Melissa Dickerson, the chief financial officer at Genstar Capital, built out the private equity firm’s operational infrastructure as it grew from $200 million to $9 billion in assets under management. In the process, she acquired 52 platform investments, while divesting 33, and doubled the private equity firm’s staff.

Dickerson has more than 18 years of middle-market private equity experience. Before joining Genstar in 2004, she worked for five years at American Industrial Partners, a middle-market PE firm.

The CFO says she aspired to a leadership role as far back as the fourth grade—when she was inspired by a book of short stories about women in leadership positions, like Golda Meir. “I had this thought: I want to be Golda Meir; I want to be a leader; I want to be that.”

For women considering careers in private equity, Dickerson emphasizes the importance of cultivating a long-term outlook.

“To have that vision; to just know where you want to go and stick to it—it’s important. I hope that the women who follow me will continue to push forward,” she says. “We need women with vision to hold on and work the next 10 to 15 years, and become those private equity firm partners.”

Another key, she says, is to not be afraid of taking risks. “How you develop your voice--and your sense of self and who you are--is by taking risks: talking; saying it wrong; being unafraid to sound stupid. Just getting out there and failing and learning.”

Dickerson has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Vassar College and an MBA from the University of California Berkeley’s HAAS School of Business. In 2000, she developed an informal middle-market CFO network and has served as a speaker at the PEI Private Fund Finance & Compliance Forum.