What does the next generation of private funds talent think the future holds for the industry?

We asked Private Funds CFO’s New Faces of Finance to share their thoughts on DE&I, technology, and more.

What is the single most pressing concern for the next generation of in-house fund leaders, in your opinion?                

Maryna Higgins: The volume of information required to be tracked, analyzed and reported on. It seems to be growing every year, yet figuring out the proper tools and processes around collecting and maintaining the information takes time. I am very curious to see if and how the evolution of AI tools will help tackle this problem.

Greg Hardiman
Investment director, 17Capital

Bryan Cole
Chief operating officer and chief financial officer,
Owl Rock Capital

Maryna Higgins
Director of finance, Quona Capital

Bryan Cole: It’s difficult to pinpoint one concern that outshines another. More broadly speaking, I’d say the changing landscape of society and its impact on corporate culture is paramount. The everchanging news cycle requires companies to build a corporate culture that is resilient while being adaptable to change. It will be on the next generation of leaders to continue to find the balance between addressing every trending topic in the news or social media and ensuring the fundamental pillars of the companies culture stand to adapt over the test of time.

Greg Hardiman: The private equity managers we partner with are keenly focused on ensuring they have sufficient dry powder at their funds to opportunistically invest through the current cycle. Managers are seeing compelling add-ons for existing portfolio companies and are increasingly utilizing NAV 

financing as a source of non-dilutive funding, often as a substitute for additional debt directly at underlying assets. We see this trend accelerating as hold periods are extended in the current environment, driving managers to consider a full range of alternatives for funding growth initiatives and ultimately maximizing value creation for their fund investors.

How do you see attitudes toward diversity, equity and inclusion in in-house teams changing as you progress in your career?

MH: DE&I is a hot topic, but it will take some time to change minds and remove biases, create policies and opportunities that can create a full-scale inclusion. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I am optimistic about the progress being made.

BC: DE&I is a fundamental pillar to the success of any organization and championing its tenets foster a corporate culture of growth, respect and unity. I foresee the landscape and impact of DE&I to become woven into the fabric of all corporate cultures allowing companies to appreciate the differences each employee has to offer are what make the company so unique and successful. It is of paramount importance for companies to foster and preserve a culture of DE&I, which will create an inclusive, merit-based environment that is supportive of people from all backgrounds.

Is there a specific piece of technology that, if developed, you think would address a pressing need for your business and/or the wider industry?      

MH: As I mentioned, the amount of information we have to process daily is ever increasing. Yet we need to be able to process it to make decisions and develop strategies. Streamlining access to information is crucial. I hear of many leaders in the finance function struggling to aggregate different sources of information, spending hours of their valuable time. There are individual solutions for specific needs, yet those solutions do not “talk” to each other. There is a great need for a tool that would bring together all kinds of data – financial, operational, etc – for the CFOs and other decision makers to have at their fingertips. I’ve seen significant progress over the past few years on that front. There is no perfect solution yet. I am keeping an eye out for one.

BC: I wouldn’t say there’s one piece of technology that would address a pressing need for our business but rather the continued investment by asset managers in technology that allows employees to focus their time on analyzing information and mitigating risk. Technology continues to provide an opportunity for differentiation. Developing an infrastructure that is scalable, while using both technology and skilled professionals, will allow an organization to continue to address the challenges faced in today’s environment and best serve our stakeholders.

What (business) issues keep you awake at night?

MH: We are in a “people” business, so retention and team engagement is something I spend a lot of my time thinking about. I’ve been so fortunate to work alongside so many young, passionate, smart, driven professionals dedicated to making an impact in their communities, countries and around the world. They are quick to pivot and adjust to the current needs of business, yet many businesses are slow to respond to the needs of their team members. For Quona, the bar is so much higher as we are a truly global organization. It makes us unique and opens up a world of opportunities, but it also brings challenges. Navigating those challenges is not easy, but I am enjoying my learning journey and being part of a thriving global firm.

BC: The risk of complacency. With growth and success comes a natural tendency to relish in those accomplishments. I’m the first person to take the team out to celebrate a big accomplishment. However, I think it’s critical to continuously challenge normal convention. The dynamic of being satisfied with the current processes and procedures and the ability to evolve with today’s environment is something that will always be front of mind for me.

How do you expect conversations among in-house professionals at private funds about environmental, social and corporate governance issues to change over the next year or so?

MH: I expect to have more of those conversations, for sure. There are a lot of external forces driving these conversations now – and it often seems like they lead to a final product that is designed to “check the box” rather than making true change. I want to have more purpose-driven conversations where private funds can serve as intermediaries between policymakers and businesses on the ground, helping us move away from a “one-size-fits-all” approach to a more nuanced application of current recommendations and regulations. I believe that is what will help drive the desired positive change.

BC: Incorporating a lens for managing ESG risks is important across all businesses and each company will be challenged to ensure it meets certain standards effectively to deliver attractive risk-adjusted returns. The continued conversations around ESG risk management will allow all parties involved to appreciate its changing landscape and apply this understanding in their day-to-day decision-making and actions.