Private Equity Operating Companies and Women Executives: Did the game change and we missed it? by Paola Doebel

Automatic Summary

Private Equity: Redefining Success for Women in Leadership

Despite the wealth of experience and expertise many women have in the business and technology sectors, private equity still remains largely a men's world. In this blog post, Paula Doble, a senior vice president and managing director at InSoO, shares some insights and steps towards bridging the gender gap.

The Power of Redefining Success

Traditionally, success for women has been tied to securing an executive role in a public company. However, Paula believes this mindset is limiting. She advocates for a paradigm shift to redefine success on your own terms, focusing more on actual ownership and influence over the long-term strategic direction.

The opportunity in private equity-backed (PE-backed) companies is immense:

  • There are two times the number of PE-backed companies than there are public companies;
  • There is a trillion dollars of "dry powder" - unspent funds reserved for company investments;
  • These companies offer real equity ownership;
  • Domains for long-term strategic direction can be made at the board level, giving an impactful authority;

Overcoming Barriers to Entry

However, there aren't many women executives in PE-backed companies. Paula attributes this to two main barriers: market level barriers and self-imposed barriers.

Market level barriers largely stem from the fact that most PE-backed companies prefer to work with people within their network. Therefore, if women don’t have strong relationships within these circles, their chances of getting a top-level role in a PE-backed company are low.
Self-imposed barriers include the fear of ambiguity, risk, and uncertainty in these roles because women typically don’t prefer rapid work environments; These roles, unlike positions in large corporate entities, demand fast-paced results.

What’s Next?

Paula suggests a number of steps to create a gender balance in the PE industry:

  • More women should boldly step forward and actively seek these opportunities;
  • Women in existing PE roles need to open doors for other capable women;
  • Women professionals must be willing to realize their full potential and take calculated risks;
  • Learnability: Women need to keep learning about the big players in the PE industry like KKR, Berkshire, Carlyle, TPG, Blackstone, and Apollo.

All these steps Paul recommends, if implemented strategically, can break the current cycle and enable more women to take on leadership roles in the PE industry.


The world of PE-backed companies offers a wealth of opportunities for women leaders. However, its potential can only be fully harnessed when we shift our perspective to view success not just in terms of title and organ size, but also in terms of real equity ownership and authority. With a fearlessly determined mindset, women can break barriers, become part of networks, and channel their skills towards roles that carry great authority and ownership.

Video Transcription

My name is Paula Doble.I'm a senior vice president and managing director at in SOO, we're a private private equity backed company um uh under the KKR umbrella at this point prior to joining in SOO, I was a senior executive at a, at a large public technology company and I made the move. Um I made the move to the company about two years ago. So I want you to kind of take away or think about three things as I, as I go through this presentation, one of them is, you know, the opportunity that I'm gonna share with you and what it really means in terms of kind of defining success and maybe even where you see yourself two, I want to share a little bit about my own journey.

Um It wasn't just about moving companies, there was some sort of psychological things I had to overcome to move into this role. And then three is the experience that I've had uh trying to recruit uh other women like myself and I wanna share, I wanna share that with you as well. So let's get started. So let's talk about uh the opportunity. Um you know, the reality is and this was shocking when I saw the data at first, but there are two times the number of pe private equity backed companies than there are public companies at this point. And that's been a shifting trend uh in the US since 1996. In addition, there's a about a trillion dollars of what we call dry powder. So a trillion dollars of funds um that are not spent that need to be spent on the sidelines uh to invest in other companies. So what is that? You know, what does that really mean? Um I'm gonna take a minute to kind of talk about the opportunity. So the uh you understand the numbers and I, I want you to think about that as I talk through the rest of this presentation, but in order to really capture that opportunity, we really need to kind of redefine what success means individually.

And I'll talk to you about that on the, on the coming slides and then kind of capture being willing to accept the risk that comes with moving into these types of companies and really capturing that opportunity for ourselves and our families. So let's take a minute to talk about the definition of success because this was kind of the the psychological part of um of the of the way I started to think about this personally. And I want you to think about this as well. Um Traditionally success for women as executives has been around, you know, getting a public company, executive role if you think about executives as being really VP and above and, and what do I mean by that? Think about all the data that we see, uh and we have seen for decades, you know, the number of female executives in public companies is often quoted, the number of female CEO S in public companies, the number of females on in public company boards that, that's kind of what we've been inundated with, with the pa for the past couple of decades.

And so we've really sort of landed on, well, I need one of those roles um to be considered successful. Uh And, and that's kind of what we've been trained up to think. Uh And I wanna, I wanna take a different approach to that. I want you to think about this differently because I had to overcome that mindset to kind of move into this next part of the journey. So really, what is the opportunity you heard me talk about just the sheer size, just the sheer number of companies and the amount of money that's available in the private sector for pe backed operating companies. And I mean, we're all very uh senior and capable on this call.

You know, you understand what that means. That means there's just more opportunity for female leaders. But I wanna take a minute here to, to talk about how we have to think about capturing it and I'm gonna step into a little bit of my own journey here and my own mindset. Uh And maybe this will resonate with some of you. Um So I was recruited blindly and this, this part's kind of important. Uh And we'll talk about this later, but I was recruited blindly into in SOO, which means I didn't have a relationship with the board and I didn't have a relationship with the current executive team before I stepped into the company. Uh I came out of a very large public technology company. I was a senior executive, both in the US and out of the U SI had a big title. I had a big PNL and I had a big team and um I had mentors and sponsors within that company. So by the definitions that we've been and I was, I worked really, really hard to get there.

I, I spent a lot of years trying to get to that point and get to that level and I felt like, um you know, I had kind of climbed that hill and I was about to plant my flag and I knew there was more opportunity for me there. And then, uh and so came calling and what I really, and as I really started to explore moving into a private equity backed role, I realized that success didn't come by the same definition. And here's what I mean, private equity backed roles uh in private equity backed roles.

Success means a few different things. It means equity ownership. And I don't mean just shares issued by public company. You know, we're not institutional investors at a public company. I'm talking about real equity ownership and potentially your investment into the company. So you're really an owner of this company. It also means authority, uh an authority for the long term strategic direction of the and future of the company at the board level. So in a public company, um very few roles are you at the board level? And then more importantly, um you know, the concept of a public company is very long term strategy. I kind of call it the forever and every men strategy that's very different than pe and we'll talk about that in a minute. So if you really, when you really start to think about that transition from, I have a title and I have a PNL and I have a big team, you at a big public company, you probably don't have as much authority. You have some but not much. You're not in the real long term, you know, strategic planning, you're not probably at the board level. And even if you are, you're only there for a period of time because then the next executive team comes in. And um and so your authority is limited. And if you think about success being along the lines of actual ownership and real authority for the strategic direction of a company. Ok. That's kind of the emotional part I had to get over.

I had to say my title didn't matter as much, the size of my team didn't matter as much. My PNL didn't matter as much ownership and authority matter. That's success. And if you think about equity and financial ownership being very uh impactful for you and your family long term, um, then you, you, you kind of start to see the opportunity and that's sort of where I had to get to. So when I thought about it that way, moving into this company made a lot of sense. It, it, it was logical, but I had to really overcome what I had grown up thinking about was success to get to a place where what really mattered was ownership and authority, not necessarily title and PNL size. And that took a bit of time for me to kind of come to that conclusion. But then I realized when I got into um a pe backed company that uh there's not a lot of women, there are not a lot of women executives at pe back companies. And I realized there was an opportunity for me to share this story and really start to start the dialogue around. Why uh what, what is the reason? What have we missed something? There's been this significant trend and shift of dollars in this arena which opens up opportunities.

It's very risky or can be risky. Um but there's not a lot of women executives. And so I, you know, I felt compelled to explore the why and what could be done about it. So I'm gonna take a minute on this slide because you, I wanna go back to the comment I made earlier about uh being recruited blindly. So let me talk a little bit about pe um there's a beginning and an end which means uh when the company is acquired, that's the beginning. And there is a APNL structure, a financial structure that's developed and there is a time frame that they expect to put that company back into the market resell that company. It's generally about five years, give or take. So you have a beginning and an end with a financial target. Um Hopefully a growth target, ours is a growth target and we know generally give or take the timeline uh for return. So this is a sprint. This isn't a marathon back to kind of the forever and ever amen strategy of public companies where you're leaving a legacy in perpetuity, there's a beginning and an end.

So when you think about a CEO or a PE backed board building an executive team, you're, and you think about yourself, if you have, if you're sprinting to this goal, this target, you're going to call the people who, you know, and trust who you know, and trust to be able to execute to achieve that outcome.

And that's kind of where the story for women begins and ends. Uh because if you're not in the network, you're not going to get that call most likely. And, and I was lucky, I think I, as, the more I look into it, the more I see of how this environment operates. Um I, I was, I was probably a unique case and it's giving me an opportunity to open up other doors. So I wanna talk a little bit about uh kind of barriers to entry because as I stepped into this and I realized I, I might have been a little bit lucky. I had to shift the way I thought about success and accepted that it was a different definition, but that I might have never gotten that call again. So I, I look at barriers to entry in two ways and I'm gonna share some other experiences. One I call kind of market, the market uh barriers to entry. And I, I put that in the bucket of um women generally don't have the network. So they're probably not getting those calls when executive teams are built for private equity backed companies. Ok? Then the other barrier to entry, sort of breaking the cycle. That's the market level barrier to entry and breaking the cycles around pe operating companies being willing to make more blind phone calls to people like me and it's getting better. Uh Our company is getting better.

I'm seeing that culture get better, but it's not perfect. Then there's the self imposed barriers to entry. And I wanna share some stories with you because this is part of the reason why I feel so compelled to come on and talk about this. The self imposed barriers to entry are what we do to ourselves. So when I came into in soo, I thought, wow, there's not a lot of women. And wow, I know some really good ones. I know some exceptional female executives and I'm going to call them because I've got some senior roles and I want to open the door. I want to help break the cycle. I want to help think about this differently. And I ran into uh a lot of pushback and it came from a couple of places. One was risk, a little bit of fear of ambiguity and risk because it's a sprint, not a marathon. And um, you, you, you know, you've got to be confident in your ability to execute. The other was this value placed on org size title and P and L because man, we worked really hard to get to where we were at public companies. We worked really hard and it felt like a step back and I understood that, but what was happening is there wasn't real value placed on assignment to ownership and authority.

So not as much value on ownership and authority and a lot of value on title and, and PNL ownership and that redefining of success is really, really important as you think about that. And I, I'll, I've tried to recruit multiple women from public companies. I haven't been able to get one yet, which is unbelievably fascinating. All due to this same, same conversation, same psychological swirl of concern. And that redefining of success is kind of the only way to make it happen. A and me maybe being out there articulating what I see in the market. So what's next? You know, I think um I would love to see, you know, more women seeking these opportunities and I know we only have 20 minutes. You're welcome to reach out to me anytime. This is a pretty, there's a lot to talk about here, but more women seeking these opportunities and accepting them when someone comes knocking because you might only get a phone call once and, and, and if you're not willing to kind of step into it and take the chance, you might get passed over next time and then other women opening the door for other women is really important.

Um And this is part of why I'm here because I feel like I have a chance to reach out to other amazing female leaders who might not have gotten the phone call if I hadn't have made that call. And I think the cycle will remain unchanged. If, if folks, if women like me are not out looking for other fantastic leaders to step in and capture this opportunity and then I think just kind of, you know, how do you overcome it? We have to continue to raise the awareness for what that opportunity is, the size of the market and the amount of money because it does feel like there's this race for fewer and fewer executive roles in an arena while the money and the opportunity has shifted elsewhere. And I wanna be a part of kind of proliferating that message so that other women have an opportunity to step in and make a meaningful impact at these companies. And there will be a meaningful financial return for being a part of that. And I believe that's part of how we redefine success going forward. And then finally, I know we've got about five minutes left. Um I'd love to kind of hear your thoughts on what's standing in our way and why or what we can do about it to move more women into this arena.

And then obviously, I'll take any questions on um being in a pe back company because I do think there's a lot more to talk about here other than just kind of the opportunity and sort of overcoming those emotional barriers. There's other things to consider and other ways to potentially break in if, if you're interested in doing so. So I wanna leave about five minutes or so for questions.


Well, I'll start. So, so I had some questions of myself when I stepped into this function when I really moved into this arena and one of them was, you know, who are the big pe companies, right? Um If, if it's something you're interested in, uh obviously KKR uh Berkshire Carlisle. Oh, great, great, great question, Molly Berkshire Carlyle. Um Hold on, I've got a list in front of me here. Uh I wanna read off the list to make sure that it's all right. TPG Blackstone Apollo. Uh Those are, those are some of the big um pe companies globally. And if you're interested, I would recommend going on to their website and looking at their portfolio, you can see the companies that they own and invest in and go forward with um potentially reaching out for opportunities. So I kind of understand the landscape. Um you know, the remote work. Uh I don't know if remote work has shifted the, the move of public of dollars from public to private. But I think anytime there's turmoil in a market and COVID created turmoil in the market, you're going to see opportunities for different types of investments. So pe companies are gonna look for undervalued companies or companies that were not able to sustain during the, the pandemic.

So you're gonna see some of that, you'll see some consolidation in the market which is natural. Uh uh You would have seen this huge influx of companies going public via specs to raise capital and funds. So I think anytime there's turmoil in the market, you're gonna see movement in that um acquisition divestiture and uh kind of private dollars stepping in to help companies overcome any challenges that they landed on. And I, and you'll, you, there's a lot of conversation particularly.

Now there's a lot of interesting conversation about pe um good and bad in the market. And uh and, and that's why you're seeing it because there's so much action and activity around the turmoil created by COVID. The other thing was, um you know, I know there's been a lot of interesting conversation in general about pe backed companies. Um And I, I wanna share a story uh because I think it's so important and I'd actually recommend if you're interested in understanding kind of modern pe culture. Uh There's a company named CH I, which is a uh uh garage door company. They were just purchased by new core for about $3 billion and kind of modern pe recognizes that the money can't just be made by themselves. And the CEO and the board, right, the money has to be distributed amongst the employees. And um uh this uh ch I set aside over $300 million for employee benefits bonuses at the time of this acquisition. And the average uh the average employee, the average hourly employee took home 100 and $75,000 from the sale of the company. Our company does something similar. We have AAA large pool of equity for everyone. So everyone's an owner operator.

And uh that means at the time that we transition, this company, sell the company go public, whatever happens to it, all of us will participate in, in the benefits of being a part of that sprint to success. Um So the story about CH I is, is uh extremely compelling, unbelievably special and I definitely recommend you kind of looking into it to understand sort of modern uh pe culture. So we have one minute left. Um Any questions thoughts before we uh transition to the next conversation?

Yeah, thank you. Uh Please reach out to me on linkedin. Um uh Or I'll send my email. Um You can reach out to me anytime there's a lot to talk about here, even how you would go figure out what the right fit is cultural Fit experience that you want. Uh uh There's a lot to say there. So um please reach out anytime I'm happy to share some thoughts with you. Thank you.