Venita Fields, a founding partner of Pelham S2K Managers LLC, got her start in private equity 20 years ago as a partner in Smith Whiley & Co. In the 1980s, she worked in a leveraged buyout loans group at Citibank that produced several PE firm founders, in addition to herself: Jeffrey Walters of LaSalle Capital; Howard Unger of Saw Mill Capital, Andy Code of CHS Capital and Tom Bagley of Pfingston Partners.

While at Smith Whiley, Fields was a member of the investment committee and managed three limited partnerships that invested in 38 middle market companies.

In 2015, Fields, two other partners from Smith Whiley and a fourth partner formed Pelham S2K. But Fields credits one of those partners, Gwendolyn Smith Iloani from Smith Whiley, with raising the necessary capital by launching the private equity firm as a joint venture with Aetna Insurance Co. Iloani, who was based in Hartford, Connecticut, then invited Fields to join and open a Chicago office.

Recalling that time, Fields acknowledges that without the capital infusion from Aetna she may never have had the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a private equity firm.

“Capital is a huge barrier,” she says pointedly. “It’s a barrier for women and for minorities.” During a start-up period, “Not only is no money coming in, but you’re spending money traveling; visiting potential limited investors and partners. When an LP says, ‘I can meet you next week,’ you don’t say: ‘Well, can you wait a week because it’s cheaper to buy a ticket then?’”

Fields has served as the board chair for ACG Chicago and is a founder and a member of both the Chicago and international boards of the Private Directors Association. This is the second time she has been named to Mergers & Acquisitions’ Most Influential Women in Mid-Market M&A honor roll.

Fields has a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management.