In this interview series, we profile trailblazing women working in M&A, private capital, and finance who are driving deals. We highlight their experiences and achievements and share their insights on what the industry can do to ensure that we see more women on deal teams and at the dealmaking table.
For this edition, we sat down with Janki Lalani Gandhi, Managing Director of Lincoln International’s Consumer Group, with a focus in fashion, accessories, and beauty. Janki has spent more than a decade advising over 50 consumer companies on mergers and acquisitions in the mid-market.
In 2017, she was named one of Mergers & Acquisitions’ Most Influential Women in Middle-Market M&A and included in fashion industry publication Women’s Wear Daily’s Top 40 Industry Leaders Under 40. In 2019, she was named one of the Top Women in Banking by Los Angeles Business Journal. Janki holds a Bachelor of Arts in economics with a finance concentration from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
The DealRoom: Thanks again Janki for taking the time to be featured in this series. Let’s start things off with a general question. What’s one quality that you think is critical to succeed in the investment world?
Janki Lalani Gandhi: I would say endurance. With regards to investment banking where I’ve spent my entire career, it is a field that, really from the get-go, is long hours, lots of work, and non-stop. You must be able to endure the ups and downs of deals because they are not predictable and go on for five to six months on average.
You must find a way to pace yourself. So, it’s physical and mental endurance, of being able to cope with the uncertainty of what’s to come.
DR: Given the unpredictability of deals, in your experience, what’s the number one reason that deals go bad?
JLG: I think it’s primarily when companies don’t perform during the marketing process. Because I specialize in M&A for growth companies, we spend a significant amount of time putting together financial projections to illustrate the future potential of the clients. During a marketing process, you hope that the company is able to hit or exceed those projections.
Unfortunately, it frequently ends up being the case that the company in question is not able to meet its projections and this impacts the seller’s leverage in terms of the deal.
It causes the potential buyer or investor to start second-guessing themselves, asking, “Has this company peaked? Am I getting in too late? Is it still the right valuation that I’m paying for now that they’re not hitting their numbers?”
DR: On to the personal side of things, what do you find most rewarding about the work that you do?
JLG: I started in investment banking in February of 2004, working my way up from being an analyst to a managing director. What’s kept me around for so long is the personal relationships I’ve built with my clients, private equity firms, and strategic buyers, combined with the fact that I cover industries I’m truly passionate about.
To the first point, many investment bankers are purely transactional, but that’s never been the approach I’ve taken. I believe it stems from a style of relationship building and connecting at a deeper, genuine level that some might argue is unique to women.
To the second point, as a woman in a male dominated industry, I know I bring a fresh perspective to the consumer segments, with a specific focus on apparel and accessories, extending into beauty and personal care. So often, these companies are started, owned, and managed by women. Even if not female-founded, the core demographic that my clients and prospects are typically targeting are 25 to 45-year-old women.
As a result, I can personally relate to the brand and its products and position the story and future potential more effectively and authentically. This freshness of perspective has given me an edge against my peers, and it’s been extremely well received by clients since early in my career.
DR: Since developing these personal relationships has been a key to your success, did you have a mentor or a role model that paved the way for you? Somebody that you really learned from?
JLG: Actually, in my earlier days I more often connected with women outside of investment banking (though not far!) in private equity. There were a number of notable female partners at consumer-focused private equity funds. I considered them to be my role models, where I observed and learned from how they succeeded in their roles, and how they continued to progress and contribute to their respective organizations. In addition, I had the honor of working for a number of phenomenal female and male entrepreneurs and was inspired by their work ethic, leadership, confidence, and path to success.
DR: What challenges exist in identifying female role models within investment banking?
JLG: Oh gosh, what’s the best way to say this? Investment banking in general, with regard to work-life balance, has always been viewed as being challenging for women who eventually want to have families and the time to dedicate to their families. As a result, when I started out there were only a few to come by.
DR: Do you think this is changing at least a little bit in your industry?
JLG: Initiatives are coming into effect now in a bigger way. It’s definitely the case at my own firm. Lincoln International has been super proactive about working to attract more women into a career in investment banking—whether they are straight out of undergrad, or out of MBA programs. They recognize the power of having diversity of all types as part of their deal teams and the overall organization, and they have made it a key, global initiative for the firm.
At the junior level, you actually see a decent number of women in the analyst and associate roles. Where the ranks begin to change is around the vice-president level and beyond, where women are reaching a stage in their life where they’re making key decisions on getting married and having a family—while all of the demands of the industry really ramp up.
It’s also hard because unlike other professions, it is difficult to manage this part-time. When it comes to a deal, in many instances it becomes a 24/7, always-on process with things changing by the hour and you are working with a full team. But that’s also what makes it so dynamic and stimulating and has kept my interest for all of these years!
DR: How do you make it work in your own life?
JLG: Early in my career, I benefited from being at a boutique firm. I was able to advance fairly quickly in my organization, at a much faster pace than would have been the case at a more traditional investment bank. Usually, at most firms, they’ll have a set number of years that it takes before you can move up to the next level.
Around the time I reached managing director was also when I was expecting my first child. At that point, I had a full team under me to help and to draw upon.
I should also mention that I have an incredibly supportive husband. He is a doctor, and so his hours are consistent and his job does not require any travel. That stable, consistent presence at home allowed me to be okay with being on the road because I knew that the kids were cared for. And we’ve had access to great childcare and the support of other family members, which gives us peace of mind.
I’ve definitely realized that over time, I’ve had to build my support network. It’s what I’ve depended on heavily, to be able to do what I’m doing.
DR: Can we touch a bit more on that? Your support network. You’ve pretty much outlined it. It’s your husband, it’s having a team behind you, and childcare. Is there anyone else that you would identify in that expanded circle?
JLG: Absolutely. Over the years I’ve built a network of professionals who are going through the same stages of life, in terms of marriage, kids, and balancing all of it.
Looking at women specifically, I realize that most of my close friends are women 10, 15, or even 20 years older than I am. I really look up to them for paving the road for my generation. These are impressive, accomplished women across industries and professions.
I rely on them quite a bit for motivation, inspiration, support, confidence, and just getting a sense that everything’s going to be okay; hearing that, “You’re going to figure it out. Here’s what you need to balance. Here are some tips for making it all work.”
DR: Do you have any advice for the next generation preparing for a career in M&A, private equity, or finance? Is it something you still encourage young people to pursue? Any words of wisdom to share?
JLG: Of course. This is not just for women, but for young people in general.
First, love what you’re doing. What kept me in banking for all of these years was the fact that I always had a love for numbers and business in general. I knew I wanted to do something surrounding those categories and did not really know much about investment banking until I was thrown into it. So, putting it into perspective, I’d say to really be able to focus on industries that you’re passionate about.
Second, put in the time. Young people have to put in the time and pay their dues, especially in their early years. In the beginning when you’re starting out, you should be able to say to yourself, “I’m going to focus on developing the technical skills that I’ll need to leverage into something that I’m truly passionate about.” It’s difficult to motivate yourself when you’re working this hard, unless you truly care for it.
Finally, think beyond money. At some point you realize that money is not the most important factor. It’s about becoming who you think you should be and asking the hard questions, such as, “Is this aligned with my skillset? Am I energized by seeing others’ businesses succeed? Am I good at it?”
DR: To your third point, how do you get that sense that you are good at it?
JLG: You look for signals early on. I touched on it at the beginning of this conversation. At a very early stage in my career, I was able to connect with clients, some even 30-plus years older than me, in a way that was unique compared to my peers. This was the result of me actually having done the work and knowing the information, but also by being personable and a good listener, which is a trait that is not always easy to find in the finance world.
Clients felt comfortable around me and looked to me as their trusted advisor. That’s what carried me through. I said, “Ok, this is what’s going be my differentiator: a reputation for in-depth industry and transaction knowledge and being able to connect with people at a deeper level.”
And this worked, not just with clients, but also with executives at strategic buyers and private equity professionals, and generally anybody I came across. They saw that the relationship I was looking to build was not purely transactional. It was also about getting to know about their lives as people and holding on to what would become 10-plus year relationships, founded upon a deeper meaning and purpose.