Arm rests, power suits and taking your kids to work – International Women’s Day

Jenny Fenton is Senior Vice President, Corporate Initiatives with Pavilion Financial Corporation.  Jenny is based in London.

My journey:  I’ve held many positions within three companies over the course of my career. I was thrust into leadership at an early age – at 24, I was Finance Superintendent in charge of 12 people.  We had one computer between 12 of us.  Desk sizes were by job grade and you knew you had made it when you were given a chair with arm rests.

I was never fixated on title.  If it needed to be done, I did it. At the same company, but now as a member of the Venture Capital team, my job involved everything from deal analysis, the annual valuation of our positions, to being a board member of investee companies. I recall being put on the board of a precision engineering company in the North of England – goodness only knows what those engineers thought when I turned up in a 1980s power suit.  It was a great learning experience and I loved working with the companies and being involved at such an early stage in the UK private equity industry.

With more experience under my belt, I answered an advert in the FT for a Finance Director of a small PE firm in Oxford.  I applied and was told I did not look like a finance director! I must have made an impression because the founder called me back and asked if I would like to be Head of Fund Investing. I was employee number four. We did our own washing up, the founder and his wife cleaned the office at the weekend, and you had to run around the office to pick up the phones.  The firm specialized in secondary transactions, primarily in U.S. venture capital firms so, for the first time, regular trips to the U.S. were part of my role.  We negotiated with sellers, evaluated deals, monitored funds and reported to clients. The company grew substantially in the seven years I was there and some of the team that I recruited remain at the firm to this day.

“The resources needed most are
a flexible working environment,
and accepting that women
often wear many hats.”

I made the third move of my career in 1998, when I joined a PE fund advisory start-up.  By then, my husband and I had adopted our first son. My new team was not fazed by the fact that I had one child and had every intention of adopting a second. Again it was a small team with everyone pitching in. I focused on the operations side of the business, together with primary and secondary transactions in the United States.  Juggling work life balance was not a “thing” then, you just did what you had to, both at home and the office, to make it work. Following the adoption of our second son, I took about three months off.  However, during this time the firm had a visit from the Investment Management Regulatory Organisation (IMRO). I conducted the visit with my new son on my knee, something that I am sure helped the firm get a clean bill of health as my son beamed at the visitors for the whole meeting.

As my career evolved, I focused less on investing and more on operations, working somewhat less than a five-day workweek so as to be very involved in the lives of our boys. In 2016, we sold the firm to Pavilion Financial Corporation.  In my newest role, I am learning new skills and enjoying working with a larger company with a wider group of businesses.

Balance is a challenge: The greatest challenge is keeping everything in balance. Up until the age of 40 you are considered ‘too young’. After 50 you are probably considered ‘past your best’ but between 40 and 50 the juggling act of children and work is probably at its most intense.

Family is forever: Family is the most important thing to help me through difficult times. Colleagues come and go as roles change or people move on, but family is forever. The resources needed most are a flexible working environment, accepting that women often wear many hats but can work just as effectively from home in the evening after putting the children to bed or after eating supper with their partner.

Best and worst traits: My school reports always said that I was conscientious. It was a word that I hated but it probably does sum me up. I like to be well prepared. I like to know what I am doing and I like to be methodical about the way I do it. However, I do not have the need to be accurate to the last penny and I am happy for a job to be ‘good enough’ if it enables us to keep moving forward and meet deadlines. A trait that has held me back would be that I have never felt comfortable with pushing myself forward. This is a common failing with women but one that employers can recognize and accommodate.

Prized leadership characteristic:  Empathy. For clients, staff and shareholders, enabling you to understand their position.

 

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