Meghan Otis has always been a leader and naturally gravitated toward other strong women business leaders throughout her career. We asked her for some insight into what it’s like to be a successful woman leader in the private equity space and what advice she has for those just starting out.
Q: Tell us a bit about Lightspring Capital Partners and your role there?
A: Lightspring Capital is a women-led SBIC-licensed investment firm. We are focused on control equity and mezzanine investments in small founder-led businesses. Three partners launched Lightspring after decades of experience in lower middle market equity and mezzanine investing. Each of the partners sources, leads, and executes deals.
Q: March is Women’s History month; any stories you can share with us about being a woman in a leadership role? Any mentors that helped you get to where you are today?
A: I started my career before business school at a real estate firm called LaSalle Partners (now Jones Lang LaSalle). It was an incredible firm with talented people, and I was fortunate to have such a positive experience right out of school. There, I had a number of influential mentors, including several senior women with whom I remain connected. I left LaSalle to attend Harvard Business School. During my time there, I formed deep relationships with many people, particularly the women from my first-year section. We keep in close touch and in fact, try to meet every year for a women’s reunion at a section-mate’s house. We have each pursued different business paths, but we provide support to each other in so many ways, and I am not sure I could have gotten to where I am today without them. I am also a Young President’s Organization (YPO) member and have been part of an incredible forum with several female members. My forum serves as a critical sounding board and support system for me in my leadership role.
Q: There has been a lot of talk about diversity in investment management – as a majority women-owned business, are you seeing much evidence of this from an asset allocation perspective?
A: There is a lot of talk and focus on diversity in investment management; however, evidence would indicate that this is not yet driving different decision-making by the vast majority of allocators. According to the Knight Foundation, research shows firms owned by women and minorities manage just 1.3 percent of assets in the $69 trillion asset management industry, despite the fact that their performance is on par with the industry as a whole. With the recent focus on diversity in the industry, there is a question as to why more progress is not being made. In many cases, including ours, new diverse or women-led firms are raising a first-time fund, and most institutional investors shy away from first-time funds, even when those managers possess a substantial track record and despite the fact that research shows first-time funds tend to outperform. This creates quite a challenge. There are a few institutional investors that are champions for the change that we need to see and are taking concrete actions to support women and diverse managers. Still, until the broad base of investors are willing to change their approach in order to consider new and diverse firms raising first-time funds, it’s hard to imagine the landscape changing soon in any significant way. That said, I believe the discussions and focus on disparity in the industry will lead to change over time and perhaps push investors to modify their approach.
Q: What advice would you offer to a young female just starting out in this industry?
A: I would say that it’s an incredibly challenging and rewarding career path, so stick with it, build your network and look for environments where you feel a connection and can thrive. The landscape is changing, and there are increasing opportunities through a variety of organizations (WAVE, PEWIN, Kayo) to forge relationships at all levels with women in the industry. At Lightspring, we have committed to hire diverse candidates and are taking part in an internship program this summer through which we will host a diverse college student and provide exposure to investing in the hopes that we can continue to broaden the opportunity set for young women and diverse candidates wanting to explore the industry.
Q: 2020 was an interesting year! How do you see things changing as we move forward for deal-making?
A: We have had to become more creative in our approach to interactions with team members, company prospects, portfolio companies, and management and keep up the pace in a more distanced environment. In many ways, it feels as if the pace of deal-making has increased, and I’d anticipate that this will continue even after we get back to our new normal.
Q: Working from home has become normalized these days. If you could work from “home” anywhere in the world, where would you be?
A: After a long winter in Chicago, I’d have to say any place with a good internet connection where the sun is shining, and it’s consistently above 70 degrees!
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