In honor of Women’s History month, MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with several women in the Hartford area who are successful company leaders and team players.
Meet the first in our series, Lalitha Shivaswamy, who is Founder and President of Helios Management Corp. Lalitha is one of several Entrepreneurs in Residence at CTNext, where she offers growth advisory services to eligible companies in the Greater Hartford region.
NAN PRICE: How did you get the background and skills necessary to run your consulting practice?
LALITHA SHIVASWAMY: I was a fifth-generation attorney when I lived in India. My father was my first employer. He trained me in the art of strategic analysis and broad-thinking based on the fundamentals of the idea. I’ve used those skills regardless of the industry in which I’m working.
After I got married, I came to the United States and got my Master of Business Administration in Finance from UConn School of Business. Then I worked at Citigroup, where I was the most junior analyst working on an $8 billion private placement portfolio. Again, I was using strategic thinking and I added financial technical skills needed to analyze those portfolios.
From there, I went to Horizon Technology Finance, where I was one of three venture lending portfolio managers working on $1 billion portfolio. We helped early-stage companies funded by venture capitalists. They had great ideas and new, compelling technology. I was using strategic thinking and financial skills—and I developed people relationship skills to help the companies thrive and at the same time protect their investment.
All those skills came together to found Helios Management Corp. six years ago.
NAN: Aside from your father, how did you learn those skills?
LALITHA: I was very fortunate to have encouraging mentors, both men and women. At Citi, my mentors were seasoned and respected analysts and lawyers. I was the youngest there at the time, just out of business school. My mentors were willing to teach me everything—and I was willing to learn.
A special mention goes to Bob Mills, Denise Duffee, and attorney Dan Kenney. They spent a lot of their time teaching me the details and nuances of private placement and I’m very grateful for their time and interest in my career. The skills I learned are more relevant, in growing Helios, than they were when I first learned them. Some of those mentors at Citi, especially Bob Mills, are still active and interested in the building of Helios.
I was fortunate for mentors at Horizon, too. Horizon is a well-managed company with a culture that ensures everyone is performing well. When I was starting Helios, I was encouraged by Horizon CEO Robert Pomeroy. Horizon CIO Daniel Devorsetz is one of the industry’s most respected managers. He trained me well on the fundamentals of financial analysis and continues to help me as I build Helios.
NAN: How did you become a CTNext Entrepreneur in Residence?
Rob connected me to Martin Roth, who is was Dean of the University of Hartford Barney School of Business at that time. Dean Roth recommended Helios to the MetroHartford Alliance, which was awarded a grant through CTNext to provide growth advisory services. I got the assignment three years ago. The idea was to help create a portfolio of companies in Connecticut that could create high impact in their communities and in their industries. My role is to help mentor them to scale up.
NAN: How has that assignment evolved?
LALITHA: When I first started out, I was wondering where we were going to find these second-stage companies. It turns out they’re right here under our noses. And there are so many of them.
The biggest surprise to me was the diversity of companies—the technologies being developed, the in-house expertise, the different industries. And they’re relative unknown. They’re just doing their thing, generating revenue, hiring people, and making a real economic impact in their communities. Second-stage companies typically hire 15 to 20 people. Those are not just job, but career opportunities.
When I first started building second-stage portfolio, the companies were primarily led by men. But then as the word spread and the portfolio companies started performing well, people started reaching out to me. Now about a third of these companies are led by women—and they’re doing well. My top-performing company in this portfolio is women-led.
The women leaders I work with here in Connecticut are very focused on their industries and their specialties—to the point that it becomes irrelevant that they’re women. They are people in their industries who are smart, competent, and gracious in the ways they treat others.
NAN: Let’s talk about your leadership style and what being a business leader means to you.
LALITHA: To me, being a business leader means helping position as many people as I can for success. All my portfolio companies are headed by strong people, determined to make their organizations successful. You’ve got to find a way to build them, because once they get clarity and a sense of direction, they’re able to take their ideas and make them really big. That helps all of us.
So, my leadership style is to help other people lead well, to provide them with connections, ideas, and a path forward within their respective fields.