When not busy managing three departments at London-based private equity group, Pantheon, Imogen Richards, who made Partner at the end of 2018, relaxes by doing a spot of oil painting or designing mosaic floors. In the following Spotlight profile, we find out how Imogen approaches her multifarious role, and what it means to be a good mentor in today’s workplace.
Back in 2002, when Imogen Richards graduated from the University of Cambridge upon completing a Masters in natural sciences, like most graduates of her age she wasn’t entirely sure where her career path would lead.
“My family are in finance and I knew that was an industry that may be interesting. I was very fortunate to get a job in finance when I graduated, joining Anglo Irish Bank in Dublin,” says Richards. “That role gave me exposure to private equity, and led to my joining Pantheon as an analyst in 2005. I think it’s really important to have people who support you, and who see potential in graduates, especially in private equity.”
Richards has been noted for her leadership capability throughout her career. She says at the start of her career one ambition was clear: to work with smart, personable people:
“Before joining Pantheon I’d already worked in private equity for a few years and I knew I wanted to stay in the industry but when you’re 25 years old, having long-term career aspirations is optimistic! At the early stage of your career, I think it’s all about the fundamentals: are you willing to learn? Are you willing to work hard? Do you get on with people in a team?”
Over the next eight years, Richards worked in the global secondaries team. Her leadership skills quickly became apparent and led to her being appointed principal in the team.
In 2016, Richards was named global head of the Investment Structuring and Strategy Team and asked by Pantheon’s managing partner Paul Ward to build two departments: the investment structuring team, which closes all of the firm’s investment transactions, working on around 50 deals at any one time. And the Portfolio Strategy Team, which oversees about 80 client portfolios at any point. Since setting up the two-pronged team, Richards has diligently built out a team of 10 staff across the firm’s UK and US offices.
In 2018 alone, the Investment Structuring Team closed 136 transactions with a value of USD5.2 billion. The Portfolio Strategy Team currently manages around 80 unique client portfolios with over USD12 billion of dry powder across all of Pantheon’s strategies.
As if that wasn’t enough, at the end of 2018, Richards was promoted to Partner and asked to take on the leadership of Pantheon’s Investment Research Team, in addition to her IST responsibilities.
“Doing secondary deals for such a long time really gave me a grounding in understanding the fundamentals of how a deal works and what you need to do, but also how Pantheon works as an organisation,” explains Richards. “Managing the Portfolio Strategy Team, the Investment Structuring Team as well as the Investment Research Team... I think those years spent as an analyst were important and gave me the tools I needed to successfully fulfil my current role.”
The art of multi-tasking
As well as managing the above three teams, Richards also sits on Pantheon’s operating committee, which deals with the day-to-day business. Such is the depth and breadth of her remit that Richards rarely finds she has more than an hour to spend on one issue at a time, deftly pivoting from meeting to meeting throughout the day.
This might involve, for example, switching between managing a fund sales process for a client to revising allocation procedures for a client mandate, to then presenting at a conference.
“It is a varied role and I think it is important to be as efficient a multi-tasker as possible. It involves keeping on top of a range of tasks at all times and is a bit like balancing multiple spinning plates at once – all the while keeping on top of the details.
“It is fundamental, therefore, to have the right people in your team that you can trust to manage things by themselves. Obviously people need oversight and you have to act as a sounding board but you can’t micro manage; hence why it is so important to hire the very best people possible,” says Richards.
Inspiring colleagues has always been a key attribute of any successful leader, but it is arguably more relevant today than ever, as millennial workers are approaching their careers differently. They want to develop quickly in their roles and learn as much as possible and are unable to stay in the same industry for the entirety of their career. That requires focusing on their development, making sure they are learning and keeping the role as interesting as possible.
“When I started my career, it was very much a case that I was working for the company but today, I've noticed an increased balance of 'power' with employers recognising that they have a role to play in accommodating the needs and aspirations of their – in particular – younger workforce; it’s a generational shift,” observes Richards.
"It is fundamental to have the right people in your team that you can trust to manage things by themselves. Obviously people need oversight and you have to act as a sounding board but you can’t micro manage; hence why it is so important to hire the very best people possible."
Diversity is in our DNA
Richards has managed people throughout her career. Fostering talented people has been a feature of her tenure at Pantheon, and has undoubtedly led to her ability in successfully running three divisions. Last year, she championed the career development of several members of her team and in 2018 promoted three members of her team.
“If you hire the right people you can rely on them to do what you need them to do but at the same time, developing their career is important,” muses Richards. “I’ve recruited a few graduates… spotting potential early on in an individual and giving them the opportunity to work in an industry that doesn’t traditionally hire at the graduate level.”
Diversity has been a key strand of Pantheon’s DNA since its origins, where a wide variety of senior and well-respected women in the organisation have long featured. It is, says Richards, entirely coincidental “that I’ve happened to build an entirely female Portfolio Strategy Team and a 40 per cent female Investment Structuring Team. That’s simply been because they have each, individually, been the best person for the job.”
Pantheon is at the forefront of initiatives such as flexible working and working from home when needed. This has enabled it to hire and retain senior, talented females, who have the opportunity to raise a family in tandem with forging a long successful career.
“As a manager, you have to be careful of the shadow you cast; and this applies in any industry,” says Richards. “Everyone who works for you and looks up to you will emulate the way you work and what you are doing. It’s important to have women and men within an organisation acting in a way that they want their colleagues to work.
“We have various senior people within the organisation including senior men, who also work in a flexible way. This takes the issue of gender off the table. I think having a corporate environment that makes it more flexible for all employees, not just female employees, really helps. I’ve seen other senior women in Pantheon be incredibly successful and my hope is that colleagues in my team would feel the same way about how I manage them.”
Research published by MSCI, entitled Women on Boards and the Human Capital Connection, found that companies with diverse boards (3-plus female directors over three years) and leading talent management practices experienced growth in employee productivity that averaged 1.2 per cent above the industry average. Companies with both mostly male boards and lagging talent management practices experienced the opposite effect.
Asked about diversity in the boardroom, Richards pauses to reflect before commenting that people should be chosen on merit, above all else. She agrees that corporate boards should represent their underlying clients and customers “but it is not something that should be forced onto boards because there are gender targets”.
“We need to get to a point where people are aware of their own unconscious biases. If a company has a purely white male board of directors, the challenge is to overcome that bias and fight against it so that we get to a point where we no longer need to have diversity targets.
“In the meantime, however, having some kind of target can help bring people’s awareness to the fact that they should be thinking about this. In that respect, they can help break down those unconscious biases.”
Level 20 Mentorship
Richards was an early mentee at Level 20, a not-for-profit body focused on promoting private equity as a fulfilling and exciting career for young women to pursue. She is now herself a Level 20 Mentor, imparting her knowledge and experience to the next generation of female investment professionals, as well as helping connect members with other mentors in the network.
Mentoring is vital and something that Pantheon supports and offers a programme to its global workforce.
“A lot of the issues that women have are quite common across different firms and industries – having someone outside of one’s company to act as a sounding board in a confidential way, when you’ve got concerns over how to handle certain situations, can be hugely beneficial.
“Recently, Level 20 started running a series of breakfast events for women at the same level as each other, so it’s not just inter-generational mentoring but peer-to-peer mentoring. This helps women to build relationships within the industry with people at the same level of seniority, from a career perspective, which is invaluable. It’s a great way for women to build their network within the private equity industry.”
An inspirational mother
One of the biggest influences in Richards’ life, and her greatest source of inspiration, is her mother, who raised four children while juggling a successful career through the 1980s and 1990s.
“My mother showed me that it was possible to find that balance and this has been hugely influential. One piece of advice she gave me while growing up, was ‘Make sure you do something that allows you to be in control of your life’.”
In other words, if you want to be happy and fulfilled in your career, do something where you feel like you are in control rather than standing in someone’s shadow the whole time.
“What I like especially about working at Pantheon is I feel like I can control my own destiny and even though it requires a lot of hard work, I’m doing work that I want to do, not what I have to do,” she adds.
A rich tapestry
One might think that such a high-profile job in private equity would leave little energy left over to do much in the way of sport or recreation. But such is her creative drive that Richards pursues a variety of hobbies outside of the office.
“I am a creative person at heart,” she enthuses.
“I always have a number of creative projects on the go. I do oil painting portraits (I just finished one of my dad for his birthday) and I’ve completed several mosaic floors that take a year or longer to make. One of my artistic influences is Grayson Perry; that’s the style I strive for!
“I’m currently also working on a series of tapestries. I’ve always got at least one long-term project I’m working on.”
It certainly seems that Richards has successfully woven a rich tapestry for both her professional and personal life. Indeed, inspiring her teams within Pantheon to bigger and better things is likely to be a common thread over the coming years.