Profile: Ruth Tompkins, EQT
The Drawdown (TDD): You started out in HR for a consumer business, working for Gillette. What attracted you to the ﬁnancial sector?
Ruth Tompkins (RT): I fell into my role at Gillette just before the company was taken over by Procter and Gamble. I started in recruitment, before moving on to a business partnering role. I then worked with our EXPAT community and really enjoyed it. However, manufacturing didn’t pay particularly well and there weren’t many London-based opportunities, but I knew ﬁnancial services paid better and the majority were City-based, so I looked further aﬁeld for a HR role in that industry.
TDD: You then moved to Barclays Bank before joining Apax Partners where you started your PE career. What attracted you to PE?
RT: My boss at Gillette gave me one of the best pieces of advice of my entire career: “Whatever you do, don’t sell out.” The role at Barclays paid really well, and I didn’t feel like I was selling out, I was building something really interesting.
After completing a project at Barclays where we’d shifted various roles to India and set up an oﬀshore development centre with about 100 people, I realised I wanted to work for a smaller organisation going forward, so took some time oﬀ to travel and work out my next move.
On my return, I interviewed for temporary roles at Rio Tinto and Apax. Catherine Brown, Apax’s then HR director blew me away. I didn’t know anything about PE and my CV didn’t portray me as suitable for the role but she took a chance on me and I learned a lot from her. I fell in love with my role, the organisation, the people and Catherine oﬀered me a permanent position six weeks in. For an accidental career choice, PE is the industry I’ve now spent the most time in.
TDD: The ﬁrm appointed Christian Sinding as its new managing partner and CEO in December 2018, succeeding Thomas von Koch and founder, Conni Jonsson. As it is rare in PE to see change at the top, what does changes in leadership mean?
RT: Succession is usually a big question for PE ﬁrms, but Conni and Thomas are still very much involved. Conni is one of our chairs, as he’s one of our founding partners. Christian has worked at EQT for years and eﬀectively grew up in the organisation with Conni and Thomas as his mentors, so they have a very strong relationship.
We’re lucky because we don’t have any “gardening partners” who are distant from the day-to-day ﬁrm management. Thomas, Conni and Christian are all actively involved in the business and care about it so much. They’re a very down-to-earth leadership team and that’s helped in the transition, because for us there’s still a lot of familiarity.
They each have their own passions, so that changes what we focus on as a business. Thomas, for example, spent the last ﬁve years building us out from a digital perspective and all of our IT went cloud-based several years ago. Christian is very passionate about sustainability, so we’ve really built out ESG under his leadership and I think we’ll see that really ramp up.
TDD: EQT’s IPO highlights its fast and impressive growth. How do you and EQT maintain the ﬁrm’s culture?
RT: There are some unique parts about our culture at EQT, particularly coming from a Nordic heritage. Having very normal, accessible leaders is really important to us. They are very humble leaders, and it’s really helpful culture is led from the top. We have lots of people in our senior team who are good culture carriers too.
As we grow, we need to be very careful setting up new oﬃces or business lines in terms of maintaining culture with new recruits. We try to ensure there are people either heavily involved or part of the team in the oﬃce who understand how we work.
We also spend time developing talent. Our EQT academy involves key career stages and through that we focus on culture as well as technical skills. By the time someone is part way through their career at EQT, the focus is nearly all behavioural. We want to be sure associates we hire now are the ﬁrm’s partners in 10 years, so we’re proactively thinking about very speciﬁc skillsets including communication, negotiation, presentation, as well as futureprooﬁng our processes and development - you don’t have to manage lots of people to show you can be a leader.
Finally, Thomas and Christian made us a promise they’ve stuck to - there’s a real push to ensure we won’t become too bureaucratic and we will continue as an entrepreneurial and fast moving ﬁrm. Where we can improve, we will, there’s no excuse not to. Conni has a motto: “Everything can always be improved at all times” which I think rings true, so we’re constantly looking at ways to better ourselves without getting tied up in red tape.
TDD: In the 18 months you’ve been at EQT, a huge amount has happened - what do you foresee over the next 18 months?
RT: EQT works fast and is an entrepreneurial ﬁrm at heart. When it comes to expansion, we need to ensure we have the right people in the right places.
A lot of challenges will hit us over the next 18 months which can’t be ﬁxed overnight. We’re constantly thinking about what we need from a people perspective not just now, but in two, three or ﬁve years time and how we can start building that early on and with ﬂexibility for whatever the future holds.
Within PE, you need to be much more of a people-focused leader nowadays and there are diﬀerent challenges around managing peoples’ work/life balance and mental health. Our leaders need much better skillsets around that because they’re working in a very diﬀerent, more digitised environment. It’s a much more competitive landscape, and much more transparent now than it has been.
A really big focus for us this year is to move the needle in terms of diversity. Actually recruiting people who maybe didn’t come through traditional routes, who have a really diﬀerent background personally and professionally. It’s about identifying tangible skills and seeing someone who is disruptive, who thinks diﬀerently and is able to drive change. But of course, that requires an understanding line manager who has the time, patience and motivation to guide someone who’s never worked in PE.
After completing her degree in politics, Ruth took on her ﬁrst role at Gillette in the recruitment department. She then moved onto a business partnering role and worked with the company’s EXPAT community. After three years, she moved over to Barclays Bank to complete their project of shifting various roles to India. Having realised she wanted to work in a smaller corporation, Ruth interviewed for the role at Apax and started her path into the private equity industry. After six years, she headed up HR for Europe and India at Advent before joining EQT in 2018 as HR director of the private equity team.