Women in Private Equity to Know: Katie Noggle

by McGuireWoods LLP
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The interview below is part of a yearlong effort by McGuireWoods to profile women leaders in private equity. To recommend a woman for a future interview, email Amber Walsh at awalsh@mcguirewoods.com.

Katie Noggle leads deal origination and marketing as director of business development for Align Capital Partners (ACP), a $325 million lower-middle-market PE fund. As part of a new firm (ACP's debut fund closed in 2016), Katie has been instrumental in establishing relationships with deal intermediaries across the United States.

Prior to joining ACP, Noggle spent a decade at KeyBank National Association, primarily in debt capital markets, where she led execution teams in structuring and arranging syndicated credit facilities for public and private companies. She also worked for FirstMerit Bank where she sourced and underwrote cash flow loans to private-equity-owned portfolio companies.

Q: What attracted you to PE?

Katie Noggle: Early in my banking career, I was fortunate to split time between traditional, large corporate and PE-based transactions. I was immediately struck by the degree of focus and thoughtfulness among my PE clients. As a PE investor, you don't have decades to plod along toward achieving your growth objectives. You're on the clock. As a result, you must have a clear roadmap of what you're trying to accomplish and take decisive action to get there. I found that level of conviction and confidence to be contagious.

Fast-forward to today, where I'm on the other side of the table. What I've come to appreciate is that PE is the ultimate team sport. The decisiveness I was initially drawn to comes from strategic alignment and truly shared objectives across the firm. There is generally no single person or deal that is going to define success in a PE firm. It takes everyone running in the same direction, executing in their specific role and making tough calls along the way to hit a home run.

Q: Why is it important for more women to pursue careers in PE?

KN: At the most basic level, more women in PE would likely attract more investment into women-owned businesses and drive selection toward more women-led management teams. I think back to my choice of entering investment banking out of college. A friend one year ahead of me from a business fellow group recruited me to interview at her investment bank. At the time, I had never considered it because I didn't know anyone in the field and didn't think I had the right background. She challenged me to get out of my comfort zone and I got the job.

Now, flipping that question around: Why should PE pursue the recruitment of more women? Women offer an invaluable diversity of perspectives and networks. While it's important for everyone at a firm to be aligned, it's vital to avoid being homogenous in your thinking. Investment teams are often forced to make calculated decisions on deals, without a perfect set of facts (particularly in today's deal environment). I think women are particularly good at reading people, anticipating potential roadblocks and asking tough questions. While it may be easy to build consensus, it's hard for a group of people that all think the same way to really challenge one another.

PE also requires people to leverage their networks and relationships to tap into deal flow, executive talent and industry resources. Women generally have different centers of influences than men and tend to maintain friendships longer. Bringing those relationships to bear in the context of a deal is highly valuable.

Q: What advice would you provide to a woman-led company interested in securing PE?

KN: Start exploring your growth or exit options early and be a savvy shopper. It's never too early to begin building a network of people who can help guide you toward the next milestone. If you don't already have trusted advisors on the legal, accounting or tax planning front, start there. Then, leverage those teams to make introductions to both investment bankers and private equity.

Getting in front of that audience years in advance of a planned transaction accomplishes several things. First, you have time to test out what attributes you want in a long-term partner. Second, consider asking for feedback regarding which aspects of your operations, sales strategy or customer base will cause your business to trade up or down from your peers. Finally, start implementing that feedback in your business. While you're less likely to tackle a new accounting system on your own, addressing key hiring needs or developing ways to drive more recurring revenue is impactful. Making even small changes can really drive value creation.

If you don't have the luxury of time or are already down the path of a transaction, then I'd simply encourage women to trust their intuition and ask questions until you feel confident in your decision. Today's PE investors come in all shapes and sizes, so make sure your partner's level of engagement post-close is the right choice for your business and your legacy.

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing women entrepreneurs? What advice would you provide to overcome it?

KN: While there is certainly no single challenge, the obstacles I identify with are time and timing. I believe a lot of women try to "do it all" and make everyone happy. The inflection point in life when women have (i) experience under their belt and (ii) the resources to execute a new idea or confidence to break out on their own may also be when they're starting a family. While it's not an impossible combination, I think women often put a ton of pressure on themselves to simultaneously be the best leader, networker, mentor, parent and spouse. In reality, on any given day or week, one of those aspects of life is likely to be short-changed with your time. Most frequently, the one short-changed is you and your creative ideas or passion.

On the topic of timing, sometimes success comes from being at the right place at the right time or leveraging an unforeseen connection with a new contact. Even in the most casual settings, if women and men don't engage in business-related discussions, both sides miss out on potential opportunities.

The advice I'd offer other women is to be protective of your time. It's one of your most precious resources. You wouldn't let someone waste your money, and time is no different. Take ownership of your schedule each day and push for each meeting to have purpose. Then, when you do commit the time toward a meeting, networking event or new relationship, dive in with confidence and engage people different from yourself. You never know when and where a strategic partnership might originate.

Q: How have you contributed to the growth of your firm's first fund? How have women helped you excel in your role?

KN: Being part of any company at inception takes a lot of energy, passion and perseverance. It can also be very humbling. Right out of the gate, I found myself attending industry events alongside exceptional peers who are on Fund III or IV while I'm starting fresh to compete for the same people's time and attention. I gained momentum by showing up prepared, engaging people on a personal level and articulating a clear message on our firm's strategy.

It also helps to be working alongside experienced managing partners who have strong investing track records and truly value the business development role. With that foundation, I have us on pace in under two years to see transactions from well over 300 different intermediaries in 2018.

One of the most surprising aspects in my new role has been the amount of support from female intermediaries and women at other PE firms. Women are great connectors of people. I constantly observe women being selfless about finding ways to redirect opportunities and introductions to someone who might be a better fit. My network of potential deal sources really started to flourish after a few key women invested time in sharing best practices and their centers of influence. Now, I'm trying to pay it forward to other ladies considering entering PE.

To contact Noggle, email knoggle@aligncp.com.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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