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Champion of WOMEN

6 months ago / by Abhijit Masih

As the Global Head of the Private Capital Advisory group for Raymond James, Sunaina Sinha Haldea is one of the most influential people working in private equity today. In a field still dominated by men, she had to overcome great odds to get there.

Sunaina Sinha Haldea is often the only woman in the room brokering deals for some of the largest private equity sponsors in the world. She is the Global Head of the Private Capital Advisory group at Raymond James. She obtained a bachelors of science degree in Management Science and Engineering and a master’s of science degree in chemical engineering, both from Stanford University. She has an MBA from Harvard Business School. She founded Cebile Capital, a private fund placement agent and secondary market adviser to private equity firms, in early 2011. Research from McKinsey shows that women make up only 12 percent of managing directors and 16 percent of principals and partners in investment roles at private equity firms. It’s in those conditions that Sinha Haldea is one of the most influential people of either gender in private equity. Sunaina Sinha Haldea spoke to SEEMA from her office in central London about the hard knocks she faced in being a woman of color in a male-dominated field and the skills and qualities she employs to drown out the noise. She is also a champion for greater women’s prominence in the financial workforce and walks the talk with 50 percent of her employees being women and minorities.


I was born in Delhi, but I left India when I was 8 years old, and grew up all over the world. I call myself a citizen of the world; I was raised in India, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Vietnam, before I went to university. If I had to summarize my upbringing in one word, it would be adventure. With adventure comes plenty of highs, but there can also be a lot of knocks that teach resilience. The resilience came from changing locations every 3 to 5 years. My dad was a diplomat and the lessons learned and the memories that were being created, not just for me, but for my 3 younger siblings, have been absolutely invaluable for us.


I graduated with my MBA and worked for a few years, doing what I currently do, but doing it for two large hedge fund managers. I was very successful at my job but I also knew that eventually I wanted to start something on my own. I got the opportunity in 2011, when one of my former employers said to me, if you start something on your own, we’ll become your first client. I took them for their word and started the business.

The early days were really tough, but with incredible learning experiences. I was the only shareholder in the business so all of the responsibility for the growth and the decisions rested on my shoulders. That was rather daunting. However, I look back and think the lessons of learning by doing, the growth mindset of pivoting from failures, figuring out what works and leaning into those are some nuggets that have stood me in great stead.

No matter how much of a hard knock I suffered in the first two years, we were delivering good work and have long standing clients that go back 10 years plus at this point. I can’t say that financial services and entrepreneurship is for the faint of
heart. But if you have the resilient muscle to lean into it, it can be incredibly rewarding.


The finance industry does an okay job of recruiting women and people from a minority background into the junior ranks, but not a very good job when it comes to retaining them and progressing them on to senior management and leadership
positions. Why is that? Finance can be very lumpy, very deal oriented where there are big peaks of workflow, and those big peaks aren’t for everybody. So if you’re trying to start a family, if you’re a young mother, you really have to go through some very hard nights and weekends juggling a lot of things at the same time. Finance has one of the highest burnout risks for women so that really holds back the diversity element.


There are three that have been absolutely integral. One of the skills I invested in about 12 years ago was meditation. I go to an annual meditation retreat. I meditate every morning for at least an hour, and that has been an absolute seminal centering
point of each day. Any day of the week there would be things coming at you that make you feel a certain way – angry, sad, ecstatic, happy, etc. The big power of meditation is to give you control over your mind versus the other way around. The
other two practices have been equally important. The second practice is really learning quickly from setbacks and failures. That has been a great secret to any type of entrepreneurial journey, but also in your personal life. Every time something
negative happens, I say, okay, that’s great. What are my lessons here, and I keep digging for lessons, so that I won’t make these once again. And the third one really has been my family. I come from a large family in terms of my siblings and my parents, with my husband and my 3 kids and a dog. You need to have a set
of people that you can really rely on to be yourself with, and that’s been a real blessing.


One of the ways that I tell others who are in my shoes or at different stages of their careers and who are women of color, is that you have to learn to distinguish signals
from noise. I get comments to this day. It’s unfortunate, but it exists. I can’t control what other people say and do. I can only control myself. I consider it noise and that noise is there to distract you. It just fills your brain, and you have to have a way for distinguishing the signal from the noise. That colleague comes and mentioned something to you. Yes, of course you can get worked up about it and spend 45 minutes of your day thinking about it, or you can just let it go and move on with what’s really important. Your job, where you can make the most difference and where you’re valued. So that’s my biggest piece of advice to women of color. It isn’t easy and there will always be noise. There was noise 20 years ago when I started, and there’s noise today, and there will be noise 20 years from now. Use your difference as your power, and use your position of power to pull someone up below you. You can always do that. There is always someone else you can pull up and that’s the only way our ranks increase.


This is one of my interview questions. (The one quality needed to ask clients to part with their money.) I actually love asking this question and you get lots of answers –
persistence, tenacity, communication, etc. The actual answer is and the research shows it – is listening. The more you listen the more information someone shares with you. To have curiosity, genuine curiosity, not fake curiosity about another human being. So that you can ask them open-ended questions and you start receiving that information and that has made me good at my job. Which is very much asking people for money. That is what we do. The more information I get about my counterpart, it makes me stronger at what I say, and, therefore, what I say is going to be much more nuanced.

It’s going to be much more relevant to what they want to hear and it makes me much more effective at my job. So it’s one of the most undervalued skills in the world today. Everybody just wants to talk and fill the space around them and be seen and heard. Well, if you sit back and listen, the information will come to you that will allow you to be even better at your job.


The green is not my thing. I have tried to play golf and it just takes too many hours of one’s life to get any good at it. My strength has been the goblet. I know enough about wine to be dangerous, and a lot of men think they know their wine really well. So when they get someone who can match them, and can talk with them fluently, it stands up very well and that very much has been one of my secret weapons. I found wine to be a very easy going common thread across cultures. At the end of the day you have to find a point of connection with the human being on the other side of the table.