Julia Karol, president, chief operating officer, Watermill Group, 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 has a mentor helped your career?
As a member of one of the few family-owned private equity firms, I’m fortunate to call my father, Steven Karol, a mentor along with the entire Watermill senior partnership team. Steven taught me the basics of getting a deal done and the nuances of building a new strategy with a management team. Over the years, Ben Procter has been an invaluable coach, advocate and educator, challenging me to shape my thinking and approach. Bob Ackerman has taught me how to think strategically and see a company not as it is now, but as it could be. Dale Okonow helped me develop my negotiation skills and how to always lead with values – my own and those of the firm. Most recently, our newest Partner Tracy Streckenbach has taught me about managing change and driving adoption of new processes. These individuals have had an enormous impact on my growth and development in the field.
What is your current role?
As President and COO of Watermill, I’m responsible for overall firm vision, operations, investor relations and marketing as well as development and implementation of strategy for our portfolio companies. I’m a member of the investment committee and a liaison for the Boards of Advisors and executive management teams. I sit on three company boards and am currently responsible for our UK investment, Cooper & Turner.
Describe your influence on the middle market.
This summer I participated in the global ACG strategic planning retreat in Nashville to assist in shaping the direction of the organization. I’m an active member of ACG Boston and frequently participate in regional and national events as both a panelist and attendee. Early in my career, I helped establish an informal networking group for young professionals to develop deep relationships and derive more value from industry events. I also believe in providing training opportunities for students interested in the middle market and lead Watermill’s efforts to provide internships in the industry, with an emphasis on hiring for gender diversity. Graduates of our internship program have gone on to build careers in both private equity and investment banking.
Describe a recent deal.
I’m currently responsible for our UK investment, Cooper & Turner which was just named a 2018 Cross-Border Deal of the Year by The M&A Advisor. We pursued the deal given the company’s position and potential for growth within the promising wind energy market, which has been growing by more than 10% annually according to the Global Wind Energy Council.
How do you support women?
I have three pieces of advice. The first: Stay curious. This industry is all about asking questions, exploring new subjects and finding information that can help change the future of a company. Second: It may sound surprising but ignore the advice to follow your passion – it’s too limiting. Instead, find something to be passionate about in everything that you do. Which is how I have become passionate about the wind industry and the growing cloud computing market, both fascinating trends which Watermill companies’ serve. Third: Trust your intuition. As we get older, we are trained to trust facts and data over our own instincts. Yet intuition is often pattern recognition – when we know something deep in our gut but can’t always articulate why using facts and data. The more we practice flexing our intuitive muscles, and combining that intuition with analysis, the better we get as both leaders and investors.
When you’re not making deals, what is your favorite thing to do?
Anything outdoors. I love to hike, practice yoga, travel and spend time with my French Bulldog, Dash.
What other career path might you have chosen?
I am currently extremely happy in this industry, but if I hadn’t made the move to private equity, I might have stayed in nonprofits or worked internationally.