Thomas H. Lee Partners
A new Steppingstone partner, Thomas H. Lee Partners (THL), is breaking down barriers to the private equity and financial services industry.
The Boston-based private equity firm created the THL Charitable Foundation in March of 2020 to effect change in the greater Boston area. The THL Charitable Foundation is partnering with Steppingstone as part of their effort to “inspire the next generation of finance.” With a career in private equity or related financial services, college graduates have the potential for a strong return on their own educational investments.
“Education as the great equalizer”
A generous investment of $300,000 over three years allows Steppingstone to build out the Career Catalyst Project which supports Scholars in exploring potential career paths, making career connections, and developing professional skills and confidence. In addition to becoming a financial partner of Steppingstone, the THL Charitable Foundation team is hosting events and offering resources to demystify the private equity and financial services industries.
Stephen Lantz, a Principal in the Financial Technology & Services vertical at THL who leads the Charitable Foundation’s Steppingstone team, quotes educator Horace Mann when describing his motivation for working with Steppingstone: “I view education as the great equalizer. Regardless of the socio-economic background of my parents or the community where I grew up, because I had access to a quality education, I was able to advance my own and my family’s economic opportunities.”
He’s not alone in this thinking. Among the employees of THL, Lantz explains, a similar philosophy exists and came out clearly in a recent firmwide survey. “We all got to where we are today because of our educational opportunities. Increasing opportunities for students who have such obviously high potential is a great way to re-invest in our communities and address broader social problems like wealth and income inequality. Our team is looking for ways to give back and ensure success for the next generation.”
THL kicked-off the Steppingstone partnership with a virtual Financial Services Career Workshop last December. THL worked with Steppingstone staff to pinpoint specific areas of interest and areas of need for Scholars looking to learn more about a career in financial services. What resulted was a panel of 11 staff from across the THL team and an audience of 30 engaged Steppingstone Scholars.
This January, THL hosted an in-person Career Panel (the first in several years!) at their Boston office with staff from across the firm—from investing and portfolio operations, to legal counsel and capital markets. Panelists reflected diverse educational backgrounds and shared their often-circuitous journeys to the world of private equity. Steppingstone Scholars in high school and college engaged in a lively discussion with the panelists and had the unique opportunity to network directly with THL’s professionals. Excitement at the opportunity to connect with the THL staff was palpable—with one Scholar coming straight off an international flight just to be there!
“All it takes is connecting to one person’s experience.”
When asked about her interest in participating in the panel, Sarika Ramakrishnan, a Vice President in the Technology and Business Solutions vertical at THL, reflected on people she met along the way of her own professional journey. Though they were likely unaware of their influence, they had a profound impact on her personal and professional trajectory: “If I can be that person for someone in this room, then that makes it worth it.”
Ramakrishnan encouraged Scholars to pick a work environment where “you look up to those you work with and feel inspired,” and where you can “feel like you’re working for people who are smarter than you.” This, she adds, is what makes a career in financial services challenging, engaging and rewarding.
One high school Scholar, who impressed the panelists with both his initiative and inquisitiveness, asked, “as someone who is a junior in high school, what can I be doing now to prepare myself for a career in private equity?”
What followed were stories, resources, and support all centered around this advice: explore, read, talk, and, above all, take risks—or as one Scholar took it, “don’t always take the ‘regular’ route.”
“My journey is hard, but not abnormal”
Annie Wu, Senior Director of College Success at Steppingstone, recognizes the gap THL is filling through this partnership. She shares, “although Steppingstone Advisors can and do research industries of interest for Scholars, there’s nothing like the knowledge you can get from people in the industry.” Wu has seen the uptick in Scholars interested in private equity and financial service and is thrilled by the impact of THL’s offerings.
Scholars’ feedback made clear THL’s impact. One Scholar shared that their favorite part of the event was being able to “relate to the panelists. My journey is hard, but not abnormal.”
“One takeaway,” another Scholar offered, “is that gaining opportunities doesn’t necessarily mean having the right skills, but a passion to learn and have conversations with new people. Asking any questions is important in fostering a network and getting new opportunities to learn and see what you like and don’t like.”
What comes next? Steppingstone envisions many more events—workshops, mock interviews, resume reading and more—all opportunities the THL Charitable Foundation team is keen to provide. “Helping students within the Boston community to access high-quality educational opportunities, and facilitate translating that into career success, is one way to make Boston a better place to live and work for everyone.”
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