Korpanec believes it is important to have senior women role models to look up to, and the industry must supports them.
A go-getter by nature, Jaroslava Korpanec abides by the motto: “If you want something or if you want to be successful at something, you really must go for it.” For our series on senior women in private equity, Korpanec candidly discussed her experience in the industry with PE Hub Europe.
Korpanec, partner and head of Central and Eastern Europe, energy infrastructure at Actis Partners, was born in the Czech Republic in the mid-70s when the country, then part of Czechoslovakia, was behind the Iron Curtain. After the Berlin Wall fell, she took the chance to study abroad, where her school achievements won her a spot studying law at the University of Cambridge.
Her transition from law to the investment world was not a mere coincidence; rather, it was a path she designed for herself. “I joined Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and took the New York Bar to qualify as a lawyer in the US. This was driven by the fact that ultimately, I wanted to get into investing and help build and manage real businesses.
Fast-forward a few years and she, along with her two other founding partners, started Allianz Capital Partners, the first infrastructure investment group of Allianz. She was responsible for the origination and execution of more than two-thirds of the portfolio by value. “We started it from zero assets under management. By the time I left, around €11 billion of equity had been invested – we were investing assets on behalf of the insurance company on a long-term buy-and-hold basis.”
Family & career
While Korpanec was starting that business from scratch, she was still working in a male-dominated industry – something that, not just as a woman in the PE industry but as a mother, she hopes is changing.
When she began her career, there were hardly any senior women to look up to and follow in the industry – it was a different generation, she recalled. A good support system and women role models are essential, she said, and the industry must support them. “I have three daughters and a son, and I would really hope that the investment society is becoming more inclusive. It is upon us, female investment professionals, to support the young generation in pursuit of their careers.”
PE firms are getting better at recognising the need to be progressive, according to Korpanec. “I can see that there are issues and topics around diversity which are now openly discussed, which was not always the case before.”
However, she feels more action still needs to be taken as she emphasises how the industry must be cognisant of the need for more flexible working arrangements to help women balance family and career.
The industry must be more open-minded to individual needs and respectful of their time, she added. “It is crucial that we retain more females because of the diversity of perspectives they offer and the efficiency that they’re bringing into the business.”
Her advice to women is to allocate time, have the right mentors and the right working environment – then both career and family is manageable. But the “smiling, picture perfect super mum doesn’t exist”, she cautioned, as there are always compromises.
Investment can also be a balancing act. Korpanec said she always assesses the risks, the potential returns and other key factors. “I will not go into something just because it is the flavour of the month.”
Time is a rare commodity, she said. She learned to be focused on origination and execution and not to pursue investment opportunities where there was not a clear path to execution.
One area she believes that there is an enormous opportunity for investments in Central and Eastern European markets. “These markets are rapidly converging with other European markets in terms of regulatory frameworks as well as macroeconomic policies, making it a stable and attractive environment for foreign investors.”
She encourages others to be authentic. “Don’t be scared to be different, don’t be scared when people say no, or where you have a lot of barriers being put up.” A career in investment, according to her, requires resilience and tenacity as you must be prepared to back your findings and analyses, withstand criticism and challenges, and defend your investment theses.
Lastly, she believes: “If you have done the work, if you have committed, you have a right to succeed just like everyone else.”