Managing Director and Partner, Boston Consulting Group
Professionally, my life has the shape of a Tuck study group. I work with relatively small teams, very closely, very collaboratively.
By Lauren Vespoli
Cristina Henrik has been a trailblazer since her Tuck days: In 2008, she became the first Romanian national to receive an MBA from Tuck. And soon after graduating, she joined The Boston Consulting Group in London, where she helped build their private equity practice, and became a partner in 2018.
Henrik began her career as an analyst in the financial industry and then spent six years as an investment manager at a family office in Romania specializing in packaging materials. “I thought the experience of Tuck plus consulting afterwards would give me exposure to the larger end of the market,” she says of her reasons for attending business school. And now, in her role as a managing director and partner at BCG’s private equity practice, she advises clients on multibillion-dollar deals. However, she says, her day-to-day is still very much influenced by the collaborative, small-team spirit of her time at Tuck.
You helped build BCG’s private equity practice from the ground up more than a decade ago. How have you seen the private equity industry change over the years?
It is not just simply bigger, but a lot more nuanced, and certainly way more competitive for our clients to land a deal. At the risk of stating the obvious, the amount of dry powder waiting to be deployed continues to be at record-breaking levels every single year. The industry has become increasingly professionalized, so our commercial diligence efforts too have grown in complexity, sophistication and speed.
Perhaps most importantly, I’d call out the rising focus on value creation, and hands-on management of the portfolio. Once [a PE fund] buys a company, they’re working in quite a focused manner on driving performance to that next level in a way that justifies the much higher multiples that are being paid. You simply can no longer afford to just do a PE deal on financial engineering merits as was the case 20-25 years ago. If you buy an asset, you absolutely need to improve its performance, oftentimes with quite active interventions by the PE funds.
Last but not least, new topics have emerged on the PE agenda and are very top of mind for both PE investors and the executives of the companies they own: digital and AI, ESG, cybersecurity—and the list continues. Let’s just say, there’s never a dull moment.
How have you seen COVID impact the industry?
There was an initial shock as with every-thing, and the deal flow took a dive for a few months in the spring of 2020. If we put that aside, the world afterwards came back to the new normal rather quickly. Initially, the wave of deals that was happening was a lot more indexed towards tech, software, and health care firms, for very obvious reasons. From September 2020 until now, it’s really been on fire in terms of flow and number of transactions and level of activity across the board, across all industries. What has then changed is not so much the what but the how. Fewer meetings in person, fewer trips even in the final stages of a deal to meet management teams, more video calls, more emails. We haven’t quite gone back to predominantly face-to-face, which was the model before.
Private equity as an industry has notoriously lagged on diversity, and has very few women in leadership positions. Why is that the case, and how can it change?
That’s the million-dollar question. Particularly in investment teams, and particularly at senior levels, it’s not where it should be. The latest study by Level 20, an organization promoting and facilitating gender diversity [in PE] revealed earlier in the year that we are only at 10% women in senior investment roles. So that tells you the magnitude [of the problem]. We went through much of the same challenge in consulting. Back in 2009, when I joined in BCG in London, there was one woman partner out of a total of 30 odd, which was not great. We are at about 25% now, so great progress yet a lot more to do.
I think the PE industry, from what I’ve observed, has really been waking up over the last few years and pushing too on the hiring front. With most people being hired at junior levels, how do you open those channels to ensure that you have a larger number of diverse profiles? I’m a big believer in using targets for things like that, because you’re forcing the recruiting teams to really make an extra effort and not rely only on what has worked in the past. So instead of taking the easy way out and targeting just women at investment banks and consulting firms, in order to really get to a 50-50 intake, you need to be a lot more creative. It starts there.
Why is recruiting not enough though? Because it takes many, many, many years for this to filter up the pyramid. Imagine you hire somebody as an associate. It’s going to be 10, even 15 years before they get to a senior position in a PE fund. Retention is absolutely crucial, and this is where the magic needs to happen a lot more. Making this career attractive over the long-term is the only real way in which we can move the needle. I’m hopeful and confident that we will start to see the effects of the push being made on both fronts, I just wish things moved faster!
What attracted you to Tuck?
The sense of fit and sense of belonging. The answer to that question ‘Do I belong?’ was yes, quite immediately. In the end, [Tuck] delivered against everything I had hoped for. Because it is a smaller school and you really kind of know everybody in your year, even now, all these years later, anybody that I reach out to will respond super quickly. That sense of community was what tipped the scales for me.
What lessons from Tuck inform your work today?
Professionally, my life has the shape of a Tuck study group. I work with relatively small teams, very closely, very collaboratively. My team is relatively contained in terms of size, there are about 50 of us and we work in teams of 6-7 people on most projects, so are very close to each other. That spirit of teamwork and really getting into a problem together, helping each other out and having fun in the process—that mindset and skillset is still useful. I just miss doing it all in Hanover.
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