As Pride Month comes to a close, Mergers & Acquisitions checks in with Forrest Wilkinson, a principal at Apax Partners, who co-founded a  group for LGBTQ+ members of the private equity firm. Wilkinson joined the firm in 2014, based in  New York. His deal experience includes PIB Group, AssuredPartners, Paycor and Quality Distribution. Prior to joining Apax, Wilkinson held analyst positions in the M&A group at Evercore Partners and in the global industrials group at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, where he advised corporate clients on M&A and capital markets transactions. In our Q&A, Wilkinson shares insights on recruiting and retaining LGBTQ+ community members in the PE industry.

What was the impetus for an LGBTQ+ group at Apax?
One of the things I like most about working at Apax is the organization’s commitment to having an inclusive and diverse culture. During Covid, a colleague of mine and I decided we wanted to spearhead Apax Thrive so that when we as a firm began returning to the office, there would be a dedicated support group for LGBTQ+ folks inside the firm. We believe that Apax is and should continue to be a great place for LGBTQ+ community members to work and thrive, and fundamentally that is the vision for the group.

What are Thrive’s goals?
Starting off, we have four goals for the group:
1) Community: by bringing together Apax’s LGBTQ+ team members both virtually and in-person, we create a sense of community at the firm and ensure everyone feels comfortable to both be themselves and be out (if they choose to be) at the firm.
2) Recruiting: we want Apax to stand out as a great place to work for LGBTQ+ community members, allowing us to attract and retain the best talent. Thrive is supporting that goal by leading Apax’s sponsorship of LGBTQ+ recruiting events and by taking an active role during the interview cycle. We aim to help candidates see that Apax is a place where they can feel safe, seen, and connected.
3) Education: through many of our events, we aim to enhance awareness of the LGBTQ+ experience within our firm, portfolio, and community.
4) Supporting development of LGBT team members: by partnering with other companies in the investing and corporate community, we help LGBTQ+ team members at Apax build their professional network outside the firm. Likewise some of the events we are planning are aimed at equipping our Thrive members with the tools they need to continue thriving within Apax.

Forrest Wilkinson

How does Apax Thrive support LGBTQ dealmakers?
Across the private equity industry, we have found that there is a large group of LGBTQ+ folks that are trying to foster a community across the industry. Through Thrive, Apax has begun sponsoring this effort to bring folks from many different private equity firms together in-person and create a cross-firm community. There are many great LGBTQ+ leaders throughout the business world, and by working to build this new industry-wide network, we think this will enhance career development for dealmakers at the firm.

How does Thrive fit into Apax’s DEI & ESG overall initiatives?
Thrive directly supports our I&D strategy. We work very closely with our Global Head of Inclusion and Diversity to ensure that our efforts are aligned to our global I&D strategy. In doing that we are tasked with being a key driver of change within Apax. For example, our efforts are not just aimed at building community, but are also aimed at fostering an informed and committed base of allies.

What do you recommend other PE firms do to recruit, nurture and retain LGBTQ dealmakers?
I think the first step is to make a public and firm-wide statement of support for the LGBTQ+ community. Historically the financial services industry has not been known as particularly supportive of LGBTQ+ individuals; that tide is shifting and many of my friends in the community are actively looking to work for companies that make being an open and inclusive organization a priority. That can be hard to ascertain from the outside looking in, and so the best thing I can think of is to make that support visible to prospective candidates. I’d also urge firms to focus on inclusion, like we are doing at Apax. Firms can recruit LGBTQ+ folks all day, but if their work environments do not actively embrace and support them they won’t stick around.