2020 Rising Stars of Private Equity: Coronavirus, racial inequality demand new standards for excellence

Mergers & Acquisitions is recognizing nine dealmakers as the 2020 Rising Stars of Private Equity:

  • David Farsai, Principal, Mainsail Partners, who is the first at the firm to rise from associate to principal
  • Andrea McGuirt, Senior Associate, Palladium Equity Partners, who established a strategy for sourcing and executing opportunities in the current deal environment
  • Molly Fitzpatrick, Vice President, Rallyday Partners, who led three investments and a divestment for the new PE firm
  • Jenny Zhang, Vice President, Investments, Grain Management, who helps portfolio companies in the telecom infrastructure sector find organic growth opportunities
  • Ross Stern, Principal, Summit Partners, who played a role in nearly $1.3 billion worth of healthcare company investments
  • Arjun Mehta, Vice President, Bregal Sagemount, who has made eight platform investments and seven add-on acquisitions
  • Miguel Tejeda, Vice President, Motive Partners, who stands out for his investment acumen and ability to distill complicated concepts and processes
  • Clara Jackson, Principal, TA Associates, who has become a trusted supporter during the pandemic to help portfolio companies remain sustainable
  • KJ McConnell, Principal, GTCR, who played a leading role in about 10 of the group’s last dozen deals

These outstanding up-and-coming investment professionals have been excelling during a period of profound change in the U.S. and in the world. The publication of this list comes at a pivotal moment in time. The country is beginning to open up after three months of quarantine from the coronavirus, while a second wave picks up steam in the Sun Belt from South Carolina to California and including Texas. Dealmaking under quarantine while working from home has proved challenging, to say the least.

Social justice issues have taken on fresh urgency. There is heightened awareness of systemic racial injustice and police brutality against Blacks after the deaths of George Floyd and many others. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled recently that, “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.” On immigration policy, the Court recently put the brakes on dismantling the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Meanwhile, the President is asking the Court to overturn the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

In the realm of private equity, all of these issues are relevant, as they affect firms and the companies they invest in. The bar has been raised in multiple arenas in 2020, and new standards for excellence are emerging.

As we look to the Rising Stars for insights about the future of private equity, this year, we asked three questions:

1. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a dealmaker in 2020, and how have you met it?

2. How are you helping your portfolio companies pivot in the face of the pandemic?

3. How are you helping to change the private equity industry when it comes to diversity, inclusion and anti-racism?

Read their answers and our profiles of Rising Stars.

Demitri Diakantonis and Keith Button contributed to this report.

davidfarsai
Software specialist
Mainsail’s David Farsai is the first to rise from associate to principal at the firm
Passion for investing
David Farsai, principal at Mainsail Partners, “creates an environment of fun and enjoyment wherever he goes,” says Chris Cassidy, operating partner at the San Francisco growth equity firm. Farsai joined Mainsail in 2012. He is responsible for originating, executing and supporting new investments for the firm, which focuses on software companies. He manages three associates and works closely with Mainsail portfolio companies SourceScrub, FairWarning and Bio-Optronics, which includes serving on their boards. As a key member of the investment team, Farsai “has shown a passion for investing,” Cassidy says, and “compassion, thoughtfulness and integrity” in connecting with people.

Thrice promoted
Farsai joined Mainsail as an associate and was promoted to senior associate in 2014 after helping originate three platform investments: NCourt, Zen Planner and PlayMaker Health. In 2016, he was promoted to vice president, and in January 2020 he became the first person in the 17-year history of the firm to be promoted to principal after starting as an associate. Before Mainsail, Farsai focused on M&A as an investment banker at Wells Fargo Securities and Houlihan Lokey. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California.

Creative connecting
In 2020, Farsai has helped his team of associates find creative ways to connect with company founders and build relationships, Cassidy says. He advised CEOs and leadership teams on navigating the remote workforce environment, reforecasting and changing strategies. Farsai says he’s put his investing experience to work to “cut through the noise to identify opportunities and overcome the challenges of social distancing.” Prior to 2020, Farsai worked on three majority-stake acquisitions: in 2019 in SourceScrub, a financial services software company; in 2018 in FairWarning, a security software company; and in 2018 in Bio-Optronics, a software provider to healthcare organizations.

Adaptation
Once the coronavirus hit, Farsai focused on helping Mainsail’s portfolio companies adapt the operating plans that they had set in January and manage the people side of changes required by the pandemic. He helped the portfolio companies reevaluate their cost structures, prioritize growth initiatives and redefine what success would look like for 2020. In some cases, the reevaluation led to reducing functional budgets and deferring planned hires. The changes help his companies “endure the market,” he says, but they “need to be implemented in a way that preserves culture and ensures we have buy-in across the organization.”

Uncomfortable conversations
When asked what he’s doing to make the private equity industry more inclusive, Farsai says he wants to do more, starting “with learning and encouraging a more open dialogue about racial injustice in the workplace.” Mainsail embraces diversity and racial equality, he says, and nearly half of the firm’s employees are women. But “not being racist is not good enough,” he says, and the firm’s leaders are focused on “having uncomfortable conversations” to better understand and address challenges of racism. Current initiatives at the firm include setting up and reading through recommended book lists, setting up small discussion groups, implementing unconscious bias training and donating to the fight against racial inequality.
AndreaMcGuirt
Value creator
Palladium’s Andrea McGuirt established a strategy for sourcing and executing opportunities
Results driven
Andrea McGuirt joined Palladium in 2018 and serves as a senior associate. She has “a unique skill set that has allowed her to contribute meaningfully as a results-driven, dynamic investment professional at Palladium,” says partner Leon Brujis. “She is strategic-oriented, disciplined, and most importantly, extremely passionate about creating value in private investments through building partnerships with multiple stakeholders.”

Career track
Previously, McGuirt was an associate at Winona Capital, where she sourced, analyzed and invested in opportunities in the retail, food, pet, and health and beauty industries. Earlier in her career, McGuirt was an investment banking analyst in the financial services group at William Blair. McGuirt earned a BS in accounting and MS in accounting from Indiana University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

This year’s deals
McGuirt played a vital part in the acquisition of Accupac from financial sponsor J.H. Whitney, a deal that closed in January 2020, says Brujis. She also led the sale of Cannella, the final platform investment in Palladium’s oldest active fund, which was completed in March 2020. She also worked extensively on portfolio company TransForce, a tech-enabled workforce company that provides recruiting, safety, and education/training services to the transportation and logistics industry. “I have helped the company bolster and manage liquidity, actively evaluate opportunistic M&A targets, as well as develop a strategic roadmap and macro pivots in light of the current environment. I have also been working to implement and execute an Objectives & Key Results, or OKR, process and framework at TransForce to help guide the strategic plan and maximize value creation.”

Prioritizing safety
“The health, economic and psychological uncertainty that surrounded the initial onset of the national pandemic has been a key challenge in 2020,” explains McGuirt. “Recognizing how fortunate I am to have the available tools and resources to be fully productive in a work from home environment, I have worked with my team and firm to prioritize the safety of our portfolio companies, liquidity, as well as business continuity and the preservation of jobs. As it relates to sourcing in the current environment and the constraints around travel, I have helped our firm shift its sourcing strategy to a model adapted to maximize current market dynamics, while canvassing our network of intermediaries, structured capital providers, sponsors, lenders, lawyers and restructuring advisors in addition to participating in virtual roundtables, industry-specific conferences and PE-to-PE forums to identify investment themes and opportunities emerging from the Covid-19 crisis. I have also assisted our firm’s partnership with an industry trade association to establish a ‘deal network,’ allowing member companies to interact directly regarding potential investment opportunities.”

Grassroots
McGuirt has helped cultivate Palladium’s partnerships with a wide variety of diversity-focused industry trade organizations, including Toigo, SEO, WAVE, NAIC, and the Thirty Percent Coalition. “I have also supported Palladium’s efforts to increase gender and racial representation among portfolio companies and boards. I have worked with three of my Harvard Business School classmates to launch a campaign to raise money and awareness for local grassroot organizations fighting on the frontlines for social justice. We have raised over $50,000 from friends and family and are working to enact even further change by harnessing the collective power of our network as well as business leaders across industries and academia to execute on initiatives within our communities and firms across the world.”
mollyfitzpatrick
Tenacious investor
Rallyday’s Molly Fitzpatrick led three investments and a divestment for the new PE firm
Making an impact
Molly Fitzpatrick joined Rallyday Partners in September 2019 as a vice president, and she is as much a part of the firm’s mission to “reinvent private equity” for the lower middle market as Rallyday’s founders, says Ryan Heckman, managing partner at the Denver firm, which formed in 2019. Fitzpatrick “works tirelessly to serve others and make an impact,” he says. “Her smile and unassuming demeanor hides her tenacity which is distinctive in our industry that is full of aggressive types that have confused success with significance to others.” Fitzpatrick’s experience at the Halifax Group and Mountaingate Capital PE firms has helped build best practices at Rallyday, Heckman says.

Prior experience
Before joining Rallyday, Fitzpatrick worked at Mountaingate Capital in Denver, where she focused on middle-market marketing and business services companies, and the Halifax Group in Washington, D.C., where she focused on PE investments in healthcare, business services and franchise industries. Prior to that, she worked at Robert W. Baird & Co. in Milwaukee and Wachovia Securities in Charlotte, North Carolina. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Notre Dame with a bachelor’s degree in business and finance, and she earned her MBA from Harvard Business School.

Coping with uncertainty
As uncertainty about the coronavirus pandemic increased, Rallyday made the strategic decision to close a deal on Feb. 28 and guide the company through Rallyday’s foundation-building program virtually rather than wait for normal travel to resume, Fitzpatrick says. “Since the pandemic shut down travel and in-person meetings, it has been more challenging to collaborate and build my relationships and trust with the founders and management team,” she says, but she’s held regular one-on-one videoconferences with leaders. Fitzgerald led a growth investment in Genesis Research, a data analytics company, and add-on investments of Lowry Dental and Aesthetic Dentistry by Design for Rallyday’s Espire Dental platform company.

Staying the course
Because dental practices were required to close for the coronavirus shutdown, Fitzpatrick says, she helped Rallyday’s Espire Dental platform company prioritize costs, retain all team members and pay them during the shutdown, and provide training and preparation for the reopening in May. In addition to the two dental add-on acquisitions, Fitzpatrick made a divestment for Espire to set it up for better performance upon reopening. She also amended a credit agreement for principal payment relief and covenant cushions, and she invested growth capital to support the acquisitions and investments in the business.

Circle of diversity
Since 2011, Fitzpatrick says, half of her portfolio companies have had women or minority founders and CEOs. “I prioritize recruiting diverse talent to both portfolio companies – through acquisitions, independent directors and senior leaders – and to Rallyday,” which has four women on the seven-member team, she says. “I have focused on investing in magical businesses founded or led by women and minorities.” She also leads Rallyday’s vice president recruiting, focusing on organizations supporting women and minorities to find candidates with new perspectives and experiences. “A diverse team attracts more diverse candidates, becoming circular,” she says.
jennyzhang
Telecom investor
Grain’s Jenny Zhang is helping portfolio companies in the telecommunications infrastructure sector find organic growth opportunities
Effective communicator
Jenny Zhang, a vice president on the investment team at Grain Management, has impressed the limited partners of the PE firm for “the engaging way she presents investment information” and she’s won the confidence of company executives for her “disciplined, measured approach,” says Chad Crank, managing director, investments, at the Washington, D.C., firm. Zhang joined Grain, which focuses on communications companies, in the second quarter of 2019. She is responsible for deal origination, investment underwriting, portfolio performance tracking and analytical support. In addition to being “an extremely effective communicator,” she has “the analytical ability needed to inform decision making,” Crank says.

Prior experience
Zhang joined Grain as a vice president and is on track for promotion to principal. Before Grain, she worked seven years at Morgan Stanley, where she was a vice president in the financial institutions group advising clients on M&A and strategic transactions. She also advised clients on esoteric solutions in the company’s capital markets division and helped manage its capital and liquidity in the corporate treasury division. Zhang graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in hotel administration. She serves on the boards of Ritter Communications and CE Workforce.

Digital connectivity
This year, the coronavirus pandemic has boosted competition in the telecommunication infrastructure space by spotlighting the importance of digital connectivity and broadband, Zhang says. To help meet the challenge, she says, she looked for organic growth opportunities at Grain’s portfolio companies that compared favorably to deals. “Staying on top of both internal and external opportunities has allowed us to remain disciplined and make informed decisions in the face of a competitive environment,” she says. Last year, Zhang provided critical deal guidance for Grain’s majority acquisition of Ritter Communication, a family-owned telecommunications company based in Arkansas, Crank points out.

Stress test
For Grain and its portfolio companies, the pandemic has been “a true test of our ability to jointly navigate uncertain situations,” Zhang says. For one portfolio company, she developed stress tests to identify at-risk revenues, project cash flows and key financial metrics, and create a playbook to manage situation-dependent liquidity and financial covenants. The results were used to adjust the company’s capital plan and to communicate clearly to external stakeholders about the status of the business, Zhang says. Zhang helped Ritter structure an interest rate swap after the pandemic drove interest rates to historic lows.

Enhancing diversity
Zhang says she has taken an active role in recruiting diverse team members at Grain, and Crank says she has played an instrumental role with the firm’s junior banking staffing. “We have a uniquely diverse team already, and as we grow the firm we want to not only maintain that diversity but further enhance it,” she says. Zhang, the most senior female dealmaker on the team, says she is committed to adding more female talent. She manages Grain’s senior associate and associate recruiting and helps recruit for other roles, seeking strong candidates from a variety of backgrounds, including diversity of race, ethnicity and gender.
rossstern
Healthcare investor
Summit’s Ross Stern played a role in nearly $1.3 billion worth of healthcare company investments
Integral team member
Ross Stern, principal at Summit Partners, has played a role in sourcing and structuring investments of nearly $1.3 billion across nine portfolio companies for the Boston PE firm, says Darren Black, managing director at Summit. Stern has focused on the healthcare and life sciences sector, co-leading investments in Abode Healthcare; DuPage Medical Group, which was acquired by Ares Management; Paradigm Outcomes, acquired by OMERS Private Equity; Sound Physicians and U.S. Renal Care. Stern is an “integral member” of the healthcare team and someone whom “entrepreneurs seek out opportunities to work with,” Black says. He has also “built a deep knowledge of provider-led practice management businesses, value-based care models and the reimbursement landscape.”

So nice, he joined twice
Stern joined Summit as an associate in 2009 from the healthcare investment banking group at Cowen and Co., where he focused on M&A and public and private offerings. He left Summit to earn his MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania while also working for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Innovation Center. He then rejoined Summit as a vice president in 2014 and was promoted to principal in 2018. He has a bachelor’s degree in economics and history from Bowdoin College.

More unknown than known
Covid-19 added significant complexity to assessing potential investments in 2020, Stern says: “Unfortunately there is still far more ‘unknown’ than ‘known.’” To address near-term unpredictability, he focuses on healthcare companies with durable business models and that are well-aligned with macro trends—those that are improving patient outcomes and reducing costs. “Businesses that benefit multiple constituents in the healthcare ecosystem have proven to be resilient throughout economic cycles,” he says. In 2019, he co-led Summit’s investments in Abode Healthcare, provider of home health and hospice services, and U.S. Renal Care, one of the largest dialysis operators in the U.S.

Virtual care delivery
The pandemic forced many of Summit’s healthcare portfolio companies to redefine their business models, reconsider service delivery and think about new product offerings that will be relevant in a post-Covid-19 world, Stern says. He has helped companies with the rapid shift from in-person to virtual care delivery, return-to-work safety and managing remote clinical workforces. Stern also helped source and distribute personal protective equipment for frontline workers and helped identify acquisition opportunities, Black says. The companies Stern has worked with during the pandemic include Abode Healthcare, Paradigm, PharmScript, Sound Inpatient Physicians and U.S. Renal Care.

Widen the candidate pool
Stern says he is focused on having a positive impact on the industry beyond investing, starting with building a culture at Summit that emphasizes differing voices and perspectives, and continuing that conversation as a board member at portfolio companies. He says he is also involved in recruiting for Summit’s healthcare team and executive and director hires at our healthcare portfolio companies. “Through these efforts, I am focused on recruiting exceptional, diverse talent to Summit and our portfolio, and fostering initiatives across these organizations that promote equality and inclusion, including widening the candidate pool and mentorship programs,” Stern says.
arjunmehta
Payments pro
Bregal Sagemount’s Arjun Mehta has made eight platform investments and seven add-on acquisitions
Major driver
Arjun Mehta, a vice president at Bregal Sagemount, has been “a major driver of our activity” and “a talented source of deal flow” for the New York PE firm, says Pavan Tripathi, a partner at Sagemount who was named one of Mergers & Acquisitions’ 2019 Rising Stars of Private Equity. Mehta identified key themes in payment technologies that evolved into a core focus for Sagemount and led the firm’s investments in Corcentric, provider of business payments software; TrustArc; Keg Logistics, which was sold to Seaport Capital; and Discovery Data, which was sold to Northlane Capital. He also played critical roles in investments in Procurement Advisors; Steele Compliance Solutions; Yapstone; Network Merchants, sold to Francisco Partners; and TradeGlobal, sold to Singapore Post, Tripathi says.

Fast track
Mehta joined Sagemount in 2013 as an associate, and his work on craft beer led to the firm’s proprietary control buyout of Keg Logistics in 2015 and his promotion to senior associate in 2015, Tripathi says. He was promoted to vice president in 2017 after his third exit deal. Before Sagemount, he worked at Credit Suisse, focused on underwriting of debt to support PE-backed leveraged buyouts and recapitalizations. Before that, he served as the CEO of GUASFCU, a $15 million credit union in Washington, D.C. He earned his bachelor’s degree in foreign service from Georgetown University.

Lasting partnership
Mehta says his biggest challenge in 2020 was closing Sagemount’s minority growth equity investment in Corcentric. “The transaction was the product of studying the sector for five-plus years, evaluating dozens of opportunities and patiently waiting for the right partnership to arise,” Mehta says, and with the pandemic crisis, the final stages of negotiations became “exponentially more precarious.” But the deal closed May 1, and “the way both parties navigated the uncertainty has cemented a strong and lasting partnership,” Mehta says.

Sounding board
As the pandemic cast businesses into uncharted waters, Mehta says, he supported the three companies he is involved in with resources, best practices and as a sounding board. That included scenario and liquidity planning and discussions with their lending partners. With the economy beginning to reopen, he says he helped the companies plan for bringing employees back to the office, evaluating long-term coronavirus implications and examining potential strategies for strengthening the companies after the pandemic. And besides closing the Corcentric platform investment, he managed to source a new investment opportunity while working from home.

Social justice
Sagemount has always emphasized diversity in its due diligence and initiatives at companies, Mehta says, but “the pain of recent events has made it clear that this isn’t enough.” He says the firm and he as an individual have reexamined how they conduct business “with the goal of promoting inclusion and diversity as well as using our influence to support social justice reforms.” The PE industry “has been too slow to embrace the inclusionary approach that generates those diverse opinions,” he says. “I’ve taken great pride in backing entrepreneurs of all sexes, races, sexual orientations and backgrounds – not just because it was the right thing to do, but because those individuals were the best leaders for those companies.”
migueltejeda
Growth driver
Motive Partners’ Miguel Tejeda stands out for his investment acumen and ability to distill complicated concepts and processes
Investment acumen
Miguel Tejeda joined Motive Partners in 2018 and is a vice president on the investment team. He is responsible for sourcing, analyzing and executing investments across all sub-sectors of financial technology. He serves as a board observer of Tegra118, which is led by CEO Cheryl Nash. Tejeda stands out for his “investment acumen and ability to distill complicated concepts and processes into tangible actions and outputs,” says principal Sam Tidswell-Norrish. “While financial technology businesses typically have relatively simple business models, the customers they serve can be extremely complex due to the intricate macroeconomic, sociopolitical and regulatory trends that govern the financial services ecosystem. Miguel has excelled at identifying the true growth drivers of businesses and the associated risks. In particular, his ability to assess these risks and structure transactions appropriately has been recognized by our senior partners.”

Prior experience
Tejeda was an associate at Park Square Capital, a multi-strategy credit fund, where he was involved in a number of successful investments across the capital structure. He led diligence for several credit and preferred equity investments in the software and financial technology space.

Tejeda began his career at Goldman Sachs, within the financial institutions group, where he focused on M&A advisory for financial technology and asset management clients. While at Goldman, he worked on a variety of transactions within the financial technology space, including Visa’s acquisition of Visa Europe and TSYS’s acquisition of TransFirst.

Remote management
Tejeda has led add-on M&A activities for his three portfolio companies, reports Tidswell-Norrish. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, he has closed one add-on, signed another, entered into exclusivity on a third, and evaluated another five potential add-on opportunities.”

Creative workarounds
“The biggest challenge I’ve faced as a dealmaker in 2020 has been managing a full deal process remotely, from start to close,” says Tejeda. “I led Tegra118’s add-on acquisition of RetireUp, announced on June 10, which was completed without having a single in-person meeting. Performing high-quality diligence and managing multiple buyside advisors remotely had its challenges. Key work streams that are normally done on-site required creative workarounds. For example, we performed a manual code review via an online staging environment with remote monitoring capabilities. Ultimately, with the help of a great team, active process management and Zoom, we were able to close the acquisition seamlessly. It’s great to prove that as a team we can maintain our high standards through such an unusual situation.”

Champion of diversity
“As a Hispanic American working in the private equity industry, I have always embraced my responsibility to be a champion of diversity, inclusion and anti-racism,” says Tejeda. “Fortunately, Motive has empowered me to do so in multiple ways. Last year I was able to help shape our interview process for the inaugural class of associates, ensuring the pool of candidates interviewed was as diverse as possible, from both a racial and gender perspective. I’ve also participated in mentorship programs at Motive, including the Pencil School Partnership Program, where I mentor students from New York City’s public schools and Project Basta, where I participated on a finance panel for first-generation students. I am on the associate board of the George Jackson Academy, a middle school in the East Village for smart, underserved boys from low-income families.
clarajackson
Fintech expert
TA Associates’ Clara Jackson has become a trusted supporter during the pandemic to help portfolio companies remain sustainable
Trusted resource
Clara Jackson, principal at TA Associates, has proved herself as a consistent top performer on complex transactions, according to TA chair Brian Conway. “The current economic crisis has only highlighted Clara’s role as a trusted resource, assisting portfolio companies with strategic and tactical support as they navigate a unique and challenging market,” says Conway. “Jackson soon earned a reputation for a prodigious work ethic and analytical capability, and increasingly for her thoughtful, unique opinions and perspectives; judgment is the coin of the private equity realm. Besides analytical insight, Clara is known for her even-tempered personality, unflappable patience and humility, and calm under pressure.”

Prior experience
Jackson joined TA in 2014. She was promoted to senior vice president in 2016 and then to principal in 2019. Prior to joining TA, Jackson was a vice president with Fireman Capital Partners, where she served on the board of Skip Hop. Jackson was previously an associate at TPG Growth and an analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co. She received a bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude, in economics from Vanderbilt University and an MBA from the Harvard Business School.

Increased cadence
Quarantine restrictions have forced dealmakers to come up with other ways to conduct business. “In-person meetings are so critical to building that rapport – not having that face-to-face interaction is what I miss most and is the biggest challenge that I’ve faced in 2020,” says Jackson. “I’ve met this challenge with an increased cadence of communication – more phone calls, more Zoom meetings.”

Deals that Jackson recently worked on included TA’s February 2020 investment in AffiniPay and the firm’s August 2018 strategic investment in Fintech. She also worked on TA-backed Orion’s acquisitions of financial technology provider Advizr in 2019 and FJT FundChoice in 2018.

Playing offense
Jackson is making sure her portfolio companies are well-positioned for the future coming out of the pandemic. “While our current environment is hardly ‘normal,’ my portfolio companies have adapted and are well positioned to play offense,” says Jackson. “I am in daily dialogue with my portfolio’s management teams and I’m promoting several strategic initiatives, including M&A, investments in key technology and go-to-market initiatives, as well as making strategic leadership hires, all of which, I believe, will position these businesses to exit the pandemic from a position of strength.”

Diverse composition
“I am a firm believer in the power of diverse teams; diversity leads to more creative, thoughtful perspectives and, ultimately, to better decision making,” says Jackson. “In hiring at TA, I am deliberately focused on identifying talented performers from a broad range of backgrounds, as we strive to ensure a diverse composition of our investment team. I also mentor young professionals looking to break into private equity.”

“More broadly, I am focused on building diverse management teams and boards for our portfolio companies,” Jackson adds.
kjmcconnell
Financial services pro
GTCR’s KJ McConnell has played a leading role in about 10 of the group’s last dozen deals, which represents approximately $2.3 billion in enterprise value
Quarterback
KJ McConnell, principal at GTCR, has a deep knowledge of the fintech and payments industries and in a short period of time, he has taken on the role of team quarterback, according to GTCR managing director Aaron Cohen. McConnell has taken the initiative to expand GTCR’s payments focus within the financial services and technology group. McConnell has been a leader on every platform deal that the group has completed since 2016. He has played a leading role in about 10 of the group’s last dozen deals, which represents approximately $2.3 billion in enterprise value.

Prior experience
McConnell joined GTCR as a vice president in 2014 and became a principal in 2019. Previously, he worked as an associate at TPG Capital, a global private equity firm based in San Francisco, and as an analyst in the financial institutions group at Goldman Sachs. McConnell holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, where he was a Baker Scholar, and a bachelor’s degree in finance with highest honors from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.

Remote diligence
Despite the challenges that the pandemic presented in dealmaking, McConnell still led a handful of investments, including GTCR’s minority growth investment in wealth advisor CapTrust that closed in June. “Relationships are core to GTCR and the cultural fit with management is paramount, so the most significant challenge of this deal was completing diligence remotely,” McConnell says. “We addressed this challenge by using videoconferencing for all calls and really emphasized the social element on the calls to foster great rapport with management.” In addition to CapTrust, McConnell led the efforts on Paya, RevSpring, Ultimus Fund Solutions and Dash Financial Technology platform deals.

Best practices
With the coronavirus making a significant impact on PE portfolio companies, McConnell has been doing his part to help businesses stay the course, and continues to find opportunities during quarantine. “I was instrumental in positioning portfolio companies to take advantage of the dislocation through fortifying the balance sheet, identifying operational levers, and outlining strategies to continue to win business,” McConnell says. “I share best practices, including work-from-home and pandemic procedures, early and often among portfolio companies’ management teams.”

Point person
“As the point person for the associate, analyst and internship programs, I help lead the firm’s recruiting efforts, which are focused on identifying qualified candidates who also bring diversity to the team,” says McConnell. “Leading by example, I create a culture of acceptance and inclusivity among the team. At a portfolio level, I advocate for diversity among the management team and boards, with one portfolio company in the process of adding its first female director to the board. I advance diversity and inclusion within the industry through my recruitment work at GTCR, as well as influencing portfolio company management teams.”