources, capital and senior-level sponsorship — and female business leaders are uniquely positioned to be exceptional change agents. More women influencing investment decision-making and business-building initiatives is valuable to the respective stakeholders and critical to perpetuating this opportunity for other women.
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing women in the PE industry today? What advice would you provide to overcome it?
KL: I think it’s difficult for any professional to pursue a career path they haven’t seen many other people like them chart before. A pragmatic side kicks in that can front-run aspirations and suggest that it must not be feasible — too much standing in the way and the fear of the unknown outweigh other variables. The lack of senior-level women in PE is discouraging for younger women starting their careers in this field or an adjacent field. I hope this dynamic changes over time as more women stay in the industry and the flywheel effect of mentorship takes hold. As I previously mentioned, about half of the last additions/promotions to the senior leadership team at Ridgemont have been female professionals, which I hope will have an exponential effect on our ability to set an example for others — internally and externally.
While there are still few women in investment execution roles, there has been a rise of women in senior positions in other key areas of the business, both within PE firms and as allocators of institutional capital to PE funds. The entire PE life cycle and skill set are multifaceted, especially in a crowded industry. Opening the aperture for diverse talents/focus areas, and placing significant responsibility and value on these roles, creates more employment opportunities for women and more future role models for up-and-coming female professionals across functions.
Additionally, the heightened focus on firm culture and employee retention is encouraging for increasing the presence of women in PE. If a long-term career in PE is interesting to certain women today, with luck, some of the benefits of a more adaptable workplace will help us all recruit and develop talented female professionals who previously have been underrepresented. I believe more women will find their way into PE over the next decade through a variety of different paths and will be a really bright spot for the industry.
To contact Kelly Lineberger, email [email protected].