IT’s a scene familiar to many women working in corporate finance. You turn up at a business event and find a distinct lack of gender equality.
“I can remember walking in to networking events and thinking, ‘Crikey, I can’t actually see any other women here’,’’ recalled Mary Broadhead.
“That’s quite a daunting prospect. I’m not saying, that’s happened every time, but certainly back in the 1990s and early 2000s, I’ve been to events associated with private equity where it did feel you were in a men’s club. I would like events to be inclusive for everybody.”
Ms Broadhead, who has worked in the venture capital and private equity sector for more than a quarter of a century, knows this thoughtful, inclusive approach can form the bedrock of a successful business. She has built up a cosmopolitan range of contacts and experiences.
After qualifying as an accountant working in the manufacturing sector, she moved into the venture capital industry in 1991, spending 10 years with UK Steel Enterprise, where she was involved in completing and monitoring investments and loans in parts of the UK that were bearing the brunt of the steel industry’s decline.
She recalled: “I went into UK Steel Enterprise thinking that all businesses can be saved. Over the years, I’ve certainly found out that sometimes you have to make a difficult decision, because otherwise you can end up with a prolonged agony. But with the right advice, and the right attitude, a lot of businesses can recover from difficulties. I worked all around the country from a base in Sheffield and I really enjoyed it.
“It gave me exposure to commercial investment to businesses and I started to build up that experience of understanding what makes a business successful and how to structure a deal.”
She’s just retired after working for YFM Equity Partners for 17 years, where she helped to transform the fortunes of a number of Yorkshire businesses, while generating healthy returns for investors. In common with many sectors, private equity is still dominated by men in suits.
“I only have my own experience at YFM in terms of private equity to go on,’’ said Ms Broadhead. “I agree that it is a male-dominated world, as have been most of the businesses I have worked in. But we have a different approach. We are very collaborative. We get a lot of support. I find it’s a great business to work in if you are a woman. I would encourage more women to think about how they could move into the world of private equity.”
Working in private equity gives you the chance to support great management teams and watch a business grow, according to Ms Broadhead.
She said: “For some investments, there is the ongoing involvement post deal, where you are able to bring all that hard work you have done ahead of the deal into the relationship.
“Certainly in YFM world it is not a ‘dog eat dog’ business. Unfortunately, unless more women go into corporate finance, and those type of related businesses, it’s quite hard to see more of them going into private equity.
“Softer skills are important,’’ she said. “I’m not sure what it’s like in London, but in the North of England, management teams can be put off by a completely aggressive stance. People like to be treated as equals and everything should be open and honest.
“We don’t keep secrets from businesses we invest in. We wouldn’t last very long if we did.”
YFM invests up to £10m in UK-based SMEs (small-and-medium-sized enterprises) across a range of sectors. Ms Broadhead has been involved in generating and appraising YFM’s deals, and seeing them through to realisation. She’s notched up some stellar results.
In 2015, for example, she obtained an 8.5 times cash return on investment, which had been made in 2010, to support the management buyout of Sheffield-based President Engineering Group, which makes precision engineering products.
“President Engineering is probably my stand-out deal of the last 10 years,’’ she said. “We were right in the middle of the last recession and it was a management buyout that needed some equity.
“It was at a time when the banks weren’t lending, so we were able to fill that gap and the business went from strength to strength from day one.
“It was a great management team and we found a really good non-executive chairman. It nearly doubled turnover in three or four years. It then became very attractive as an acquisition target. I was able to see that through; right from the first enquiry and managed the exit as well.”
A jogging and skiing enthusiast, Ms Broadhead has no plans to put her feet up after stepping down from full-time involvement with YFM.
She said: “I would like to continue some involvement with business, even if it’s a loose connection with YFM, or maybe some type of non-executive work for businesses where I could help them to achieve their aim.”
Ms Broadhead believes that many Yorkshire firms would love to see the North take control of its own destiny through devolved powers.
“All of the business people I have spoken to in South Yorkshire are in favour of a devolution deal,’’ she said. “If we can work together in the North to achieve our aims, things will be better.
“We’ve got offices in Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester and it’s amazing how long it takes you to get from one side of the Pennines to the other.
“It shouldn’t take over an hour to get from Leeds to Manchester or Sheffield to Manchester. It’s more about people thinking of the North as a whole.”
Name: Mary Broadhead
First job: If you don’t count getting paid for weeding my granny’s garden, then it’s the usual paper round, followed by a Saturday job at BHS then a part-time stint in one of the roughest pubs in Sheffield.
Last book read: The Dry by Jane Harper.
Favourite holiday: Mountain biking holiday in Sierra Nevada mountains in Andalucía (didn’t enjoy some of it at the time, but it’s great to look back on as an achievement).
Car driven: We currently have two very boring Audis.
Thing she is most proud of: Forging a successful career in a male-dominated industry (from manufacturing through to private equity).