Sarah Bradley, co-founder, partner, Kainos Capital, 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 moved to New York from Dallas, TX at the age of 25 as an accountant at Ernst and Young and quickly made relationships with professionals in private equity and investment banking and decided that M&A was what I wanted to do for a career. In the 1990s many private equity firms were at the very early stages of hiring female associates and I quickly found myself interviewing with some of the top private equity firms in the country. Luckily I was a quick study! After a couple of years in private equity, I made the decision to join DLJ’s M&A department where I could work on more diverse number of M&A deals and learn from some of the best M&A practitioners in the industry. I quickly gravitated to deals in the private equity and food and consumer sectors. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
How has a mentor helped your career?
Two mentors of mine that made a huge difference in my career were Hal Ritch, former Head of M&A and DLJ and Citigroup, and Tony James, former Head of Investment Banking of DLJ and former CEO of Blackstone. Both Hal and Tony were huge supporters of developing talent in the industry and were truly gender-blind – they simply wanted the best athlete. I was always encouraged to have a voice at the table and even when I thought I wasn’t able to do something or wasn’t sure if I was truly qualified, they always believed in me and encouraged me to move forward. It turns out, they were right, each challenge and new opportunity that I took on, I was able to deliver results and make it a success. Their belief in me at a young age and at the start of my career was a huge factor in my successful journey.
What is your current role?
As one of the three founders of Kainos Capital, I literally think of the firm as my 5th child. My typical day can range from participating in an investment committee or on a portfolio review session with one of our management teams, developing and creating our new website to attract founders of businesses, and most importantly collaborating with our investors around our new investment activity and portfolio developments. At the end of the day, it is important to remember that all of this deal activity if for them – our investors. I come to work each day knowing it is a privilege and a huge responsibility to make all these investments on their behalf. When deals go according to plan, I am delighted for our investors and when they don’t quite go according to plan I have some sleepless nights. I find my day starts as soon as I wake up checking my email and ends when I go to sleep at night checking my email at close of day – its pretty much 24/7.
Describe a recent deal.
Our firm has had a record year this year in terms of buying new companies (over 7 this year) and exiting some of our businesses (3 this year). Two recent businesses that we exited and invested in are Kettle Cuisine, clean-label soup manufacturer, and Florida Food Products, a mission critical ingredient to clean-label meet. Both of these businesses play in the clean label trend and customers increasingly looking for all-natural, clean-label products, high-quality ingredients and convenient solutions. Both of these investments clearly intersect with all of those trends.
Describe a challenge you overcame.
The biggest challenge in my career was forming and creating Kainos. At the onset, many smart people in the industry told me it could not be done and gave me extremely low probabilities of success. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. How I was successful was that I never gave up and failure was simply not an option that I was ever willing to entertain. So my determination, my strong relationships with people that believed in and trusted in me, and my developing a creative solution and structure to get Kainos off the ground was critical.
What is your advice for women?
The biggest piece of advice I would give younger women is to actively lobby and ask from day one on the job to work on deals so they can gain deal-making experience early on in their career. Too often, women are steered into functions like marketing, business development, and investor relations – the “softer side” where it is easier to place a female. The excuse often used is that the females don’t have the deal experience of their male counterparts. That is why you must be an advocate for yourself and work on deals from the very beginning. The other piece of advice is to take risks. It is okay to make a mistake or even fail. It will not ruin your career. On paper, it might have appeared that every opportunity I had that I did not have the traditional background, but I figured it out. Determination and intellectual curiosity and willing to speak your mind go along way. Finally, if you have a seat at the table, talk, give your opinions and speak up. If not, there is no reason to be in the room.