Karen Davies, managing director, Huntington Bank, 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?
I began my career in traditional banking. As a commercial lender, I learned the intricacies of middle market finance. I then moved into asset based lending, and with the natural link to mergers and acquisitions, I began to work with private equity firms. Since 2006, I have been active in sponsored finance and leveraged buy-outs. I’m glad to have taken this career path. I think this has given me a different skill set.
How has a mentor helped your career?
Dave Stone, EVP Speciality Banking at Huntington, was my first boss in the middle market as a lender, and my current boss. I have had the privilege of working alongside Dave for over 20 years. To this day, I try to emulate the qualities he exhibited. Dave empowered and encouraged me. He created an environment where there wasn’t an unhealthy fear of making mistakes (because everyone makes mistakes). He has an amazing knack for deal making and that gave me great insight into how to bring parties and deals together. And perhaps most importantly, he understood the importance of family. He not only set me up for success at the moment, he set me up for success as a future leader.
What is your current role?
I am the Managing Director / Group Head of Huntington’s Sponsored Finance Group. I am responsible for the team that builds relationships with high-quality top-quartile PE firms across the US. We work with these firms to deliver solutions in senior debt, leveraged buy-outs, existing portfolio investing, capital markets, and banking services.
Describe your influence on the middle market.
As the leader of Huntington’s sponsor finance, my influence on the middle market is unique, especially in the states that we serve. Operating as a bank, Middle Market commercial bankers come to my team looking to solve a need for their customers. My team consults with these bankers on potential solutions…recapitalization options, outright sale, raising senior debt, etc. We connect the dots in the early stages for these business owners which give them more resiliance, arrnages capital for growth and gudiance on how to maximize their capital structure.
Describe a recent deal.
Gridiron Capital is an existing customer and top PE firm. I lead my team in working with Gridiron for their initial leveraged buyout of Leaf Filter, a large Middle Market Firm. Recently, I helped lead and advise Gridiron with a $375MM dividend re-cap finance transaction, taking them from a six member bank group to a twelve member bank group with Huntington Sponsor Finance Group as the Agent. This marked a new watermark to highlight our capabilities, and we did it in a 60 day window; which exceeds the industry average for debt placement of this size.
Describe a challenge you overcame.
I was just about to have my first child while working as a senior manager overseeing two bank operations sites. With this meaningful, new life transition, I struggled evaluating my options. Should I take a step back? Should I leave the workforce for a period of time? Eventually, with great input and support from my managers, I found a way to continue growing my career and still take care of my family. I am a real-life example of having a successful career and family fulfillment. I think I’m a good role model and I do hope that my daughter and other women are encouraged by my example, and that it inspires young girls to be the next generation of female leaders.
How do you support women?
I’m involved in Huntington’s mentor program. I’m involved in Huntington’s Women’s Business Resource Group. I am on the ACG Women in Transactions Committee (Cleveland Chapter). I think in the Midwest, women are under represented in leveraged lending and so I go out of my way to spend time getting to know young, up-and-coming female talent. I am always looking for great talent on my team. Young women look to other women for cues about how to think and act. By what I am doing with them and showing them what is possible, I hope I’m setting a positive example for these young women to follow.
What is your advice for women?
Always remember that you are not just a box on an org chart. You are an individual. You have a voice. You have a unique skill set. You don’t have to be one of “the guys” to succeed. Be yourself. You are a woman and you bring value and diversity in thought to the table. Take on the role, and put your stamp on it, own your accomplishments. Go for it. Take the risk. Seriously, what’s the worst that can happen? Risk taking and making mistakes are normal experiences for any leader. embrace them, learn from them. You are unstoppable.
When you're not making deals, what is your favorite thing to do?
I love being with my family - husband and two kids (and golden retreiver) and extended family. We ski, take beach vacations, and play games. We explore the US and learn new things- and laugh a lot.
What other career path might you have chosen?
I would have added a JD to my MBA. If I hadn’t gone into banking and the M&A space, I would have become an attorney- likely a litigator. I am enamored by the law and fighting for what is right, or those underserved. I have always enjoyed understanding the legal aspects of deals versus just the business points and making sure my clients get the best, fairest deals.