Smits’ latest frontline finance role was at $ 27 billion private equity and venture capital investor group Adams Street, where she was chief investment officer, mapping out asset allocations and geographical exposure, as well as overseeing the firm’s commitment to private equity funds.
She left the firm in December 2014, with its chief executive, T Bondurant French, telling the Wall Street Journal: “She has been working at 110 miles per hour for 17 years and making numerous intercontinental trips a year. She’s been doing a phenomenal job for us.”
Her new role marks a steady career rise for Smits, who turns 50 this August and has three children.
After graduating from Nyenrode Business Universiteit in her native country, the Netherlands, in 1987, she spent a couple of years in Hong Kong, where she worked at technology companies Orange Nassau Asia and Philips. She then returned to Europe and completed an MBA at London Business School, where she now sits on the advisory board in its private equity faculty, before taking an investment management role at Pantheon.
She remained at the private equity investor for almost five years, before joining Adams Street Partners in 1997 to establish its presence outside of the US – notably in Europe and Asia. She was appointed to Adams Street’s executive committee when it span out of UBS Asset Management in 2001 and worked her way up the hierarchy to become CIO in 2008.
She left Adams Street to pursue other interests, one of which was the launch of Level 20. This campaign group, the first of its kind, for the private equity industry aims to increase the percentage of women in senior industry positions from 5% in 2015 to 20% by 2020. It provides mentoring and recruitment opportunities for junior and mid-level staff. It has the backing of 25 private equity firms and has grown to 600 members since launch.
Smits, who is chair of the not-for-profit foundation, featured on Financial News’ list of the 100 most influential women in finance in 2015, partly for her role in the creation of the project. In an interview with FN’s sister title Private Equity News, she explained her motivation behind setting it up.
She said: “One goal was to get more women into senior roles in private equity because women only hold 5% of senior roles in private equity on the [firm] side. Another was to inspire women to join the industry because we are not seeing them coming in at a more junior level, at least not in the 50/50 split relative to men.”
Her advice for women in senior roles looking to make the next step to partner was this: “Ask for it. What is the path to partnership? What do you need to do to demonstrate clearly to the level above that you want to have a career at the firm? I hear anecdotally that women sometimes lack the confidence to ask for it.”
According to Smits and Morrissey, they met through Level 20 and Morrissey’s lobby group Club 30%. They had long conversations last November. Mitchell Harris, chief executive of BNY Mellon Investment Management, knew Smits too.
She has enjoyed skiing and hiking in Austria since the age of four, according to the Level 20 website. It adds: “Her hope is to get her golf handicap to a level that makes it more fun.”
Alongside Level 20, Smits has been a board member at Impetus Private Equity Foundation, since 2014. The charity’s mission is to transform “the lives of economically disadvantaged 11-24 year olds by ensuring they get the support they need to succeed in education, find and keep jobs, and achieve their potential”.
Smits is also a non-executive director at Sofina, a Brussels-based venture capital investor that specialises in small, entrepreneurial companies.