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].
Alyssa Daniel, a third-year associate with PNC Mezzanine Capital, joined the firm in 2021. In her current role, Daniel is primarily responsible for evaluating, analyzing and monitoring new and current investments. Prior to this, she served as a senior portfolio analyst with PNC’s Institutional Asset Management group, where she assisted in managing the assets for various pension, endowment and foundation clients. Daniel graduated in 2019 from Spelman College with a B.A. in economics.
Q: What was your journey into private equity, and what aspects of the role do you enjoy most?
Alyssa Daniel: My path to PE was quite unconventional. Unlike most candidates, who typically come from roles in investment banking and consulting, I was in asset management before joining the group. Fortunately, I stumbled across a mentor who took a vested interest in me, given our similar backgrounds. I wasn’t even looking to get into the industry, but after speaking with him about some of my longer-term goals, he encouraged me to consider a career in PE, which was still somewhat of a foreign concept to me at the time.
He was a godsend. Despite his busy schedule, he carved out several hours every Sunday to work with me for nearly eight months leading up to the interview process. We focused on all elements of the role, from financial modeling and deal analysis to investment thesis and everything in between. It was a grueling stretch. I think I slept less than six hours a night, but all the hard work paid off when I received my offer.
Going in, I knew there was a certain level of prestige typically associated with industries such as PE and investment banking, but now that I am on the “inside,” I see why. The hours are long, and the demands can be taxing, but those who weather through it come out on the other side a much different person. I don’t always love the process, but I love what it produces. Furthermore, I believe that those already familiar with the industry, in some ways, already know what I am capable of in terms of my work ethic. I expect that to do wonders for my career in the long term.
Q: What is a lesson that you have learned concerning what’s required for success in PE?
AD: Communication is key. It sounds so basic, but it is essential to success. Interestingly enough, this was an area where I always felt I naturally excelled. However, as my responsibilities have increased in this role, I’ve quickly come to realize that I still have room left to grow. Whether it’s communicating with deal team members, with management teams or with my fellow associates, I have learned that overcommunicating is usually the way to go. That can be anything from routine status updates on deliverables or letting my team know weeks in advance when I may need to be out of the office, so they have adequate time to prepare for my absence.
I have also become well-acquainted with the term “managing up,” which basically suggests that even as the most junior team member, the responsibility falls on me to keep the lines of communication open with my senior leaders. When working in a role like this, it’s normal to feel like you can manage every task with ease, but true maturity and growth is being able to say, “I am at capacity” or “I can do that, but it may take me a day longer than expected. Is that okay?” Generally, I have found that the more forthright and communicative I am, the more efficient we all can be.
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing women in PE today?
AD: It’s no secret that women are underrepresented across the industry. This is even more apparent at the senior leadership level. I believe one major contributor to this deficit is the lack of work-life balance that is inherent to the work that we do. While I believe most junior team members come in with the “head-down” mentality, I also believe this mentality tends to dwindle as you become more tenured. For women especially, I imagine this balance can become more complicated when external responsibilities are brought into the picture. For example, when I think about the possibility of one day becoming a wife and mother, the dilemma becomes clear.
I am sure many women have found ways to manage both, but I am always wondering at what cost? With a career as demanding as PE, is it possible to find success in both? And if so, what does that “success” look like in reality? I’m not sure I have a good answer, but I imagine something must be sacrificed in pursuit of higher achievement in this field, such as making partner one day. It’s not to say that this predicament is specific to PE or that men don’t face similar challenges, but I imagine this obstacle disproportionately affects women.
Q: Why is it important for more women to pursue careers in PE?
AD: In both my experience and observation, women are often encouraged to mitigate their emotions in the workplace as that can often be seen as a weakness. I would actually challenge that emotion can also be a strength. Whether it’s the way we interact with colleagues or the way we assess management teams, I believe many women are uniquely capable of bringing emotion and intuition to a traditionally transactional and logic-driven space. I think this will become more valuable as we continue seeing an increase in women-owned businesses in the marketplace and/or as investment these evolve to go beyond surface-level objectivity. You can never really underestimate the power of ethos when it comes to relatability, connection and compassion, all of which matter when you are trying to help business owners fully realize their potential.
Q: Who inspires you in PE and why?
AD: Ryan Richardson. He is the vice president on our team, and he definitely keeps me inspired. His passion is evident, his work ethic is unmatched, and he sets the bar high for everybody around him.
When we first started working together, I often found myself frustrated and overwhelmed. He was intense and accepted nothing less than my full attention and effort. While he never spared an opportunity to challenge me, he also never spared a learning moment, which is what I came to appreciate most about his approach. You don’t always get to work with people who care enough to walk you through their reasoning and logic, but the difference it has made in my own progression is immeasurable.
To date, we have done two platform deals and two add-on acquisitions together, and I wouldn’t trade a single late night or detailed analysis. I am certainly not the person I was when I started three years ago with PNC Mezzanine, and whether he realizes it or not, Ryan has had a major impact on my development. You can’t work with someone like that and not be motivated to become a better version of yourself. He never makes excuses, and he always goes the extra mile. He is a standard to strive for, and I am forever inspired by the person he is.
To contact Alyssa Daniel, email [email protected].