Tuesday 22 December 2020 11:16 am

Making it in the City as a woman in 2020: a rising private equity star explains

City A.M.‘s Michiel Willems sat down with Sunaina Sinha Haldea, founder and CEO of Cebile Capital, a London-based placement agent and secondaries advisor in private equity and infrastructure.

The Harvard graduate is also an angel investor and serves as chair of the board of Barrecore, one of Europe’s largest luxury fitness boutiques, while she is a former chair of meal delivery giant Mindful Chef.

You are the founder of a minority and female-owned private equity advisory firm with the vast majority of employees being women. How challenging is it for women to make it in the City in 2020?

The City continues to evolve for female employees. There have been considerable strides made to bring women into the industry at entry-levels, as an analyst or at associate level. 

However, much more needs to be done to retain, support and promote women to senior levels of financial services organizations, especially into the C-suite. Women need role models of how a path can be followed to the top. These numbers are still paltry and no amount of lip service can substitute for female leadership in the industry. 

Read more: City of London to spearhead taskforce to tackle lack of class diversity in finance

Diversity and equality are increasingly a priority for City firms. Do you feel most firms have a serious strategy in place or is it merely hollow talk? For example, look at differences in pay.

While most firms are very good at acquiring diverse talents at the junior levels, we find very few examples of diversity at the higher levels of the industry. Today’s leadership has to explicitly identify junior and mid-level talent that is diverse and mentor, support and promote them over the years and bring them up through the leadership ranks. The rest is all lip service. 

Unless you are willing to make a strong commitment to ensuring that diverse employees will make up at least half of your identified ‘star talent’, you are never going to get to an endpoint of a team or About Us page that reflects the society in which we live today.

Sunaina Sinha Haldea

Read more: City sponsors initiative for more diversity in asset management

You are also an investor in high-growth companies in the UK, which firms really stood out for you this year? And which industries?

2020 has been all about technology, food and sustainability, healthcare and wellness businesses. It’s been a revolutionary year for technology adoption across the UK and not just from a consumer behaviours perspective. Companies and the fintech infrastructure behind businesses have evolved at an unprecedented pace this year. Food and sustainability also remain a key theme for the world as climate change, farm-to-fork eating and mindfulness around waste become foremost in the consumer’s mind. 

Market conditions for new companies, however, are super challenging at the moment. A recession and Brexit just weeks away, how has this impacted the private equity space and deal making activity?

Although we are already in a double dip recession, the public and private equity markets show no signs of a slowdown. Technology and healthcare have driven public comparables to record highs and the private market valuations have also followed suit. 

M&A activity is back with a vengeance due to record amounts of dry powder sitting with financial sponsors that has a time-gated investment period and, therefore, must be put to work. 

Sunaina Sinha Haldea

Looking ahead at 2021, what are your predictions for next year?

The economy will have some normalization from the second quarter onwards. We will see a V shaped recovery. While the world gets vaccinated, we expect most of 2021 to still be a remote fundraising environment for private equity houses. Conferences and face-to-face roadshows are expected to make a comeback in the third or fourth quarter.

How will that continue to impact private equity?

The remote model of the private equity capital markets means that emerging managers and new managers raising first time funds will find it very difficult to get their fundraises completed. Private equity funds will have more ways to exit a company than ever before, from direct listings, for venture-backed companies, to SPACs to single asset GP-led transactions. The menu of options in 2021 is more than just the traditional IPO or sponsor and trade sale.