LeapFrog Partner Karima Ola discusses the importance of female leadership in private equity, and shares her grandmother’s best advice.
Can you tell us about your role at LeapFrog?
At LeapFrog, I lead the Africa Financial Services team, and as a team, we are involved in everything investing from origination of transactions, to execution, to portfolio management, to exit at the end, so the full investment cycle.
Over the course of your career, have you had any influential mentors? What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A key mentor who comes to mind is my grandmother in Nigeria. The one piece of advice that she gave me is that anything is possible, but you have to visualise it first to make it happen. So dream big!
Which women leaders have you found inspiring?
The Kenyan political activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. She was so inspirational in her bid to keep Nairobi very green. In the beginning, she was just the eccentric lady who was trying to save trees. But Nairobi is the beautiful city it is today thanks to her.
You’ve been named as one of ‘Africa’s Women to Watch’ by Bloomberg. In your words, why is female leadership in private equity so important?
The development of female leadership in private equity is exceedingly important to me.
I studied civil engineering at university, and then went into banking, and so I’ve always been the minority in the room as a woman. However, I think that having a different lens means that whenever we’re able to contribute, as with all forms of diversity, you end up with something that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
When I look at the process of investing, there are some areas where women have natural gifts that are complementary to the whole team. It’s an industry where the soft skills matter as much as the hard negotiating skills. We must realise that although we’re investing for financial returns – and in our case also for social returns – we’re fundamentally investing in people, because it’s the people who will deliver. There’s an element of relationship management, particularly around picking up subtle cues and reading between the lines, where women are naturally gifted.
What advice would you give women interested in private equity?
I’d encourage them to believe they are the change they wish to see in the world. When we look at private equity today, it looks like a man’s world, and that may put women off. But we need to realise that the more of us there are, the better it will be for the outcomes in private equity in the long run. And so women have to enter the industry, and in Gandhi’s words, be the change they wish to see.