Jeri Harman, founder and chairman, Avante Mezzanine Partners, is one of 36 dealmakers named inMergers & 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 getting my MBA at UC-Berkeley, I joined Prudential Capital, which in those days was a leader in providing capital up and down the balance sheet to middle market companies (including buyouts).
What is your current role?
As the Founder & Chairman of Avante, I spend most of my time on Investment Committee , interacting with existing and potential investors, strategy, brand building activities, portfolio management (including Board roles), and fund management. As part of building our firm’s market presence, I frequently speak at conferences across the country on topics related to M&A, finance and capital markets.
Describe your influence on the middle market.
I have a long history of leadership roles in our industry. This includes Co-Chair of the ACG Los Angeles Business Conference for the last 20 years, steering committee of Private Equity Women’s Investor Alliance (PEWIN), Past Chair (2018) of the Small Business Investor Alliance (SBIA), and former member of the ACG Global Board of Directors. I was recently featured by the LABJ as one of the 2018 Los Angeles Most Influential People, and in 2017 was recognized as one of 15 Trailblazers by Buyouts Magazine. Finally, in 2018 my firm was named by PEWIN as Women Owned Firm of the Year and by the SBA as the SBIC of the Year.
Describe a recent deal.
As the Chairman of Avante, I am now more involved at the Investment Committee level in deciding investment policy and what specific deals we will commit to.
Describe a challenge you overcame.
The biggest challenge of my career was founding and launching my own fund in 2009. Starting a new fund is always a daunting and risky endeavor, but never more so than in the Great Recession. Convincing my colleagues to take the risk with me, convincing investors to commit at a time when they were pulling in, having the patience to endure a two plus year fundraising process, and holding the team together as we went through ups and downs were all quite challenging. We ultimately prevailed and went on to raise our second fund in 2015 (in less than six months and oversubscribed). I believe we overcame the initial challenge with belief in ourselves and our strategy, a committed team, help from many others along the way, perseverance and a “failure is not an option” attitude.
How do you support women?
As one of only a few 100% women owned firms, we take our role in helping women in private equity very seriously. I have personally mentored/helped a number of women looking to start their own funds. I am active on the PEWIN Steering Committee which has many initiatives in recruiting, retaining and promoting women in the industry. My firm, Avante Capital, acts as a role model with not only our ownership demographic, but the diversity throughout our firm (90% of our team are women or minorities or both). We also bring in women interns from business school to help expose them to this career path.
What is your advice for women?
I often advise younger women to proactively and confidently go after new opportunities and not be afraid to take a risk. I find women often don’t apply for a new position unless they think they have 100% of the qualifications nailed down. Men, on the other hand, often will confidently apply even if they only have the majority of recommended qualifications and assume they can figure the rest out. I also advise women to not be afraid to ask for help. It was certainly something that was hard for me, but when I did reach out, I was so surprised and appreciative of how many people wanted to help me.
When you’re not making deals, what is your favorite thing to do?
I love to read, travel and spend time with my family and friends.
What other career path might you have chosen?
Interestingly enough, I started as a dance major in college, but finished up with a business degree in quantitative analysis and went on for a MBA in finance. If I hadn’t made the switch, I would likely be a dance teacher (and performer?).