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Women in the Lower Middle Market

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As Women’s History Month draws to a close, 4 accomplished deal makers weigh in

Women in M&A have come a long way over the last 30-plus years, making continual inroads into what has traditionally been a male-dominated field. While this movement is still evolving, women are often founders, heading up or holding senior posts at investment banks, business brokerages, private equity, and other advisory firms.

Farrah Holder, Managing Director, IMB Partners

“Today, there are more women in the industry,” noted Farrah Holder, managing director at IMB Partners, a private equity firm in Bethesda, Md., specializing in utility and government agency services. “There are also more private equity players in general, which offers the opportunity to make your mark and find a place where you can hone your skills and build a career.”

So as Women’s History Month draws to a close, Axial reached out to Holder and three other women who hold integral positions in the investment banking, private equity, and capital-raising sectors, to ask about their work, their most memorable deals, and which women in history have inspired them.  

Women in the Lower Middle Market: What’s Changed?

Holder began her career as a senior financial analyst at Morgan Stanley in New York, where she performed due diligence for technology-focused equity investments. Since then, she’s held numerous positions in business development and marketing until she joined IMB, where she sources deals for the firm. Holder entered the field, she said, because she “wanted to work with smart people who solve problems in creative ways,” in addition to helping build and grow companies. Today, women have more community support and access to mentors and newly created roles in the field, she added.

Kate Faust, Partner, Rockwood Equity Partners

That sentiment was echoed by Kate Faust, partner, business development, at Rockwood Equity Partners in Cleveland.  Faust launched her career as a venture capitalist and since then has held many posts, including her role as CFO of publicly traded SIFCO Industries, Inc. “In my firm business development and deal origination are highly valued,” she said. “I have the ability to be a very impactful part of our organization.” 

Jackie Ossin Hirsch, Founder, Crowne Atlantic Properties, LLC

In 2004 Orlando-based Jackie Ossin Hirsch founded her own business brokerage, Crowne Atlantic Properties, LLC. This year, she has closed two deals with three transactions pending, and has $16 million under contract, representing sellers of companies that have a value of $20 million or less. She entered the business because she loved what companies did and how they operated. Her business started small but now is booming, almost all due to referrals. As a woman broker, she said, “sometimes I feel like I’m that plant that grows in the crevice of the cliff — and I think that my customers as entrepreneurs relate to that, and think of themselves that way, too.” 

Nancy Hament, Partner, Capital2Market LLC

Nancy Hament, meanwhile, got her start on the trading floor working for Lehman Brothers. She moved on to several director and partner positions within the industry, and in 2018 accepted a partnership post at Capital2Market LLC, a boutique investment bank in New York. She spends her days on capital raising, private equity and private debt, as well as M&A. “I try to think outside the box and am good at connecting the dots,” she said. 

Hament recently completed an infrastructure deal for a company that recycles printed circuit boards, extracting the precious group metals in the process. She said she found the deal notable since the client had “cracked the nut on a process that many others had tried but [were not] successful in doing.”  While women like her have moved into more high-powered roles in the advisory space, “there’s still this sort of double-edged sword of how you need to act, and how people expect you to act and look” as a woman, Hament noted. 

What Do Women Bring to the Deal Making Table?

Accomplished women such as Hament, Hirsch, Faust, and Holder have skills that made them a success. But in general, they say, women enhance the deal-making process and possess qualities that collectively  give them an edge in this field. 

“Women negotiate differently,” said Hirsch, who has worked on more than 400 transactions in a variety of industries. “I see a deal as a whole team and so if it’s not working for one person, it’s not going to work for anyone.” Selling a company is simply not just a sale, she noted; it’s creating a match by bringing two parties together. 

Hirsch spends time getting to know entrepreneurs and “trying to really understand the goal of the sellers beyond just the deals”, she said. “I feel everybody is my friend. Why not?” She also helps sellers with plans of actions — sometimes without pay — to help grow their companies, and she suggests business books for sellers to read, particularly if they are having difficulties letting go during the sale process.

One of her most memorable deals was a recent sale of a film equipment company owned by a former U.S. Marine, who was organized and regimented and hesitant about selling. The deal closed February 10 this year. “He said I did a good job,” Hirsch recalled. “I took that comment very seriously because I knew he meant it.”

Women “tend to think of team building and people in more communal ways, so bringing this perspective can be helpful when buying companies and building a private equity firm,” echoed Holder.  

Women can also help create “an ecosystem within the deal community where we can support each other,” said Faust. In 2019, her firm completed a management buyout of SYNEO, a  designer and maker of tools for the medical device and electronics manufacturing services industries. The deal was memorable for her. “When you look at the strength of things we do at Rockwood, it brought up a lot of elements that make us a compelling partner, and that felt good,” she said.

Women have other qualities that make them integral to the advisory business, the sources say: They work hard; they often are not afraid to make mistakes and take ownership for those mistakes; they can be empathetic and good listeners; and they focus intently on relationship building and communication, to bring teams together for the greater good. Overall, they are “genuinely and authentically interested in people,” Holder summarized. 

In March, Holder helped her firm make a strategic investment in electrical contractor Carr & Duff, Inc., near Philadelphia.  “This was the largest deal for the firm to date, after a two-year process,” she said. “The transaction solidifies our strategy in utility services and will expand our scope beyond utility services for add-on acquisitions.” 

Women in History – Who Inspires You?

Countless women have made dents in history and have brought inspiration. Hament was inspired by Helen Keller, the blind and deaf American author and political activist “because of all of the things she overcame,” Hament said. With two daughters, 20 and 15, Hament is hopeful that the path she and others have tread will be helpful to the next generation.

Faust admires Sally Ride, an American astronaut and physicist and the first American woman in space. “I actually wanted to be an astronaut when I was growing up — that was my vision,” Faust said. “She was authentic to herself and was a pioneer, an adventurer.”

Hirsch is wowed by her daughter, Malena. “She knows who she is and what she wants, and what is best for herself,” Hirsch said. “Malena inspires me to always learn, grow, do, and … when to take a step back and rest. Her old soul is full of wisdom, kindness, compassion, and love. It is truly an honor and a gift to be her mom.”

Holder appreciates Katherine Johnson, an American mathematician and the first African-American woman to work as a scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). “She faced adversity in a male-dominated industry and was the lynchpin in getting humans into space,” Holder said. “She knew the right moment to step up and to step folks into her big idea.” Johnson died in 2020 at the age of 101. 

“Women’s History Month is a time for society to recognize the achievements that women provide to the world,” Holder continued. “For me, it’s a time to pause and reflect on the journey we have been on toward equality, and to being seen, heard, and recognized.”

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