This series features interviews with Black dealmakers and trailblazers in the private equity (PE) and finance community.

Q: What attracted you to PE?

Lakesha Wilson Hill: I started out in finance and accounting at a global public accounting firm, followed by a lengthy career at a global real estate investment management firm, before I landed my current role as chief financial officer (CFO) at Riverspan Partners. What attracted me to PE and this role was the opportunity to take all the knowledge I gained from larger corporate settings and use it in a more entrepreneurial environment where I could diversify my skill set.

I get a chance to see, manage and take ownership of a lot of functions outside the traditional finance and accounting role, such as human resources, compliance and information technology.

When you’re working with fewer people in a smaller, private setting, you also receive more transparency into a company and learn more about how a company operates. When you’re at a large corporate firm, you typically do not get that level of insight. When questions are asked, larger companies often aren’t as forthright about sharing how decisions are made. I am enjoying having a seat at the table in a more intimate setting.

Q: Who is an example of someone who inspired you in PE?

LWH: One of my closest friends, Christina Totton, is a partner at PE firm Adams Street Partners. She inspired me because she took a leap of faith very early in her career and left public accounting back in the early 2000s, when doing so was uncommon. Previously, when you started out in public accounting, you were generally expected to stay with a firm until you at least made manager. Christina knew right away that public accounting wasn’t for her, and she ended up at a PE firm not knowing what that entailed at that time.

Christina has been at this same PE firm for 20-plus years. She’s been able to flourish and have a rewarding career as an accounting and finance professional, which many people tend to view as more of a back-office or cost-center role. She’s had a front-row seat watching Adams Street grow from its infancy into a global company with billions of dollars of assets under management. During her career, Christina proved that you can be in a non-investment-facing role, and if you work hard, you can become a partner and have a flourishing and rewarding career in the PE space. Despite being in a position where there are not many minorities — ethnic or women — she’s stuck with it and has shown it can be done successfully.

Q: Why is it important for more Black professionals to pursue careers in PE?

LWH: I find it important not only for Blacks but other ethnic minorities and women to pursue a career in PE so we can diversify the industry. I think it’s widely known that this is a profession that underrepresents demographic groups other than white males. We know a lot of investors — especially large institutional investors — are looking to allocate their dollars with firms representing their employee demographics. Particularly at pension funds, you have people in higher positions who represent Blacks and other ethnic minorities as well as women, so they are starting to ask to do business with companies that reflect and represent the people they see and work with on a day-to-day basis.

We also know that studies show that when you have diversity of thought instead of groupthink, you come up with better investment ideas, which could be more lucrative for PE firms.

When more Black professionals pursue careers in PE, we’ll continue to create a space that shows minorities that they can have a career in the space. Years ago, I had no idea what PE was and how to pursue a career in the industry. I didn’t know that if you work in PE, there’s a space where you can invest and create value over a long-term horizon, which can be lucrative not only for companies but also for the employees who work there.

Finally, growing the number of Black women PE professionals will help reduce some of the wage gaps and disparities for minorities and for women. By landing positions in PE, minorities and women can expect to be paid equitably and make the personal financial gains common to their white-male counterparts.

Q: What do diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) mean to you, and why are they important?

LWH: DEI means an environment where everyone has access, no matter their ethnic background, gender, race, religion or socioeconomic status. Not only are you creating a space where you see diversity — where everyone does not look and think alike — but you are also creating a space where everyone is treated equitably, whether it be equal pay, equal access to partners, access to the same learning opportunities or access to the same career growth and trajectory.

When a company achieves substantial DEI goals and creates a culture where all employees feel comfortable and included, employees enjoy where they work, which results in adding value and growth opportunities for a firm.

About Lakesha Wilson Hill

Lakesha Wilson Hill, CPA, is the CFO of Riverspan Partners. Prior to joining Riverspan, Hill was the head of investor accounting and finance for LaSalle Global Partner Solutions, a global indirect real estate investment platform. Hill led a global team whose core duties included financial accounting and reporting, performance measurement, cash management, audit and tax filings. Before joining LaSalle in 2005, Hill worked as an audit assurance professional at Ernst & Young for six years, where she primarily served investment management companies in Chicago and London.

Hill is a certified public accountant and holds a B.A. in accounting from Clark Atlanta University and an M.S. in accounting from the University of Notre Dame.