Vista CEO tells female general partners to ‘lean in’

Smith said he understood to “some degree” why some women need to leave the industry, but added that women who want PE careers need to “lean in, lean in.”

Private equity, he said, is a “phenomenal career and a phenomenal opportunity … there are ways to make it work for your career. If you want to have children there are ways to make that work for you. But if you get out too soon you won’t have that chance.”

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Women in alternative assets

Smith’s comments came on the sidelines of a private equity event at Columbia Business School.

Buyouts asked several female private equity executives about Smith’s contention that success in private equity doesn’t allow for much work-life balance. All asked to remain anonymous. Most said they understood what the Vista CEO was getting at.

Another female GP said she didn’t think Smith’s comments were sexist. However, his comments “would be complete if he acknowledged women probably have to work harder to succeed and for parity (like we do in every profession),” the executive said in an email.“There are too few women in private equity,” said one female GP. “Much of what he says resonates.”

“Understand this is not a place necessarily where work-life balance is going to be rolling off of everybody’s tongue – it isn’t,” he said. “Understand that’s the market. If you want to move in that business that’s what your life will be for a long time.”
Smith emphasized during the Columbia event that private equity is a “hard” business that is highly competitive.

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Smith also mentioned that “every now and then” a senior Vista executive will have a personal issue. “We try to solve it, we try to do what we can,” he said. “Sometimes they have to opt out. That’s the nature of this business.”

Smith said he is “sensitive” to disparities in the industry and makes Vista a meritocracy. He noted that Betty Hung, who worked with him at Goldman Sachs, was recently promoted to principal at Vista