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Profile: EQT’s head of HR, Anna Wahlström

by The Drawdown 7 November 2017

Anna Wahlström is the global head of human resources at EQT, a role to which she was appointed in October. She joined the firm as an HR manager in 2012, after eight years as CEO of Propell – a recruitment agency she had founded in 2004. Prior to Propell, Wahlström had worked as an HR consultant for the HR firm of EQT cornerstone and Wallenberg family investment vehicle, Investor AB.


The Drawdown (TD): What has been the biggest challenge for EQT in attracting and developing talent?

Anna Wahlström (AW): With the growth of EQT during the last few years where we have added new investment strategies and offices, the biggest challenge has been to ensure that we continue to hire the right mix of people. It is crucial for us that every single hire becomes someone who fits our culture so we can continue to build the firm for a long time to come.

TD: What pools does EQT recruit from for its deal teams and for its mid/back office?

AW:
Working in the mid and back office requires a slightly different skill set to those in the deal teams, with these roles being much more specialised. Our pool for these positions will differ depending on the exact role, but the big auditing firms are often a good place to find some great talent and are often targeted for these positions. However, many of our employees have also worked within fund administration before joining the mid and back office teams.


TD: How is talent management and development administrated across EQT’s global footprint? Are there different approaches in different geographies?

AW:
We have a unified approach to talent, which represents our employees’ development requirements across all our offices around the globe. We work with a global HR team and apply HR practices across all of our geographies. There is no difference between being employed in our HQ or being employed in another geography, for example.


TD: How do you blend EQT’s corporate culture with local cultures and customs?

AW:
Our local with locals approach is part of our core strategy and is a key differentiator at EQT. Our culture is consistent across the firm and we believe that being able to blend and balance these aspects are key for the firm’s long-term success. Our core common values are applied consistently across all offices, but we take in to account and have respect for local needs, practices and culture in each individual office. Our approach of blending corporate culture with local culture ensures that we maintain consistency as well as the important aspects that make EQT unique.


TD: How is that culture maintained as the company grows?

AW:
Cultural fit is an important part of whom we select to join us. We spend a significant amount of time and effort on this as we strongly believe that our corporate culture is what makes EQT unique and is key to our success. The people we recruit share our fundamental values and beliefs. With that said, it is not solely enough to ensure that we also maintain our rapid growth culture. We actively work on integrating EQT culture into everything that we do: it is the key theme at group-wide conferences, an integral part of all training activities, the overriding topic at our onboarding events and we also make sure to appoint a buddy for all new joiners. We also regularly evaluate and give feedback on our employees and our values, and give guidance on areas individuals can improve on.


TD: What talent development initiatives does EQT run?

AW:
We created our inhouse EQT academy, which offers relevant courses tailored to employees at different stages of their development. However, formal training is only a small part of an individual’s development. Our framework also consists of mentoring/coaching, feedback, on the job training, assignments and the possibility to relocate to other teams and offices for a short period of time to accelerate the individual’s learning curve.


TD: What does EQT offer in terms of managing issues such as work-life balance, mental health issues and maternity/paternity leave? Are the same services offered in all EQT’s offices?

AW:
When it comes to benefits and supporting employees, we have a global approach on what we think is important to offer. It is also important to consider local laws, regulations and practices that differ across from office to office.

We have launched a global, gender neutral flexible workplace policy guaranteeing a minimum level of benefits that is the same for all employees in all countries. Maternity and paternity leave is of course part of this, but we also offer support structure for when a parent returns to work and the years thereafter.

Digitalisation has of course helped with all of this, allowing us to work whenever and wherever and thus enabling all employees to be more flexibility and find a set up that works for their life situation.


TD: What talent recruitment, development and management initiatives is EQT planning for the future?

AW:
We strive to continue to be an attractive employer and to ensure that our teams and infrastructure is best in class, to develop top returns for our investors. HR must therefore continue to push an ambitious development agenda in all areas of talent: recruitment, development, leadership skills, team setup and HR analytics to ensure we are carrying out the right actions at the right time.

In our organisational health index survey this year we got stellar ratings across the firm. EQT is in very good shape which allows us to continue to push to the next level and work with fine tuning processes and exploring new opportunities.


TD: A key part of strong business continuity plans and key man mitigation is having a strong talent pipeline within the firm, with people identified as deputies/understudies for key roles – what does that look like at EQT?

AW:
The benefit of being a healthy, large and growing organisation that also has been around for 20+ years is that we have a large pipeline of strong candidates moving up the ranks. This has continued to improve even further in the last few years. We monitor this on a yearly basis within our Career Development Committees so we know where we might have a risk and can address it at a very early stage. We are in extraordinarily good shape today with great junior talent but also with great opportunities for all employees as we continue to grow. Within the EQT Academy we are also in an early stage to be able to train and develop the next generation to ensure continuous development as a firm.


TD: The private equity industry has a well-documented challenge with diversity in its ranks – how does EQT approach the issue, and what has the result been?


AW:
Even though EQT is ahead of most PE firms when it comes to the number of female investment professionals, we still have work to do. We make sure diversity is included in all processes and decisions and I am happy that over the last few years, EQT has doubled the number of female investment professionals at all levels. Last year we were able to hire around 50% female investment professionals in some geographies. Even though the trend is positive, it will take some time until we have a better split across all levels, since we mostly recruit at junior levels.

Gender diversity in PE is an industry problem and not something that EQT can fix alone. We have for instance identified one issue, which is that many women don’t think about private equity as an attractive employer. In order to meet students and young professionals, EQT hold events and activities with other PE firms to help educate on what PE is about and why it is a great career choice.

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