Opening the ‘not so private’ doors to working within Private Equity - opening door to enter office

Opening the ‘not so private’ doors to working within Private Equity

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Last year 44% of our work here at Eton Bridge Partners supported the Private Equity market, either within the fund or working with their portfolio companies. Our success in delivering on these mandates, both in the UK and internationally stems from having access to the right talent pool required to flourish in a PE environment.

We have the access and capability to match the requirements for C-suite positions quickly, both permanently and on an interim basis because we continuously meet new candidates coming onto the market. We can also identify individuals who hold the key characteristics to land and deliver within a PE setting; and these people do not always come tried and tested within the PE space.

Our 2024 edition of the CPO Pathways Report,  demonstrates that once someone has landed in a PE-backed business and thrived, they rarely move back to listed or other ownership models. 87% of PE-backed Chief People Officers who moved into a new role last year, went into another portfolio company. However, overall, out of all the PE CPO roles filled, 72% of them were filled with candidates who hadn’t had prior PE experience.

One obvious reason for this is timing. Attracting tried and tested experience has to fit the candidate’s timetable. Many will typically be locked into a 4-6 year investment cycle, and post-covid, the time to exit has increased, holding people in position for longer.


Landing a Chief People Officer role in a PE-backed business

Whilst there are numerous similar character traits, experiences and transferrable leadership skills, a first time CPO in Private Equity needs to know what is required and how to equip their toolkit accordingly.

As pretty much 50% of my job is interviewing candidates (which I absolutely love by the way!) I came to realise that there wasn’t a specific networking group, or access to an advice channel to find out how to get into the world of Private Equity.

The other half of my job is working with amazing clients, both in the portfolio businesses and the funds. So, I’ve made a resolution to help the candidates in my network to access the answers they need to navigate the interview process, the first 12 months in their role, and the full cycle of PE.

I have had the privilege of knowing Lesley Davies for over 7 years, and I felt she was the perfect person to speak at one of my first of many virtual roundtables held on a Friday lunch time. Lesley is an experienced CPO and Board Advisor and has worked in some brilliant organisations throughout her career– Marks and Spencer, Three, Tusker – just to name a few. She is now the People and Culture growth specialist within mid-market PE firm, ECI, and has worked with over twenty of their portfolio companies since 2018 on their people growth strategies.

The acceptance rate to attend was high, and we gathered over coffee and lunch in our homes to share knowledge, advice, and takeaway tips. The audience consisted of CPO’s within portfolio companies as well as those who are currently on the market, looking and interested to hear how to best position themselves to land a role in Private Equity.


Lesley Davies, Experienced Board level CPO and Board Advisor


The discussion centred on some consistent themes, and here are some helpful sound bites from the first of these virtual roundtables:

  • The lead up to sale for the C-Suite is intense, hard work and relentless. Post transaction, they are straight into work under new investment. The excitement of the deal is high, but business needs to continue with stability.
  • The pace in which you need to get out of the starting blocks can throw some people. At times there is a change of leadership – new CEO, Chair and CFO – ultimately there are lots of moving parts.
  • Post deal, the PE team you are working with will dive into the business to really understand what they have bought. You need to be prepared for further questions, information gathering, and scrutiny.
  • The key traits for any leader post PE deal are certainly resilience, adaptability, pace and ambition.


Key priorities post transition for the Chief People Officer

  • Be prepared to manage change and work with the business to navigate through this.
  • Lead and manage the communication plan from day 1.
  • Have a clear talent plan in place and be clear on your people strategy.
  • Be prepared to run up and down the pendulum every day. You could often be operationally and strategically stretched in any one day.
  • Prioritise – everyone at all levels of the organisation will want your time.
  • Encourage open conversation and lead from the front. Be visible!
  • Understand your cycle – years 1 -3 are most important. Where do you want to make your impact? Invest and deliver in years 2-3; this is when you will get the real value from the business.
  • Keep an eye on the sale from very early on. Everything you do impacts the ending; however, you still need to focus on the day to day. Do not be distracted by what the exit needs to look like.
  • Understand the rhythm of PE. Evidence monthly how you plan to create value through your people plan.


What skills and capabilities are PE investors looking for in their Chief People Officer/ HR Director?

  • Be curious and love data. You need to be motivated by the numbers. Know the numbers, talk the numbers, and understand what impacts them. Be completely comfortable with ambiguity and a fluid environment. You will never stick to your timetable in this environment.
  • Demonstrate that you are commercial and apply best practice to retain and attract the talent you need to scale and hit the exit number.
  • Succession– you need to have experience building in succession within an organisation and organisational design.
  • Courage to move people if they are not going to make it to the end of the investment.


Key advice to the CPO post PE investment

  • Make sure you collaborate. Ask your advisors for help and guidance.
  • Create a retention strategy so you know who your high performers and future leaders are and that they stay with you through the cycle.
  • Remember the PE team are on your side. They want you to succeed!
  • You need to be internal and external – network, draw upon knowledge outside your business.
  • Enjoy the ride!


If you would like to know more about our virtual events, or would like an informal conversation about thriving in a PE-backed business, please do get in touch with Kat here.