Slideshow 2018's Most Influential Women

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  • June 01 2018, 1:30pm EDT
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Meet 2018's Most Influential Women In Mid-Market M&A

The third edition of Mergers & Acquisitions’ special report celebrates 35 leading female transaction professionals, including Sarah Bradley, co-founder of middle-market private equity firm Kainos Capital.

The challenges women face in achieving top-tier status in financial services are particularly acute in the middle market, where women account for approximately 14 percent of all dealmakers. These women, 35 of the Most Influential Women In Middle Market M&A, have stood the test of time and adversity.

Editor’s Note: Mergers & Acquisitions’ Most Influential Women in Mid-Market M&A is published online on TheMiddleMarket.com in late December and in the January issue of the magazine. We promote the project online and through our social media channels throughout the year. The nomination process for the 2019 list will open up in September 2018.


Marilyn Adler

Name: Marilyn Adler
No. of years in M&A: 14
Current position: Managing Director, Medley
Key responsibilities: Adler leads Medley’s small business investment company, which provides first- and second-lien debt financing to lower and middle market U.S. companies.
Previous: Sunrise Equity Partners; Hudson Venture Partners; TIAA-CREF
Education: B.S. from Cornell University; MBA from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

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Sarah Bradley

Name: Sarah Bradley
No. of years in M&A: 18
Current position: Co-Founder, Kainos Capital
Key responsibilities: Oversees investor relations and fundraising, and serves on the firm’s investment committee
Previous: Before starting Kainos, Bradley was with HM Capital in 2011
Education: B.A. in Business Administration and a Master of Professional Accounting, both from the University of Texas at Austin
Success secrets: “I always tell women to take on risks as well as challenges.”

Christina Bresani

Name: Christina Bresani
Years in M&A: 19
Current position: Head of financial services investment banking, William Blair
Key responsibilities: Sourcing, structuring and executing mergers and acquisitions involving high-profile public and private companies.
Significant deals: Chicago Board Options Exchange’s $3.4 billion acquisition of Bats Global Markets; TIAA’s $2.5 billion acquisition of EverBank Financial Corp, and First Horizon National Corp.’s acquisition of Capital Bank Financial Corp.
Previous: UBS
Education: B.A. from Wellesley College
Key to success: “Don’t talk yourself out of something before you even try!”

Sonya Brown

Name: Sonya Brown
No. of years in M&A: 21
Current position: General Partner, Norwest Venture Partners
Key responsibilities: Brown co-heads the firm’s growth equity practice, focusing on investing across the consumer, retail, internet and business services sectors.
Previous: Summit Partners; Equity Residential; Bear Stearns
Education: B.S. from Northwestern University; MBA from Harvard Business School

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Elizabeth Burgess

Name: Elizabeth Burgess
No. of years in M&A: 29
Current position: Partner, Bridges Fund Management Ltd.
Key responsibilities: Burgess leads team investing in socially impactful businesses; serves on the investment committee.
Previous: Atlus Capital Partners; Bank of America; G.E. Capital; The Chase Manhattan Bank
Education: B.A. from SUNY Plattsburgh; MBA from Columbia University-School of Business

Kelly Cornelis

Name: Kelly Cornelis
No. of years in M&A: 19
Current position: Partner, LaSalle Capital
Key responsibilities: Cornelis is responsible for sourcing, evaluating and structuring investments; portfolio management; investor relations.
Previous: SB Partners; William Blair & Co.
Education: BBA from University of Notre Dame; MBA from Northwestern University

Carey Davidson

Name: Carey Davidson
No. of years in M&A: 18
Current position: Managing director and head of capital markets, Monroe Capital
Key responsibilities: Davidson oversees buy-side club originations, relationship management, marketing and sell-side syndications, and serves on the investment committee.
Previous: The Carlyle Group; Churchill Financial; GE Antares Capital
Education: B.A. from University of Wisconsin-Madison; MBA from The University of Chicago

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Melissa Dickerson

Name: Melissa Dickerson
No. of years in M&A: 19
Current position: Chief Financial Officer and Managing Director, Genstar Capital
Key responsibilities: Dickerson oversees more than $9 billion under management; maintaining SEC compliance; implementing environmental, social and governance policy, and supervising back office operations.
Previous: American Industrial Partners; Deloitte
Education: B.A. from Vassar College; MBA from University of California, Berkeley

Michelle Eidson

Name: Michelle Eidson
No. of years in M&A: 7
Current position: Managing Director, Business Development, Shorehill Capital
Key responsibilities: Tracking and analyzing deal flow, developing sourcing strategy, overseeing strategy execution
Previous: VP and head of business development at Platte River Equity; director of corporate development at EchoStar Technologies
Important deals: Wildcat Minerals, Wellmark, Sling Media and Move Networks
Education: B.A. in International Studies with a Minor in Economics from Colby College, and an MBA in Finance and an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business

Robin Engelson

Name: Robin Engelson
No. of years in M&A: 36
Current Position: Founder and managing partner, Sapphire Financial
Key Responsibilities: Engelson manages debt and equity capital raises for entrepreneur-owned middle market businesses, family offices, independent sponsors, management teams and funds with capital requirements from $20 million to $500 million.
Previous: Lazard Middle Market; Goldsmith Agio Helms; GE Capital; The Bank of New York
Education: B.A. from the University of Michigan; M.A. from the Anderson School of Management at UCLA

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Kathy Fields

Name: Kathy Fields
No. of years in M&A: 25
Current position: General partner, general counsel and chief compliance officer, JMI Equity, San Diego
Key responsibilities: As a member of JMI’s investment team, Fields is responsible for deal structuring and execution, portfolio development and compliance
Previous: Partner in the corporate, private equity and technology company groups at Goodwin Procter
Education: Stanford Law School
Awards and recognitions: Named one of the Best Lawyers in America by U.S. News and Best Lawyers, 2012
Key to success: “I spend a lot of time thinking about how to deal with things that could go wrong and not letting them before they do.”

Venita Fields

Name: Venita Fields
No. of years in M&A: 33
Current Position: Partner, Pelham S2K Managers LLC
Key Responsibilities: Fields invests and manages debt and equity investments in Pelham S2K Managers LLC, a small business investment company formed in 2016. She also manages the firm’s Midwest office in Evanston, Illinois.
Previous: Smith Whiley & Co.; Bank of America; Citi; Continental Bank
Education: B.A. from Northwestern University; M.A. from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management

Carolyn Galiette

Name: Carolyn Galiette
No. of years in M&A: 30
Current position: Founding Partner and Chief Investment Officer, Ironwood Capital
Key responsibilities: Galiette chairs the Ironwood’s investment committees; and manages day-to-day execution of the firm’s investment strategy, underwriting process, portfolio management and investor engagement.
Previous: Aetna Financial Services
Education: B.A. from Dartmouth College

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Janki Gandhi

Name: Janki Gandhi
No. of years in M&A: 13
Current position: Managing Director, Lincoln International
Key responsibilities: Advises clients on mid-market M&A, leveraged buyouts, recapitalizations and valuations in the consumer sector.
Previous: Managing Director, The Sage Group
Education: The Wharton School
Current take on market: “Retail has changed dramatically in the last 12 to 24 months with direct-to-consumer and online delivery.”

Jeri Harman

Name: Jeri Harman
No. of years in M&A: 30
Current position: CEO, Avante Mezzanine Partners
Key responsibilities: Directs investment and growth strategy, brand building and investor relations
Previous: Founded the Los Angeles offices for American Capital and Allied Capital
Education: B.S. from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, MBA from the University of California, Berkeley’s Walter A. Haas School of Business
Point of view: “More and more private equity firms are looking to recruit women, so there has never been a better time for women to enter the industry.”

Nanette Heide

Name: Nanette Heide
No. of years in M&A: 16
Current position: Partner, Duane Morris
Key responsibilities: Board member and chair of the law firm’s fashion, retail and consumer products industry groups
Previous: Tribute International (Videosnap)
Education: B.A. and B.S. from West Virginia University; law degree from Washington and Lee University’s School of Law
Keys to success: “You have to find what makes you happy and stay committed to it”

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Kristina Heinze

Name: Kristina Heinze
No. of years in M&A: 16
Current Position: Partner and co-founder, ParkerGale Capital
Key Responsibilities: Sourcing and monitoring investments
Previous: William Blair Capital Partners; Credit Suisse
Industry Perspective: “You have to find a way to stand out. Just having the check anymore? That doesn’t mean anything.”
Education: B.A. from the University of Illinois

Pam Hendrickson

Name: Pam Hendrickson
No. of years in M&A: 11
Current position: Chief Operating Officer and Vice Chairman, The Riverside Co.
Key responsibilities: Manages firm’s deal origination and fundraising teams
Previous: Managing Director and member of the operating committee at J.P. Morgan Chase (NYSE: JPM)
Education: Undergraduate degree from Duke University; MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University
Key to success: “Have confidence in yourself and remember you can’t control everything.”

Vennette Ho

Name: Vennette Ho
No. of years in M&A: 13
Current Position: Managing Director, Financo Inc.
Key responsibilities: Heads the M&A practice for the beauty and personal care consumer segments
Previous: Equity Research Associate, Lazard; Executive Merchandising Program, Bloomingdales
Education: B.A. from Brown University, Masters in business management from Columbia University’s Business School

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Katie Hockman

Name: Katie Hockman
No. of years in M&A: 15
Current position: Managing Director, Antares Capital
Key responsibilities: Responsible for client relationship development, new business origination, underwriting and portfolio company management
Previous: Member of the underwriting team at Antares Capital; a founding member of the Chicago-based VC firm, BlueStar Ventures; ABN AMRO’s investment banking division
Education: Ohio State University; Northwestern University
Point of view: On leaving the VC world to join the middle market: “I wanted to go into something where I could live with the investment after deploying the capital."

Angela Humphreys

Name: Angela Humphreys
No. of years in M&A: 18
Current Position: Chair of healthcare practice group, Bass Berry & Sims PLC
Key responsibilities: Leads the firm’s national healthcare practice, counseling hospitals, health systems, health plans, surgery centers, physician practice management companies, laboratories and healthcare information technology companies on transactions, operational and regulatory issues.
Key deals: Over the past 12 months, Humphreys’ key deals have included representing WellCare in its purchase of assets from Universal American, Care 1st Health Plan and Phoenix Health Plan.
Education: B.S. from the University of Tennessee; J.D. from the University of Tennessee College of Law

Mary Sullivan Josephs

Name: Mary Sullivan Josephs
No. of years in M&A: 34
Current position: Founder and CEO, Verit Advisors
Key responsibilities: Leads all firm endeavors; advises and structures ownership options for privately held middle-market companies
Previous: Launched a national ESOP Advisory practice for ABN AMRO LaSalle Corporate Finance and led the ESOP Solutions Group for all of Bank of America-Merrill Lynch
Important deals: Advised on and led sales and ESOP transactions at Symbria, a provider of pharmacy and physical therapy services to healthcare institutions; The LOGS Group, a national provider of law firm practice management solutions, and consulting firms The Northridge Group, Morgan Franklin and EYP
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Economics and French from Marquette University and a Masters of Business Administration in Finance from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business
Awards, recognitions and affiliations: Board of Directors, Spinnaker Coating; lifetime member, Board of Governors of the ESOP Association; member of the Economic Club of Chicago and the Association for Corporate Growth
Success secrets: “Nobody knows everything. The more you collaborate and bring out the talent in other people, the more effective you will be.”

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Julia Karol

Name: Julia Karol
No. of years in M&A: 8
Current position: President and Chief Operating Officer, Watermill Group
Key responsibilities: Karol manages the overall day-to-day operations of the firm and helps Watermill portfolio companies develop and implement their strategies
Previous: Jumpstart, an early-education nonprofit
Education: Tufts University; Stanford University; Harvard Business School’s OPM Program
Awards and recognitions: Named one of the Most Influential Women in Middle Market M&A in 2016
Point of view: “You have to look around and make sure you have a diverse and balanced group of people working with you. [This type of ] awareness is essential for growth.”

Lisa Kro

No. of years in M&A: 29
Current position: Co-founder and managing director, Mill City Capital
Key responsibilities: Fundraising and investor relations, deal sourcing, financing and due diligence, supervising portfolio companies.
Previous: Goldner Hawn Johnson & Morrison; KPMG
Education: B.S. from the University of Minnesota – Moorhead

Janica Lane

Name: Janica Lane
No. of years in M&A: 12
Current Position: Managing Director, Consumer Investment Banking at Piper Jaffray
Key responsibilities: Leads investment banking for the food, beverage and nutritional supplement segments
Previous: Partner at boutique investment bank Partnership Capital Growth
Education: Undergraduate degree from Stanford University; MBA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business
Awards and recognitions: Received a Forbes Top 25 Consumer Catalyst Award in 2016, and named among Forbes’ Top 25 Most Influential “Kingmakers” in consumer and retail in 2013. Received two ACG British Columbia awards in 2017 for deals in which she served as a sell-side adviser.

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Michele McHale

Name: Michele McHale
No. of years in M&A:
Current Position: Partners, Plante Moran
Key responsibilities: Oversees more than 350 industry experts, partners and staff in the PE practice; serves PE funds and financial buyer clients in the TAS practice.
Previous: Wolters Kluwer - Financial Services Solutions; Club Corp.
Education: B.S. from Western Michigan University

Elizabeth Bloomer Nesvold

Name: Elizabeth Bloomer Nesvold
No. of Years in M&A: 25
Current position: Founder and Managing Partner, Silver Lane Advisors
Key responsibilities: Oversees all firm operations nationwide; leads business development efforts and transaction execution; sets company’s culture and long-term objectives
Significant deals: The sale of Avalon Advisors, a $4 billion investment manager, to The Carlyle Group; the sale of Stadion, a $7 billion managed ETF platform, to TA Associates; Evercore Partners’ acquisition of Mt. Eden Investment Advisors; Prudential Insurance’s divestiture of WMS, a $24 billion wealth management platform, to Envestnet
Previous: New York-based investment banks Cambridge IP, where she was a managing director, and Berkshire Capital
Education: B.A. in Political Science with a minor in Economics from Binghamton University; MBA in Finance with high honors from The Gabelli School of Business, Fordham University
Awards and recognitions: Keynote Speaker, 29th annual Abraham J. Briloff Lecture Series on Accountability and Society, Binghamton University School of Management (2017); Business and Financial Services Deal of the Year, ACG Champion’s Awards (2017); Financial Services Deal of the Year, 15th Annual M&A Advisor Awards (2016)

Raquel Palmer

Name: Raquel Palmer
No. of years in M&A: 23
Current position: Partner, KPS Capital Partners
Key responsibilities: Negotiates with KPS Capital’s investors and chairs the firm’s investment committee
Previous: Kidder, Peabody & Co.
Education: Stanford University

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Gretchen Seay

Name: Gretchen Seay
No. of years in M&A: 11
Current position: Co-founder, Managing Director, Clearsight Advisors Inc.
Key responsibilities: Seay leads a team of investment bankers assisting clients in M&A and capital raise matters from business development through the close of the transaction.
Significant deals: Some notable deals Seay has helped to source and execute, includes: ThinkBig’s sale to Teradata; JackBe’s sale to SoftwareAG; DataSource’s sale to EXL; VanDyke’s sale to Jacobs and Arryve’s sale to Grant Thornton.
Previous: PricewaterhouseCoopers
Education: B.A. in International Studies from the University of Washington; MBA from the University of Chicago

Heather Smith

Name: Heather Smith
No. of years in M&A: 21
Current Position: Managing Director, Houlihan Lokey
Key responsibilities: Provides customized equity capital services to clients for acquisition finance, growth capital and balance sheet recapitalization
Major deals: Among Smith's deal experience, she has helped raise $1.25 billion in structured equity acquisition financing for a partnership between GreatPoint Energy and China Wanxiango.
Previous: Managing Director, Sagent Advisors
Education: B.A. from Harvard University, MBA from the Kellogg Graduate school of Management at Northwestern University

Michelle Van Hellemont

Name: Michelle Van Hellemont
No. of years in M&A: 13
Current Position: Managing director, Accordion Partners
Key responsibilities: Head of business development, including securing new private equity relationships, managing and growing the firm’s book of sponsor clients and supporting client development activities
Previous: Ambrose Employer Group, Bloomberg and Stax Inc.
Education: B.S. from the University of Michigan
Industry Advice: “You find people are always seeking something. You may not be able to help them directly, but you surely do know somebody, or a handful of people, who can help them,” she explains.

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Anne Vazquez

Name: Anne Vazquez
No. of years in M&A: 14
Current position: Partner, NewSpring Mezzanine
Key responsibilities: Making value-added investments in growing lower middle market companies
Previous: American Capital and KPMG
Education: B.S. from the University of Rhode Island; M.S. from Villanova University
Success Secrets: “If you’re good at what you do, and you surround yourself with good people, your gender won’t matter in the end.”

Emily Waldorf

Name: Emily Waldorf
No. of years in M&A: 18
Current position: Vice President, Corporate Strategy, Campbell Soup
Key responsibilities: Leads Campbell’s M&A efforts as a member of the company’s leadership team.
Previous: M&A, corporate strategy and business development positions at Discovery Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: DISCA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation and AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)
Education: Undergraduate degree from Pennsylvania State University, MBA from Harvard Business School
Major challenges: “Historically, finance has been a male-dominated field which has created a bit of an ‘old boys’ network when it comes to hiring, promotions, and the best projects. This often resulted in fewer women in the top roles.”

Gwen Watanabe

Name: Gwen Watanabe
No. of years in M&A: 5
Current position: Vice President of Global Corporate Development and Strategy, Teleflex
Key responsibilities: Oversees M&A, licensing and advanced engineering
Previous: CEO and co-founder of Hotspur
Recent successes: Complete about $2 billion worth of acquisitions for Teleflex
Education: B.S. in mechanical engineering from MIT, an M.S. in mechanical engineering from Stanford University and her MBA from the Harvard School of Business

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Marsha Zebley

Name: Marsha Zebley
No. of years in M&A: 6
Current position: Business Development Associate, OFS Capital
Key responsibilities: Zebley sources new investment opportunities for OFS, in addition to executing the firm’s business development initiatives focused on the eastern half of the U.S.
Previous: Before joining OFS Capital in 2014, Zebley was a private equity analyst at Graham Partners
Education: B.A. degree from the University of Vermont
Success secrets: “It’s important to understand the power of relationships. It’s not only what you know, but who you know.”