A series of defining moments have been stepping stones in Pacific Equity Partners director Terry Miu Neeland’s career development. She spent five years in investment banking at Morgan Stanley, before moving into private equity to develop her experience outside deal making.
“Private equity was the logical next step because it allows me to partner with management teams to grow their businesses and help them realise their strategic goals, which is both rewarding and extremely challenging.”
Terry studied science at university, with a focus on financial mathematics and computer science, which developed her ability to problem solve in real time.
A critical juncture was a CEO of one of PEP’s portfolio businesses acknowledging her ideas and contributions. “It cemented my belief I can help a business achieve its potential. It was a turning point because prior to that I was very analytical and I thought that was my only strength. This gave me the confidence I have more to give and that was very rewarding.”
Her first exit was another defining moment. “Any journey with a portfolio company takes a lot of patience. Turning all that hard work over many years into a positive outcome for our investors and also for the management team was very satisfying.”
Mentors have been vital to Terry’s career development.
“Different mentors have helped me over the course of my career. In the early stages, it was all about building confidence in my capabilities and finding my voice in the boardroom. My mentors gave me assurance around my capabilities and suggestions for courses to take to improve my presence because at the start of my career I found it hard to speak up.”
She says her mentors within PEP lead by example. “They have taught me people management skills and the way they managed and helped me was a very important lesson for me because as I became more senior, I used those skills to help other people develop.”
Terry has recently started her own family, an important milestone in her career. “A lot of things changed and I relied on my internal and external mentors for advice about how to manage the challenges of being a working mother. It’s all about making sure I’m kicking goals at home and work. A lot of people at PEP were more than happy to help me work through that and share their experiences.”
She says there is an important level of camaraderie among senior women in the private capital field. “They freely give their time to help others and guide them through situations they've been through before. There are not a lot of women at managing director level in the industry, but they are extremely generous with their time. Many see it as their responsibility to help up-and-coming talent with advice. So, mentoring has been extremely important in supporting my career.”
This is essential in creating a healthy team environment where everyone can challenge each other to improve the level of critical thinking.
“Without diversity of thought, I don't think you can really be successful in doing business in this industry. Especially today, business has changed and it's not a monocultural society or industry. You've got to go into other markets and understand lots of different points of view.
“Sometimes people think about diversity as a metric we must hit, it can be seen as separate to decision making or the central part of operating a business. The danger in this approach is diversity becomes a sideshow. But without it, you're not helping businesses achieve their full potential. It's a necessity, not a nice to have.”
Terry says private capital can improve its diversity performance by applying the lessons of other professional services such as law and accounting to the sector.
“We’re a younger industry and we can learn from them about more inclusive policies and operating principles to improve diversity. We need to continue to find ways to reach out to young professionals considering a career in private capital and tell them about the opportunities this industry presents. Beyond networking events and working with recruiters, we need to consider outreach programs at university level as private capital is not as well-known as other sectors. Itt may not be top of mind when people enter the job market, which means we're recruiting from a smaller talent pool than other industries, which amplifies the diversity problem. Improving outreach is important for us to increase diversity.”
PEP employs a range of initiatives to support diversity across the business. For instance, it uses unconscious bias principles in its recruitment practices and it has started providing unconscious bias training. “This is incredibly important in removing the barriers to achieving a more diverse workforce.”
Hiring policies also support diversity. “We ask head hunters to put aside their biases because they may assume they know the typical personality to bring into private capital. That reduces the number of CVs we receive. We ask recruitment firms to send us CVs with an equal split of males and females. We also offer bonuses and incentives to provide us with a more diverse range of CVs, to assist us in hiring people from diverse backgrounds. Now, people coming into the firm come from both genders and also a number of ethnicities, which are able to bring a variety of viewpoints into the firm.”
When it comes to setting targets, she says it’s important to be reasonable. “It may be tempting for an industry leader to set an unrealistic goal, which is unhelpful because it will only lead to attrition later on because the risk is you hire people who are not necessarily correct for the role. It's important for leaders to set realistic diversity goals and take responsibility for ensuring those goals are hit. It's one thing to say you care about diversity and another to sit down and work through a realistic way to achieve more it. Leaders need to listen to the people working for them when setting goals and targets around how to manage diversity.”
Terry says mentoring is so important when it comes to supporting the next generation of thought leaders, nurturing their development and helping them move up in a system that is going to generate diversity. “If we nurture more junior staff, in 10 years’ time as they become senior, we are going to have a very different landscape.”