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Nathalie von Niederhaeusern, Managing Director, is a member of the BlackRock Private Equity Partners group within BlackRock’s alternative investments business. She has over 15 years’ experience in private equity and corporate finance. Nathalie began her career in 1997 with Zurich Financial Services in its Mergers & Acquisitions unit, focusing on life and non-life insurance. She joined Swiss Re in 1999 to work on the company’s long-term strategic investments in the insurance industry and transferred in 2001 to its Private Equity Fund of Funds unit, where she was responsible for investments in European and US private equity fund managers. In 2005, she moved to New York to build up the unit’s presence in North America. Before joining BlackRock Private Equity Partners, Nathalie was Head Private Equity and Investment Monitoring and a member of the Investment Committee at Swiss Re Private Equity Partners.
What does success mean to you?
Setting your own priorities, making something happen and driving it forward. It hinges on being surrounded by a professional team and working for a firm that upholds the very highest standards. I also think it’s important to enjoy your work and find a way to combine your career and private life.
What was the best decision you took in your career?
It’s difficult to pin down one specific decision. Generally speaking, I’ve progressed better by challenging myself and daring to step outside my comfort zone. Some examples of this would be moving abroad to build up a new team and taking charge of a billion-dollar private equity portfolio at a relatively young age. Situations like those have certainly given me a few sleepless nights, but you learn to swim quickest when you’re thrown in at the deep end.
What was the biggest challenge you faced at the start of your career (in the past five years, in your career to date)?
Balancing a family and a career, which means making compromises for both – whether it’s cutting an Investment Committee meeting short to attend a school play or missing parents’ day at the kindergarten because you agreed to see a client well in advance. Luckily, I’ve always had managers and colleagues who have supported me and allowed me to have the flexibility I need.
What are your guiding/leadership principles?
I firmly believe that people develop best and fastest when you give them freedom and responsibility. That applies even to the youngest members of staff. In my experience, micromanagement is totally counterproductive because it eventually causes staff to “switch off”. They do what they’re instructed to do and nothing more, which yields mediocre results. It’s important for them to know that you trust them to carry out more difficult tasks as well, that you don’t doubt their ability to overcome fresh obstacles. With some staff, you need to take the time to bolster their confidence, talk to them and offer a little more guidance. This has almost always produced a successful outcome for us. My staff ultimately know that I’m there for them whenever they need me.
What motivated you to do what you do today?
It started with an interest in corporate finance transactions and investments. I have my university professor to thank for that. He was tireless in sparking our enthusiasm for DCF analysis and option valuation. That’s what laid the foundation. The rest was a mixture: a little chance, a touch of good luck, some planning and the courage to face up to new challenges. I went from an M&A department via public equity investments to private equity, which I view as one of the most exciting of all asset classes. It’s about fundamental company valuation and the opportunity to put a business plan into action together with a company’s management over a period of four to five years, untroubled by stock market volatility or the pressure of quarterly results.
What importance do you attach to social media?
Virtually none. I don’t use Facebook or Twitter, follow any blogs or anything like that. I only use LinkedIn, albeit sparingly.
How do you achieve that crucial work/life balance?
In recent years, I’ve discovered gardening. I’d never have thought it possible before, but I really enjoy planting, cultivating and hopefully having something to harvest at the end of it! Even weeding is a good way to stay grounded – in the most literal sense.
What can you not do without?
Time with my family. Nothing can replace that. In second place, a little time to myself now and again to kick back and recharge my batteries.
What advice would you give to someone embarking on a career in asset management today or your younger self?
I can generally discern two tendencies in a lot of young professionals. Some come along with detailed career plans and define milestones they want to reach in the next three, five or ten years. I’d advise them to keep a broad horizon. Your career trajectory will never be linear. If you have the courage to try things out and a passion for what you do, success will come to you. I sometimes see others who unfortunately have a different attitude. They want to know what the firm and the team can do for them. My advice to them is this: stay humble!
Who would you like to have lunch or dinner with?
Leonardo da Vinci.
What book are you reading at the moment?
There are always several books on my bedside table. Depending on the time and my mood, I’ll pick one up and carry on reading it. At the moment, I’ve got “Nutshell” by Ian McEwan, “A Short History of England” by Simon Jenkins and “The Sweet Poison Cook” by Arto Paasilinna.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Chemistry. I almost made it my specialism, but we had a rather unsuccessful doctor of chemistry in the family who advised me very strongly against it. That’s why I ended up choosing economics instead.