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?
Omar Stevens: I’ve always been fascinated by the value-creation process in PE as a way to drive investor returns. I always liked having a thesis on a company, backing a very strong management team and thinking of ways to improve the operations of a company over a set period of time and
then seeing that value-creation plan come to fruition and achieve higher value, not just for myself as an investor but also for the management team. Watching that process unfold and doing it multiple times in my career is something I’ve really enjoyed and continue to enjoy today at Mizzen Capital.
Q: Who is an example of someone who inspired you in PE and why?
OS: This is kind of an unfair question because there are so many people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and who have inspired me. One person I would highlight is Philip Hammarskjold, executive chairman at Hellman & Friedman. The lesson I learned from him was a management team needs to pick you. He shared a story about a company he was tracking for several years. He met with the CEO to go hiking, attended dinners with him and called him regularly. He did that for a few years without any indication that this CEO was going go with Hellman & Friedman as their investor. Finally, the CEO made the decision to go with Hellman & Friedman. It turned out to be a successful deal for his firm.
That lesson about the importance of communicating with a management team and making them choose you has stuck with me. I work at Mizzen Capital, which is a private credit fund. We rarely get selected based on the rates we charge in our term sheets. Instead, it’s more about what the management team thinks about me as a person and our firm’s culture, that I’m able to express that we can be a good value-add partner for them. This lesson from Philip resonated with me, and I continue to think about it when speaking with new management teams.
Q: Why is it important for more Black professionals to pursue careers in PE?
OS: This is a great question. For me, I feel that representation matters. Right now, we’re underrepresented in the broader PE industry. The good news is I think the numbers are starting to improve. I’m no longer the only Black professional you see at conferences or board meetings. That’s good, but there is room for more improvement. I believe more diverse ideas bring out stronger investment returns at the end of the day.
I hope more people from the African American community consider PE as an industry. I think a career in PE can be great for several reasons. It’s very creative. You’re doing a lot of value-added work. You work alongside very intelligent people, from the investment team, the lawyers, accountants, management teams, and so on.
I also think PE allows you to give back to the community. Growing up as an African American, you typically receive the message that only lawyers or doctors materially contribute to society. In PE, the companies we invest in can have a tremendous impact through job creation and the services and products they provide their local community.
Q: What is your approach to understanding the perspectives of colleagues from different backgrounds?
OS: People come from different backgrounds — not just race or gender but also age. Sometimes people look at a company and have different viewpoints based on their everyday lives or the experiences they’ve had in their lives. That helps open your eyes in terms of what could be new opportunities or what could be areas you need to dig into a little further before you make an investment.
I’ve always welcomed and enjoyed being surrounded by a broad spectrum of people with different backgrounds. I think this ultimately sharpens you as an investor.
About Omar Stevens
Omar Stevens is a principal with Mizzen Capital. He joined Mizzen as a vice president in 2021. Stevens was previously an investment banking vice president at Teneo, where he focused on restructuring and M&A assignments. Prior to Teneo, Stevens worked at FTI Consulting in the corporate restructuring practice. He also worked for the CalPERS PE team, focusing on direct co-investments and primary partnerships.
Stevens earned an MBA from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a BS from Columbia University.