Kelly Cornelis, a partner at LaSalle Capital in Chicago, got tired of the boys’ club atmosphere at Chicago’s private equity firms, so many of which didn’t have even a single professional woman on staff. So, she took matters into her own hands and co-founded the Chicago Women in Private Equity group to elevate women’s participation within the industry.

What began as an informal networking group for women at the general partner level expanded to include all women working in PE throughout the Chicago area and companion groups like the Women’s Association of Venture and Equity (WAVE) and the Private Equity Women Investor Network.

“It was just a nice way to connect with other women, who are senior in private equity and are dealing with a lot of the same issues,” Cornelis explains. “As you get higher up in your career, you have to reach out to other firms to develop these networks.”

Before joining LaSalle 13 years ago, Cornelis was a vice president at SB Partners, where she closed six deals in three years. At LaSalle, she led the fundraising for LaSalle Fund 2, while expanding the firm’s base of institutional investors.

The middle-market PE firm targets companies with Ebitda of $2 million to $8 million. Among Cornelis’ key deals were Advanced H2O, a private-label bottled water business that tripled in size and sold two-and-a-half years after LaSalle invested in it; Dr. Lucy’s, one of the first businesses to enter the gluten-free/allergen-free cookie market; Westminster Cracker Co., a maker of all-natural oyster crackers that was carved out of its holding company and expanded through acquisitions; and United American Security, a security guard company that LaSalle grew through 21 acquisitions.

Cornelis earned her bachelor’s degree from Notre Dame and her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.