takers, value makers
to embrace change leads Venita Fields to private equity path
20 years as a finance professional, by 1998 Venita Fields
was past the point when most entrepreneurs decide to fly solo.
But that didn't stop the Kellogg School EMBA graduate from
embracing change when longtime friend Gwendolyn Smith Iloani
asked Fields to open a Chicago branch of Smith Whiley, the
Connecticut-based private equity firm she founded in 1994.
Fields '88 Photo
© Nathan Mandell
the last six to eight years of my long corporate career I
knew I wanted to do something else," Fields '88 reflects.
"I was just waiting for the right opportunity."
Whiley, which provides long-term capital for middle-market
companies, has $200 million in management under the umbrella
of two funds and is raising $250 million for a third fund.
a career woman balancing the needs of job and family, the
chance to join a woman-owned firm was a "good cultural
fit," Fields notes. But paving the way as an African-American
woman investing a first-generation fund was not always easy,
first thing investors ask about is your track record. If you
are just starting out, you don't have a long track record,"
says the Kellogg graduate. "Women and minorities, in
general, have about a 20- to 25-year history in private equity."
clients can prove exceptionally challenging, says Fields.
"You need to have great persistence to go through the
barriers that exist. Many institutional investors, for example,
don't invest in first-time funds. Or perhaps they don't like
your investment strategy. You have to always continue to widen
the net and not be overwhelmed at the daunting task in front
Fields's official role as senior portfolio manager and partner
is to identify new clients and build productive relationships,
the reality of entrepreneurship means embracing responsibility
for just about every aspect of business — from customer
service to the fax machine. For Fields, that was a sea change
after years spent working in corporations with "layers
and layers of support." "As an entrepreneur, you
really have to have a 'the buck stops here' mentality,"
isn't for everyone," she cautions. "I don't want
to discourage people from trying it — anyone who has
a burning desire or a dream should pursue it. But you need
to have a plan to get there."
Fields, that plan includes an ongoing relationship with the
Kellogg School, which continues to inform her business strategy.
Continuing education and networking opportunities have been
critical to her success. Fields's service on the advisory
board for the Larry
and Carol Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice,
for example, has helped her build close bonds with other successful
entrepreneurs, who have proven to be some of her best sources
for support and advice.
that she's translated corporate success into entrepreneurial
success, Fields strives to give other under-represented groups
chances to succeed. Eleven of the firm's 13 employees are
either women or minorities.