Sara Woolbright ’17 MBA is a principal of the Portfolio Resource Group at The Vistria Group, a Chicago-based private investment firm, where she helps the firm’s portfolio companies grow. We spoke with Woolbright about her path to a career in private equity and how she’s helping current MBA students prepare for their own.

How did Kellogg help you prepare for a career in PE?

I came to business school from consulting, and I knew I was going back into that field, at least initially. I also knew that consulting has a big finance component, so I decided to take at least one finance-oriented class every quarter. That’s how you accidentally graduate with a finance degree! Those classes helped me establish my skills and knowledge base in finance, which eventually led me to my current path in PE.

How do you give back to the school today as a PE professional?

One of the programs I’ve been involved in is Private Equity Lab, a course in which students can get portfolio operations experience and learn by doing. Since 2022, Vistria has been providing multiple internship opportunities to Kellogg students, both within our group and at our portfolio companies. Students are able to see private equity from the view of the portfolio company operator, not just from the deal execution perspective.

It’s a great program and we have a lot of fun, having team events to get to know each other better. We often keep in touch afterward. As an alumna, I find it rewarding to support the school. And the students are excited about the experience — they jump energetically into the internship.

What advice would you give to recent graduates interested in PE?

Coming into my interview with Vistria, I was thoughtful about being authentic. I joke with my boss that he knew exactly who he was getting after those interviews. When I met the team, it felt like I would be working with individuals who share my values.

It makes the job easier when you’re able to always be yourself. It’s easy to feel like you should adjust yourself to fit into a role or a stereotype of a role, but that’s not a successful long-term strategy. Instead, find a team and a culture that work with you. In most careers, you spend a lot of time with your colleagues. Ensure that you find a team that allows you to bring your authentic self so you feel fulfilled by your role.

Fast forward: What will the private equity space look like in 10 years?

We’re talking a lot about generative AI and how we’ll use it to push our teams and capabilities forward. Using AI to make processes smarter and faster is going to speed up the pace of the PE industry but also challenge us to come at opportunities with higher levels of insight. It’s going to be about the types of partnerships and resources that you’re able to bring to the table.

Everyone will have easier access to the base knowledge to evaluate a space — how you bring resources to grow that opportunity is what will set you apart.