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Gretchen Perkins reflects on building a “different kind of PE firm” at Avance

"The opportunity to be a part of something brand new in our industry really appealed to me," said Perkins about joining emerging manager Avance. "I was excited to be able to help our young firm establish our unique culture, contribute to creating our go-to-market strategy, and to help recruit more diverse talent to our firm."

PE Hub’s ongoing series of Q&As with high-profile private equity pros continues today with insights from Gretchen Perkins, partner, origination, Avance Investment Management. Now a little over a year old, Avance was founded by former dealmakers from Palladium Equity Partners and has offices in New York and Miami. It’s one of a dozen emerging managers we’re keeping an eye on. Previously, Perkins was a partner at Huron Capital, where she led business development and deal sourcing activities.

What inspired the move from Huron in Detroit to Avance in Miami? 

I moved for personal reasons. It was fall of 2020, and my significant other in Florida and I decided “Life is short. Let’s stop wasting precious time living apart.” I reached out to a friend of mine at a Miami PE firm and asked him to keep me in mind if he saw any opportunities in the area. I was very lucky to be introduced to my new firm by him. (Thanks Dave Gershman at Trivest!)

After working for a large established firm like Huron for 14 years, what’s the appeal of Avance, a firm that’s just starting out?

The opportunity to be a part of something brand new in our industry really appealed to me. I was excited to be able to help our young firm establish our unique culture, contribute to creating our go-to-market strategy, and to help recruit more diverse talent to our firm. It has been very rejuvenating to be wearing a lot of hats as we build this firm! And of course, the opportunity to bring to bear my years of relationship building and contacts with my new partners has been extremely rewarding.

Why did you choose to join Avance?

I already mentioned the opportunity to be in on the ground floor of a new firm, but the firm values, investment strategy, track record of my founders, and the mandate to build a truly diverse team are the fundamental reasons I joined this firm. My colleagues and Avance founders David Perez, Luis Zaldivar and Erik Scott have created the unique framework for the different kind of PE firm that we are building. Our diversity of experiences and relationships are our collective superpower, in my opinion! I encourage you to see the team page on our website. We are proud to say that 75 percent of our employees are diverse by gender or ethnicity. Again – this is very intentional.

We seek to invest in growth-oriented businesses, partnering with strong management teams and founders, to help businesses bolster talent and accelerate growth. We target the services and consumer sectors, and focus on businesses with $5 million to $25 million of EBITDA. We implement our STAGE value creation strategy to achieve our goals, focusing on Strategy, Talent, Acquisitions, Growth and ESG.

Please give us an update on Avance now that the firm is a year old.

We are excited to have invested in three platform companies in 2021. Our portfolio companies include a personal care ingredients products distribution business (Wholesale Supplies Plus), an insurance brokerage business focused on the Hispanic population (UniVista Insurance), and a construction equipment leasing business (Synergy Infrastructure Holdings). And with the addition of two new hires that begin in a handful of months, we are up to 18 people, roughly split evenly between our New York and Miami offices. It’s been a busy year!

What are the biggest challenges of dealmaking today? What keeps you up at night?

The biggest challenges in dealmaking today are 1) the valuation environment of this hot market, followed closely by 2) the demand for talent. Everyone in the industry is trying to hire the same mid-level and junior investment/investment banking talent, which makes for a challenging recruitment environment. We are confident that the opportunity to be part of this brand new firm’s team, which affords accelerated experience opportunity for everyone, and our commitment to culture and diversity make Avance a place talent will want to come. The attraction of the Miami office weather doesn’t hurt either.

What is the Florida dealmaking community like? How does it compare with Detroit and New York?

Florida’s dealmaking community is really four separate communities:  Miami, Tampa/St. Pete, Orlando and Jacksonville. And all areas are strongly growing with commensurate increased M&A Activity. The amount of firms, and thus people, relocating from the north to Florida for tax reasons, job opportunities, or weather are well documented. All markets are experiencing strong growth. It is fun to be living and working in an area of the country experiencing booming growth. Two of our three portfolio companies are HQ’d in Florida, as a matter of fact.