With 30+ years of experience under her belt, Kathy Wanner has led more than 100+ investments in venture capital and private equity funds. She’s monitored private equity and venture capital general partner relationships over the course of her career and has had the opportunity to work with some of the best in the business. A strong advocate of supporting women in finance, Kathy is dedicated to mentoring the next generation of women, which is why she has been so passionate about co-founding Fairway. When she’s not working hard for her clients, she’s enjoying a sporting event, traveling, or participating in a local triathlon or run with her family.
We had the chance to catch up with Kathy and in this blog post, she shares how her professional and personal experiences have influenced her career, including her most recent professional endeavor — co-founding Fairway Capital Management.
What’s it like transitioning from a career at a large asset management firm to launching your own boutique firm?
It was an easy and natural transition because our team worked together and had tremendous mutual respect for what we all had accomplished together at Adams Street Partners. Kevin and I have worked together since 1994, for me that was even before my family, so we have known each other for a very long time and have already successfully done a lot of what we are doing now. Same with Tom, we have been in the trenches since 2002, building portfolios. We have been through a ton together. Laura was one of our first associates at Adams Street and having the opportunity to work together again was amazing. Kai is a graduate of my alma mater and having her come work with us was wonderful. It just all came together and fits nicely together.
Our core values are similar across our team members which made founding Fairway an easy next chapter. We are very passionate about funding innovation and getting capital to entrepreneurs to build new and exciting companies. It was natural to embark on our entrepreneurial experience building our firm. At Fairway, our primary focus is on finding the best venture capital and private equity investments that we believe are going to drive attractive performance. We structured our firm to have significant alignment with our clients. Each of us invests a sizeable amount of our own money in Fairway’s funds as a means of demonstrating just how committed we are to delivering strong performance.
The opportunity to build Fairway with like-minded partners fit well with my enjoyment of building firms — I am excited to shape our firm culture and to create differentiated investment products. I love meeting with general partners, looking at companies, and understanding the themes driving growth in our economy. Fairway’s smaller team size allows me to do just that every day with partners that I thoroughly enjoy working with. We’re a small team but we cover a lot of the U.S. venture capital and private equity market.
How would you describe the culture at Fairway?
We’ve assembled a diverse team of people who complement one another well. Each team member has a very important and specific role, and this leads to a significant amount of trust and mutual respect. We are very transparent and openly communicate at our firm. We believe this culture of openness leads to robust discussions around investments, and ultimately, we think it leads to better decision-making for our portfolio. Coupled with our strong alignment, we believe these two components will drive attractive performance.
“We believe this culture of openness leads to robust discussions around investments, and ultimately, we think it leads to better decision-making for our portfolio.”
When did you first know that you wanted to pursue a career in investment management?
It wasn’t until my sophomore year at Binghamton University, after passing out in my biology lab (I was pre-med), that I switched to the School of Management with a major in finance. I’ve always been intellectually curious about how businesses come together to implement new ideas. Once I transferred to the School of Management I did not look back. It was one of the best decisions I have made in my life.
What qualities have helped you excel in your career?
Intellectual curiosity sprinkled with a genuine and sincere interest in learning about other people and their experiences. Both traits are important in this industry. Venture is an industry that invests primarily in teams that are driving new ideas. I’ve always found it exciting to learn about the people and the businesses we invest in for our portfolio. The range of sectors is wide and requires constantly learning about new technologies. But authenticity in wanting to get to know people and genuinely being interested and inquisitive about other people’s interests are also important qualities. Building relationships is one of the most rewarding parts of the job. A partnership approach, I believe, helps in establishing strong relationships and, in the end, helps to gather relevant information, which we believe leads to better investment decisions. These better decisions, we hope, drive differentiated and top performance.
You currently mentor women studying finance at both of your alma maters — Binghamton University and Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. What’s the most important lesson you hope to pass on to them?
This is important to me — lifting women in finance. Over the past 10 years or so, we’ve seen some promising growth in the number of women in finance and investment roles. I think there are 100 women CIOs these days in the U.S. We still have some work to do to increase participation, but both universities have made significant strides in their efforts to attract women to their finance programs.
When spending time with students, I encourage them to focus on their strengths and be confident to share their opinions. It is important to be authentic and that your uniqueness is your superpower and is often what is most valuable. Helping to give them confidence is so important for their success. I think it helps them to see women in leadership roles and reassures them that it can be done and is truly possible. I have two daughters and have been a working mom my entire life, so I am very passionate about this topic. It can be done with the right support system.
Have you had the benefit and influence of a mentor?
I’ve had the benefit of working on teams with strong, smart people, early in my career at Morgan Stanley and then at Brinson Partners and Adams Street. I have had the privilege of learning from many talented investors and have incorporated these learnings into my approach. The global reach of my prior firms allowed me the privilege to see the U.S. from a different lens – this has also helped shape how I view our market. I have had the fortunate pleasure of having so many different mentors throughout my career it would be hard to name just one. Throughout my career, I have had great female role models since the very beginning, and this was the case all the way to Adams Street.
What do you enjoy doing in your “down time”?
My family is extremely important to me and so is having fun. I have two daughters, one son, and four dogs (two Goldendoodles and two Coton de Tulears), so I am a Mom of seven. I spend as much time with my family as they will allow me. I have been a “working Mom” for a very long time. I can say that no matter what age my children are, there are never enough hours to have fun and spend with them.
I'm also a health and wellness fanatic, as many who know me are aware — prior to the pandemic I even had ownership in a local gym (lost it due to the pandemic). I truly enjoyed that experience. Not sure how, but I have convinced my family that organized run races and triathlons are fun, so we are often getting up very early to participate in races.
Seeing the world is important to me — I really enjoy traveling with my family and experiencing new things with them. We have been to many exciting places together. I just love creating memories with them — it’s one of my favorite activities.