The CFOs who helped shape private equity: E-K

From Monitor Clipper Partners' April Evans to Sandra Kim-Suk of Engine No. 1

April Evans, Monitor Clipper PartnersApril Evans
Partner, CFO and CCO, Monitor Clipper Partners

Few people have been more devoted to building the broader CFO community and encouraging women in the industry than April Evans. She’s been a director at PECFOA, active with the Kauffman Fellows Program at the Center for Venture Education, served on the Advisory Committee to the Center for Women and Enterprise Venture Center and been prominent in The Women’s Association of Venture and Equity. That’s in addition to all the duties at her own firm. Currently she serves as a director at the Financial Executives Alliance.

No doubt her devotion to these causes is driven by her own experiences, where she felt it took her some time to learn how to stand up for herself. “I always had a great deal of autonomy – never needed to ask approvals to become involved in industry undertakings outside of my specific role within the firm, meet with peers, attend conferences, etc,” says Evans. “In the beginning, I took that to mean that I was an equal to the deal partners – which, as we all know, is generally not the case. And it wasn’t the case for me. I was naïve about that for the first few years of my time in PE.”

No one would call her naïve today. She’s seen the asset class expand by leaps and bounds, a global financial crisis and a pandemic over her decades of work. But to her mind, the biggest change under her watch has been a regulatory one. “The complexities of juggling international regulatory environments, US-based regulatory requirements, and the interactions between them, have resulted in tremendous expansion to the role of the CFO,” says Evans. “They’ve also added costs, service providers and complexity.”

Looking to the future, she hopes that CFOs will be recognized as just as valuable to the success of a firm as any dealmaker. “The more we mature as an industry, professionalizing our firms, the more I believe this will be true,” says Evans. “I am encouraged to see an increasing number of CFOs who are also named partners, general partners, and managing directors.” She herself is a partner at her firm.

And like so many successful female executives in the industry, she had someone who helped shaped how she saw herself and her career possibilities. “I always respected and admired Pam Hendrickson of The Riverside Company for her ability to work within Riverside and on behalf of the industry as a whole,” says Evans. Her fellow partner at Monitor Clipper, Travis Metz, also gets some credit for influencing her.

Stephen Hoey, Vertica Capital PartnersStephen Hoey
CFO, Vertica Capital Partners

This isn’t the first time that PEI Group has recognized Stephen Hoey’s accomplishments. Back in 2017, he won the Private Funds Management Leadership Award, and has long been seen as a leader among his peers. Hoey is now CFO at Vertica Capital Partners, a growth-focused PE firm investing in software enterprises, as well as serving as a senior adviser and investment committee member for Turnspire Capital Partners, a mid-market special situations investor focused on industrial manufacturing and consumer companies. But prior to that, he was CFO for KPS Capital Partners, helping to build the finance, operations and compliance functions as the firm grew from $600 million in AUM to $6 billion.

Looking back, Hoey wishes that he had a psychology degree to help manage the various personalities that populate the industry, from the dealmakers to the LPs. As it was, he had to learn those “soft” skills on the fly, as he came to understand that CFOs often provide the connective tissue for various elements of a firm, which can sometimes be underappreciated by the dealmakers in the “front” office. “Part of my job, of any CFO’s job, is to take the bullet in a tough situation,” says Hoey. “CFOs deliver the bad news as well as good news to senior investment professionals, LPs, and the like, and young finance professionals looking at stepping up to the CFO role need to appreciate that’s part of the job.”

His own good grace is evident in his career full of long tenures. Hoey credits so much of his own thinking about his role to his first job in the industry, working under partner and CFO Stephen Reynolds at General Atlantic Partners. “How he conducted himself, with a mix of smarts and personal skills that could diffuse any situation was amazing, and I still wish I could let things roll off my back the way he could.”

Beyond his work inside the firm, Hoey has been a frequent speaker and contributor to the New York CFO Forum and has helped audiences there find the best practices and counsel they need. He himself has gotten plenty out of the forum, such as a chance discussion with two ex-SEC employees who warned him that private equity would soon need to register with the agency. “Naturally, when I brought this up with my team at the time, they laughed at me, but lo and behold three years later, we had Dodd-Frank, and a new era began.” For now, Hoey is still paying attention for any signs of that next era.

Kristen Laguerre, MPM CapitalKristen Laguerre
Chief financial officer and chief operating officer, MPM Capital

Private equity CFOs at smaller firms are often left assuming all kinds of additional operational responsibilities, and Kristen Laguerre is a prime example of this Swiss army knife type of leader. She’s also been a vocal contributor to the broader CFO community and is a member of the steering committee of Women in Alternative Assets, which helps women network and problem solve in a still male-dominated industry.

Given MPM’s focus on early-stage investments in life sciences, Laguerre had to master the art of prioritizing in a start-up culture that prizes speed and “shoot from the hip” candor that can often leave people feeling like they never get ahead or dot every “i.” But Laguerre fell for that culture and relishes the challenge of being CFO, COO, head of HR and countless other tasks. “Nothing is well-planned, and nothing is well-staffed,” says Laguerre, and as a result, nothing is boring.

Laguerre prides herself on hiring the best fit for the culture, rather than the best resume. The rough and tumble path of the venture industry doesn’t suit everyone. Laguerre not only hires for the role in question, but also makes sure that a candidate can push the boundaries of their role and grow while at MPM. During the interview process, she encourages lots of questions to give candidates the fullest view of the culture and its demands.

One of her key mentors was during her public accounting days. He was a partner that led by example, never mincing words about mistakes, but also casting them as teaching opportunities. It must have worked, given what Laguerre has gone on to accomplish.

Jill Lampert, NGP Capital ManagementJill Lampert
Chief financial and administrative officer, NGP Capital Management

Jill Lampert has worked at NGP for 16 years, during which time she has navigated her role expansion from “head number cruncher” to member of the executive committee, a transition that is part of the redefined responsibilities of the financial officer in private equity. Lampert has been a frequent panelist at the New York CFO Forum, sharing her tales from the trenches to help other CFOs find the best route forward in an ever-changing landscape.

“The value of the financial officer has risen as the complexity and regulation of financial reporting has risen,” Lampert says. “Regulatory requirements demand a new emphasis on reporting not seen before. Nobody wants their firm to be the subject of an SEC investigation. Therefore, it is incumbent on today’s firm to run their business with the highest integrity in operations and in reporting on those operations.”

Lampert witnessed a mostly unregulated private equity industry face tighter regulatory regimes as investor dollars ballooned. Moving from sending ‘blind capital calls’ to reporting the details of portfolio investments has required massive investment in processes and infrastructure to report mountains of operational data.

Team building has remained key to addressing new requirements. NGP balances building their internal team while leveraging the counsel of experts outside the company. Lampert expects the CFO to stay at the center of every firms’ activities. “We help communicate with LPs, we help advise portfolio companies, and we clearly address the administrative needs of the firm,” says Lampert.

“My father was always my mentor,” says Lampert. “I watched as his job responsibilities changed when he became CFO of a public company. Regardless of his position or responsibilities, he always acted with respect and humility – characteristics I have always modeled.”

Robert Lewin, KKRRobert Lewin
Partner and CFO, KKR

As one of the most storied and successful firms in the history of the industry, KKR was bound to warrant attention here. But its current CFO, like Michael Chae of Blackstone, made the list because of what they say about the role today and where it’s headed. Robert Lewin was recently appointed CFO after a long and varied career at the firm.

Back in 2006, Lewin was helping launch KKR’s Asia business from Hong Kong, and has co-led the firm’s credit and capital markets business. He was also treasurer, head of corporate development, and head of human capital and strategic talent. With a track record that involves global reach and multiple disciplines, it signifies that CFOs are becoming operational chiefs of their own, requiring so much more than a background in public accounting.

Lewin himself discourages young professionals from getting tunnel vision in pursuit of a title. “They should absolutely follow their curiosity and passions wherever they lead, instead of seeing their career as a series of calculated steps,” says Lewin, who, given his experience at KKR, has followed his own advice.

This advice may also be rooted in the volatility of the industry. Lewin notes two huge changes that he saw firsthand – KKR going public and their balance sheet strategy – that seemed unlikely when he first joined. Every decade gives private equity a new wrinkle, and each time, the industry finds a way to iron it out.

Sandra Kim-Suk, Engine No. 1Sandra Kim-Suk
CFO, Engine No. 1

Sandra Kim-Suk has long been an active contributor to the broader CFO community and served as CFO for a wide range of firms. She began her career with Citi, eventually landing the role of COO/CFO at Citi Infrastructure Investors before moving on to be CFO of L Catterton and Norwest Equity Partners. Currently she is CFO at Engine No. 1, an investment firm that identifies value creation opportunities in systems changes, driving long-term performance.

The most important lesson she learned over the years was that as a CFO, returns matter. While that may seem obvious, it’s less about keeping the firm’s financial performance top of mind, and more about how she frames her duties as CFO.

“So much of what we do is important, from performance calculations to investor reporting, but without sufficient returns, we can’t do any of that,” says Kim-Suk. Keeping that perspective has served her well at a time when the CFO role has grown in visibility and complexity.

“The biggest change I’ve seen is the shift from a controller-style CFO to a strategic CFO who’s managing teams and assessing issues,” says Kim-Suk.

A change like that might tempt other CFOs to forget that even their more substantial contributions are still grounded in the firm’s IRR. Her background in investment banking helped her grow into this new kind of CFO, giving her a view of capital management and allocation.

Kim-Suk doesn’t expect that shift to reverse itself in the coming decades and appreciates the expansive role she gets to play today. “In the years ahead, CFOs will be only more involved in fundraising and steering the direction of their firm,” she says.

She’s also grateful to be part of a broader private funds CFO community. Like many on the list, Kim-Suk felt isolated when she first took on the role because a formal peer group hadn’t yet taken shape. But events like the New York CFO Forum helped bridge the gap and introduce her to people facing the exact same challenges and dilemmas.