Claudine Cohen, principal, CohnReznick, is one of 36 dealmakers named in Mergers & Acquisitions’ 2019 Most Influential Women in Mid-Market M&A. Click here for the full list. This year, we asked the dealmakers to tell their stories in their own voices through Q&As.

How did you get into dealmaking?

After I completed training as a Chartered Accountant in South Africa, I was given the opportunity to work on IPOs with a group of professional advisors. This morphed into traditional M&A work, through the founding of a boutique investment banking firm, Nucleus Corporate Finance. Nucleus advised middle-market companies through the transaction lifecylce including, a sale, capital raising and M&A. In our second year, we were namd to EY’s list of top boutique investment banks.

How has a mentor helped your career?

The first individual I worked for became an informal mentor. He was an incredibly intelligent and successful individual, who was able to navigate the politics of a large organization, but also retain his own identity and individuality. He had an entrepreneurial and creative management style, which was inspiring.. This gave me “permission” to approach things in a less conventional manner; something, which I hope I am passing on to people on my team.

What is your current role?

Currently, I lead CohnReznick’s Transactional Advisory Services practice in the Northeast and co-lead our national Financial Sponsors industry practice. Both Transactional Advisory Services and Financial Sponsors practices are high growth areas and strategically important to the firm. My time is divided between client service, practice management, organizational matters, and strategy. I am particularly proud of working with another partner to form the Partner Advisory Council, a forum to communicate ideas and suggestions to firm leadership.

Describe your influence on the middle market.

I made a concerted effort to build relationships within the independent sponsor community, an underserved yet growing asset class. I enjoy introducing my independent sponsor clients to my family office and private equity clients. In doing so, I’ve seen favorable outcomes. As Chair for ACG New York’s Women of Leadership, I work with an outstanding group of people. Together, we’ve re-energized the committee and broadened its reach and appeal. There is a level of transparency across the group which is refreshing.

Describe a recent deal.

We worked on two recent sell-side diligence transactions, each with EBITDA in excess of $30 million, one in healthcare and one in consumer, both founder-owned. In today’s competitive landscape, both businesses would command lofty valuations. Both opted out of the deals demonstrating that a “rich” exit is not what is driving many sellers. This kind of seller behavior is adding more pressure to financial sponsors with capital to deploy and may be pushing investors to consider investing in less-than desirable assets.

Describe a challenge you overcame.

After a successful career in South Africa, I relocated to America. My first position here set my career back 10 years. That was a bitter pill to swallow and my confidence took a hit. I had to prove myself again so I put my head down and focused on my work and those things within my control. I listened, learned and found a a mentor to provide guidance and advice–all of which helped fast track my career.

How do you support women?

When I first joined CohnReznick, our Transactional Advisory Services team was populated by all women. Over time, we have become more gender diverse. Relative to the industry, we have a healthy balance of women on our team. We understand women’s challenges and are supportive helping them establish careers. Through mentorship, and an open-door policy, women team members are in a greater position to succeed. Having role models allows them to feel less intimidated and less threatened.

What is your advice for women?

The single biggest factor facing younger women is balancing professional and family demands. I always advise women to avoid focusing their attention on planning for every potential obstacle. Women are great at juggling and multi-tasking and typically find a way meet both professional and personal demands. With gender equality top of mind, I tell women to focus on what they do best and get their job done well.

When you’re not making deals, what is your favorite thing to do?

Spending time with my family away from the chaos of work, which tends to happen on vacation. It brings us closer together and it is a very special time. This is easily lost in day to day life. Traveling internationally is one of my favorite things and we tend to visit places where we are learning about new cultures and places.

What career path might you have chosen?

It’s a loaded question. What I love about my current work is the flexibility and variation from seeing so many different industries and businesses. The relationships with clients, the team and the people are also what make it worthwhile. If the timing was a little different, I would like to be on the investing side, having a longer term view, as opposed to the transactional nature of our work.