Laura Milligan wears multiple hats. Mother, wife, entrepreneur, business partner, founder, and more. By approaching these roles with grace and grit, Laura is exactly where she wants to be—raising a family, building a business, and embracing the challenges and rewards of both.
In this blog post, Laura shares some of her backstory, including how she briefly considered pursuing a career in acting, but instead received a business degree from the University of Notre Dame. She also explains why co-founding Fairway with four former colleagues feels like coming full circle.
At what point did you know you wanted to pursue a career in investment management?
When I was a senior in college, I was in a class where we managed a portion of the university’s endowment. I think that was the experience that set things in motion for me as far as my interest in investment management. It was a challenging class, but I was grateful to have such an interesting experience at a young age that allowed me to meet with alumni at many of the top asset management firms across various asset classes.
You began your career in private equity at Adams Street Partners under the tutelage of Tom Gladden and Kathy Wanner. How integral were they in helping you develop a vision for your career?
This is an apprenticeship business and the only way to really learn is to work alongside others who are well experienced. For me, Kathy and Tom represented those people. When I joined Adams Street in 2005, they had been at the firm for a number of years and took me under their wings. I’m thankful that, so early in my career, I had the good fortune to work with colleagues that were happy and willing to share their knowledge. As their first associate working alongside them, I learned how to analyze funds, build portfolios, and develop relationships with private equity managers that have continued to serve me well throughout my career. Even after I left Adams Street, Kathy and Tom remained an integral part of my professional development, including instilling in me the importance of a well-rounded background and forging my own path in private equity.
When I left Adams Street, I went to business school and then worked in investment consulting at Mercer, advising clients on private equity where I gained a higher-level viewpoint of portfolio management and how private equity fits into a broader portfolio. I also had the opportunity to evaluate private equity fund of funds and make recommendations to clients interested in that option. It was here where I saw a gap in the market and an opportunity for a differentiated product that had a better alignment of interests with its investors. That was a good segue to managing a private equity portfolio, which I did at the Boeing Company as I progressed to the Director of Private Equity.
Over the years, I kept in touch with Tom and Kathy and when they and Kevin Callahan approached me in 2019 with the idea of working together again—this time as a peer and a co-founder—I was thrilled. It was like coming full circle.
In what ways do you feel strong relationships with private equity managers afford an advantage?
Relationships are crucial in private equity, from investing in new ideas to raising capital. Each of us at Fairway has a network of strong relationships with private equity managers across the spectrum. When we first began talking about launching our own firm, it came through loud and clear that it was us these private equity managers felt connected to as people rather than our respective institutions. I think that speaks to the trust and respect we’ve earned from managers over the course of our careers. We’ve been sounding boards for many of them, offered candid advice during challenging situations, and introduced them to other limited partners. We bring more to the table than just capital. We bring our experience working with managers of all types over multiple market cycles and knowledge of best practices in the industry. Managers appreciate that about us and, as a result, they want us to have a seat at the table.
Is there a quote or mantra that inspires you?
The quote by Ben Franklin, “out of adversity comes opportunity” is a philosophy that resonates with me on many levels—professionally and personally. For example, the recent downturn in the market has made it a difficult environment to navigate. General partners are having to work with their companies closely to ensure they are well financed and have enough cash on hand. But history has shown that this type of environment is actually when many of the best companies are founded. Venture companies are typically founded to help solve some issue and disrupt the currently accepted norm. On a personal note, I have found that the toughest, most challenging times are when I've grown the most and become a stronger person.
“Out of adversity comes opportunity”
If you hadn’t chosen a career in investment management, what might you being doing today?
I always had an interest in the arts and was often found drawing in my sketchbook or on the stage performing. I was very active in theater in high school and had been accepted to a theater program at another university. Ultimately, my intellectual curiosity led me down a different path focused on finance. However, I often tap into the skills I developed from performing that are helpful in the business world, including how to communicate effectively and connect with others.
What are some of your interests outside of work?
I’m a big sports fan. My family and I enjoy cheering on all the Chicago teams, and Wrigley Field is within walking distance from my house.
My husband and I are balancing raising two young kids and careers, which, at times, is demanding. When I am not running to and from our kids’ various activities, you can often find me on my Peloton bike or a yoga mat to burn off some stress. Wellness in general is a personal interest of mine and, in some respects, overlaps with my work. The research and innovation happening in this space fuels my excitement for the biotech and healthcare companies Fairway invests in.