One of the challenges that all Operating Partners face is finding the balance between being a representative of the Private Equity “owners” and helping the portfolio company leadership team get stuff done. This can be particularly difficult when the area the company needs help in relates to things like sales leadership or sales management.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Ricardo Gonzalez, a Director with the private equity firm Hellman & Friedman. Ricardo’s role within H&F is performance excellence and operational efficiency of portfolio companies. He is part of a four person team of Operating Executives. Two are functional experts, HR and Software/SaaS, and two are generalists. Ricardo is one of the generalist who often focuses on marketing and sales within portfolio companies.
Interview with Ricardo Gonzalez, a Director with the private equity firm Hellman & Friedman
My discussion with Ricardo was spurred by his comments at the most recent PEI Operating Partners Forum in New York. There he talked about the importance of helping a portfolio company develop a sales system. But to use that system as a way to help the leadership team and not as a club to beat up management. Ricardo refers to a sales system as a combination of the sales actions, processes and supporting software like a CRM system. When done right, a sales system both helps improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the sales team and provides advanced information about business performance before financial results.
When I asked Ricardo about how he has been able to effectively work inside the organization and not be treated as a spy, here is what I heard:
Sit on the same side of the table
Quite literally, when meeting with the board or deal team, sit on the same side of the table as the portfolio company leadership team, as part of the leadership team. Demonstrate that your role is to help the leadership team achieve its objectives versus measuring and evaluating their results and capabilities.
Work to solve problems, not report on problems
Early on, the head of sales will test you. He/she will tell you about a problem, then wait and see if you report the problem to the CEO or PE firm, or if you help him/her solve the problem. Once trust is established, look for ways to take things off of their plate versus adding to it. Offer to take on the project of finding insights from the CRM versus adding work by asking for reports.
Never outshine the king
You may have run businesses bigger than this portfolio firm and you may know more about running a sales group that this head of sales. Broadcasting this is only going to hurt you. Being part of the team means supporting the team leaders publicly. Don’t second guess the CEO or sales leader in front of the troops. You can guide them and push back in private. They need to know that in public you are there to support them.
Finding the right balance between being a representative of the PE “owners” and constructively helping a portfolio company’s leadership team will always be a challenge. But sitting on the same side of the table, working to solve problems and being respectful of the leadership team is always the place to start.