Inside Track: Beute is happy to blaze trails in the financial services industry
Blackford Capital CFO builds relationships to help women in the finance community.
Blackford Capital Chief Financial Officer Kimberly Beute is the first chair of the recently launched Women in Finance committee, a subset of the Association for Corporate Growth West Michigan.
Beute said during initial discussions about the formation of the committee, she was unsure whether there was a real need for a women-specific group like Women in Finance.
“Initially, I felt skeptical,” she said. “I said women are good at what they do; they are good at finance. Why do we need a separate group?”
But after the group’s first event in August, Beute said her doubts disappeared.
“I figured if we had 75 people attend, it would be a success; we had 200. It sold out,” she said. “I realized there is obviously a need.”
Beute said while there are a lot of women in finance-related positions, women still face unique challenges in the field compared to their male colleagues. She said Women in Finance identified three pillars to begin addressing those issues.
The first pillar is education, which she explained as “working to educate college students and others who are new in their career and letting them know what types of finance roles are out there. I think a lot of people don’t understand all of the options within the world of finance.”
Beute said, for the most part, women have been welcomed into the world of finance but often are limited by not being aware of opportunities.
“If a woman wants to get into an area of finance, the opportunities are there — it’s just having the education to know what area of finance and then going after it,” she said.
But, she adds, there are still some barriers that remain for women who are interested in math. “We have had people say, ‘At one point in my career, someone told me I wasn’t good at math,’ or something else like that where someone has pushed them away from that field.”
The group’s second pillar is mentorship. Women need to mentor each other more and create strong networks within the finance community, Beute said.
“It would be wonderful to pair up someone who has been in the finance field for a while with someone who’s new to it — having someone to talk to and help guide you to the next level.”
She said the mentorship piece would take the most time to develop because the committee wants to make sure to create a really strong program. She said it will probably start out smaller in scale and be built up over time.
The third pillar is work-life integration.
“Let’s be honest: There is no balance; it’s integration,” Beute joked.
“One of the hurdles women struggle with is the fact that you do have a home life and everything else you are trying to balance,” she said. “If it is a job with long hours and events, you have to find that balance.”
She said creating a work-life balance involves working with employers to help them realize the importance of more family-friendly policies and flexibility and how that benefits them in the long run.
“You do want these women involved in these positions. How do you meet them halfway to allow them to take these types of jobs and still be able to do everything else,” she said.
Beute said she has seen progress in the area of work-life integration during her career and she expects more companies to adopt family-friendly policies to support women — and male — employees, but there is still a long way to go in some finance jobs.
“Work-life integration is happening more in the CPA world because there are so many women in that field,” she said. “I think there has been a lot more flexibility.
“I’m not sure in the private equity world that it’s gotten there. It’s still a world of that ‘long-hours’ mentality. I think everybody is going to get there eventually, but certain fields are getting there faster than others.”
Beute has been lucky to have employers who support a work-life balance for employees. She noted one of her first jobs after graduating from Western Michigan University was working for an Australian company operating in Atlanta, Georgia, that placed a strong emphasis on the importance of having a life beyond work.
“It was the most wonderful experience, working for an Australian company,” she said. “They just had a completely different mindset. They worked really hard and played really hard.”
For instance, she said the company set up a fund employees could use for personal pursuits such as taking cooking classes, getting a gym membership or learning to golf.
Beute spent seven years with that company, starting out in IT database management and eventually moving into risk management and relocating to New York City.
“The company started buying other companies, and I had the opportunity to travel and complete due diligence on various acquisitions,” Beute said. “I discovered that I really liked the project management environment. I liked working with different teams on the due diligence, and I enjoyed bringing the projects from start to finish.”
Beute said her time in New York City was the most influential in her career.
“When I lived in New York City, one of the things I really enjoyed was setting up new processes and looking at different risk profiles for the company,” she said. “I had the opportunity to develop my own program and write my own job description.”
Eventually, Beute decided she was ready to come back to West Michigan.
“I had traveled back to Grand Rapids and realized that I missed it, and my family was here. I realized this was where I wanted to settle down and raise a family.”
Coming back to Michigan led Beute back to her accounting roots. She completed her CPA.
“I had always intended to get my CPA, but my work path had shifted into so many different careers,” she said. “But I always knew I wanted to do that.”
After working as a CPA with a West Michigan firm for six years, Beute said she was ready to return to a company setting.
“I missed being part of a company versus being a consultant to a company,” she said. “I was also looking for that work-life balance because my daughter was young.”
Beute joined private equity firm Blackford Capital at the end of 2010 as an accountant. At the time the company had just four employees. Today, 15 people work for the firm, and Beute has been promoted to CFO.
“When I started with them, they had a national focus in terms of deals that would fit the profile of the companies they were looking at,” she said. “In recent years, they started to focus on the Michigan Prosperity Fund, which centers around Michigan companies.
“It’s fascinating because we find companies just at that point where they’ve plateaued, or the owner is looking to exit the company, and we are able to come in and grow them for the benefit of the investors that are in the Michigan Prosperity Fund.”
Beute said Blackford Capital focuses in particular on mature lower-middle-market to middle-market manufacturing companies in which to invest.
She said emerging from the recession has been an exciting time to be in the private equity market.
“You are seeing so many more companies out there that are looking to grow, versus companies that were stagnant for all the wrong reasons,” she said. “Now we can find a company that has a really bright future because the economy is better, versus somebody wanting to exit their company because they are burned out.”