Laura Berguig: life as a female investment professional
Laura is an Associate Director and joined PDM from Citi's Leveraged Finance team in 2017.
There is currently a lot of focus on diversity in financial services – in particular around female talent. We caught up with Laura Berguig of Permira Debt Managers (PDM), in February 2019, to discover what it’s like to be a female investment professional and the benefits of having a diverse team.
PDM are known in the industry for having a large number of female investment professionals, at all levels. David Hirschmann, Partner and Head of Private Credit at PDM, commented “We always focus on hiring the very best people and are proud of the diverse team we have here.”
PDM is Permira’s independent debt management and advisory business, owned jointly by its Partners and Permira. It is one of Europe’s leading specialist debt investors, advising investment funds and products which have provided c.€6.5bn of debt capital to over 125 European businesses.
Laura Berguig joined David’s team after almost three years in the Leveraged Finance Team at Citi in London.
JW: Firstly – please can you tell us a little about what your team does and your role within it.
LB: Sure. We provide senior term loans to companies who typically have an EBITDA in the range of €10-50m. Most of these are sponsor-backed but we also work with corporates. As we can provide the whole facility – we aim to be faster and more flexible than the syndicated market – both upfront and on an ongoing basis. We work across sectors and geographies – and I tend to cover France.
My role is very broad and it’s one of the things I love most about it. We typically work in small deal teams of two people and I am involved with the transaction from start to finish. This involves working closely with one of the Investment Directors - reviewing the market materials, meeting management teams and sponsors, undertaking expert calls, reviewing due diligence, conducting financial modelling, negotiating legal documentation and preparing materials for presentation for the Investment Committee.
The other key part of the role I really enjoy is the ongoing monitoring of performance of the investments, which is something we take very seriously. Keeping in regular contact with management teams and understanding the business is fascinating. I’ve just come back from a lunch with the former CEO, CFO and sponsor of one of our portfolio companies – I can’t think of any other industries where you’d get that level of exposure at my level of experience.
JW: How does it compare to banking?
LB: My time at Citi was a very useful training ground and I met lots of great people. I think time at an investment Bank is an important step for someone building a career in this market. On top of the technical skills – there are a lot of softer skills that you learn – for example attention to detail, responding to emails quickly and general professional standards.
There are a number of differences and developing the mindset of a long-term investor is key. The smaller size of the team also means far greater exposure - I really enjoy that I now see all aspects of the deal (financial, commercial and legal) whereas in banking I saw a much narrower part of the deal and there were far more people involved.
Coming from a large bank - something that surprised me at first is that I am also involved in presenting to the Investment Committee. Of course most of the people in the room have far more experience than me – but people are genuinely interested in my views. The rule at PDM is “If you’ve got something smart to say – people want to hear it”.
JW: I realise that this will make you blush – but with your background, skills and languages I remember you were in demand when you started to look to make a move. What made you choose PDM and this team in particular?
LB: Having worked in Lev Fin I knew I wanted to work in credit. Private Credit was the perfect balance for me - between volume of deals and depth of analysis and process duration. I also wanted something where building relationships and networks was key to my longer term career development.
Obviously the Permira brand and platform was very relevant but the strategy and strength and friendliness of the team were the most important factors.
JW: There is a lot of focus on the role of women in financial services at the moment. You are fortunate at PDM to work in a diverse environment and have senior female role models. What advantages are there to working in a diverse environment?
LB: I’ve never felt at a disadvantage in the industry as a result of being a woman – although people do make assumptions and I’ve had a senior banker assume I was a PA before. However, I do feel there are commonly differences between men and women in their approach and attitude to work that need to be recognised.
Permira is very supportive of their female employees and turn it into an advantage. Each year the firm runs an event for the females across the business. It’s a great opportunity to network internally but also meet inspirational speakers. For example, we recently had a keynote speech from the former CEO of Chanel, Maureen Chiquet. Additionally, one of the PDM Investment Directors runs a market wide event for women in Private Equity and Credit funds. It’s a great opportunity to get together with other professionals, share ideas, provide support and raise our profile with like-minded people.
JW: I also know investors like to see a diverse team. What do you think are the advantages for them?
LB: Diversity is certainly an issue that is front of mind for investors and it is well known that diverse teams drive better decision making. If I had to generalise, I think women often have different experiences and interests and hence can bring a different perspective to the investment process.
JW: What advice would you give to women considering a career in financial services.
LB: Finding the right employer and team is the most important piece of advice – whether you’re male or female. Also, don’t see being a woman as a disadvantage – don't think you have to emulate what are typically deemed as male traits to succeed. Sometimes seeming like the friendly face can be an advantage in what can be perceived a competitive industry.
Finally, don’t be afraid to champion yourself. There seems to be a particularly fine line for women between seen as confident and aggressive.
JW: That’s great Laura – we really appreciate your time.