Mergers & Acquisitions names the 2021 PE Leaders in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, including WIllie Woods, founder and managing director of ICV Partners.

For many people in private equity, the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a white police officer – and the subsequent reckoning on race – fueled a commitment to address the lack of diversity in the industry. But for Willie Woods, the process began much earlier. The beating of Rodney King by white police officers – and the Los Angeles riots that erupted in 1992 when the officers were acquitted – set the wheels in motion for Woods to launch ICV Partners, one of the oldest Black-led PE firms in the U.S.

At the time of the L.A. riots, Woods was a student at Harvard Business School. He conducted a field study to explore business opportunities in L.A., applying the principles of Professor Michael Porter’s book, The Competitive Advantage of Nations, to inner cities. The ideas behind the project stayed with Porter, and several years later, he approached Woods (who was then an investment banker) about launching a fund that would provide capital to businesses in inner cities. The result was ICV.

“It’s really ironic that here we are, almost 30 years later, still dealing with the same issues,” Woods told Mergers & Acquisitions. “When we founded ICV, one of my goals, in addition to great returns and a great firm, was to make sure that we got more people of color in this business.”