Sheryl Schwartz, managing director, Caspian Private Equity (dba Flexstone Partners), 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 started my career in a bank credit training program and then after business school I joined TIAA. At TIAA, I worked in 5 different fixed income areas before being asked to start the Alternative Investment team, which I grew from scratch to a $13 Billion portfolio and hired and supervised a team of 14 people. Currently, I am a portfolio manager at Caspian, a subsidiary of Natixis, that manages third party separate and co mingled accounts which invest in private equity funds and coinvestments. Throughout my career, in every asset class I worked in, I worked on a wide range of deal types including include mid market.

How has a mentor helped your career?

My mentor throughout my career has been Mike O’Kane from TIAA. I worked for him for approximately 15 years in several roles . Mike gave me the opportunity to start and build 2 new asset classes from scratch, after I helped and watched him start the ABS group. He was forward thinking and gave me great opportunities- he believed in me and while he gave me a lot of rope, he was always there to support me when I needed it. He gave me the courage to take risks that I may have otherwise not had the courage to take. I always felt I could turn to him for advice on personal and professional matters.

What is your current role?

You may want to describe a typical professional day. My current responsibilities include managing separate account portfolios that invest in a wide range of North American private equity opportunities including distressed, buyout, special situations, growth equity, and secondary fund on behalf of clients. My role requires coordination with many different areas of the company, clients and overseeing junior members of the team. In addition, I maintain a broad base of relationships with institutional investors and several board positions including AIF and Wave, which is a non-profit organization founded in 2003 committed to the development and advancement of women in private equity and venture capital.

Describe your influence on the middle market.

I have worked at 4 firms in my career, investing in a wide range of illiquid asset classes- all of which included investing in middle market deals. Currently, my portfolio is overweighted in middle market North American private equity opportunities where I believe you have the the potential for significant alpha and outperformance, but a much wider dispersion of returns. Therefore, underwriting and manager selection are more important, which I feel play to my strengths. In addition, in the mid market and smaller universe, there are significantly more deals and opportunities, which can lead to better performance if you have the resources and experience to pursue.

Describe a recent deal.

A recent investment that I led includes a first time healthcare fund, focused on the lower mid market where the team members spun out of a larger firms. Throughout my career I have invested in “emerging managers” and at Caspian we have an expertise in investing in emerging managers. While this underwriting requires significant time and analysis, given the risks of a new team and limited track record information, it can lead to significant outperformance. Emerging managers are hungry and usually stronger alignment of interest. Since this deal was focused on the healthcare sector, has significant tailwinds from (i) demographics (ii) the need to reduce costs, (iii) consolidation and (iv) outsourcing trend. The tailwinds combined with a team that has sector knowledge, experience and relationships can generate significant alpha .

Describe a challenge you overcame.

Time management, including juggling the demands of a large team and portfolio, and family- particularly the challenges of traveling often while raising 3 children- has been a challenge. I was able to accomplish my goals and overcoem this obstacle with a lot of help- from my husband, my team, my family, my friends and a lot of “helpers”, who over the years have become my extended family. Bei ng able to delegate has been critical in overcoming this challenge.

How do you support women?

In addition to my role on the board of WAVE, which is an organization designed to help mentor women in private equity, I speak at many university private equity and finance conferences and recently, I taught classes on private equity at 4 different universities as a guest lecturer in order to educate and introduce a new potential career path to the next generation of young professionals who may not have the exposure to the asset class and learn about the career opportunities.

What is your advice for women?

Relationships are important While we, as women, usually feel more comfortable networking and reaching out to other women, there are many men who are supportive and want to help women progress too. Success for women requires having the men at the table- men are part of the solution and need to be included in the discussion. Try to keep the door and don’t let the negative sentiment stand in the way of you achieving your goals. It is easy to get discouraged and give up, and we all go through periods where we do-but overtime progress has been made and women are advancing in private equity, albeit slowly.

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

I have 3 beautiful daughters, a loving husband and a large family nearby, which require significant time commitment. I am also involved in several charities and I love to swim, read books and take vacations with my family.

What other career path might you have chosen?

I would have loved to work at either the U.N or at Colonial Williamsburg as a tour guide. It would be fun to get dressed up in costumes and pretend that I live in the 1800s!