Polina has a comprehensive background in business, economics, strategic opportunity investments and venture capital transactions. Prior to co-founding Cambridge Companies SPG, Polina was an Executive Vice President and Partner at a real estate investment firm with $350 million dollars of transactions under her belt. She has over a decade of real estate, angel investor and venture capital experience, whilst her deep knowledge and understanding of select market sectors allows her to underwrite transactions, develop operational teams, execute complex business strategies and finance transactions.
For our April edition, CEO Today had the pleasure to connect with Polina and discuss her role within Cambridge Companies SPG, as well as all things women in business and female entrepreneurship.
What impact have your skills in leadership had on Cambridge Companies SPG portfolio companies?
At Cambridge Companies SPG, I lead our team and maintain relationships with strategic clients and accounts. My contributions to Cambridge SPG have resulted in securing and facilitating key investments including Foodstirs, one of the fastest growing companies in America according to CNBC in 2016; Once Upon a Farm, a national leader in fresh HPP baby food; and Owl’s Brew, a nationally available cocktail mixer and craft beer company, which recently received a strategic investment from the largest beer company in the world. These companies are run by strong female leaders in generally male dominated industries. I use my experience to mentor and guide the companies in which we invest, and help facilitate creative solutions to drive growth.
What can you tell us about the women-owned businesses you have secured investment opportunities for Cambridge Companies SPG?
As a female Co-founder of an investment firm, I know firsthand the challenges our female CEOs experience. The female founders/CEOs of our portfolio companies run some of the most efficient organizations, execute on highly complex business strategies and are able to connect with the consumer and core customer. When it comes time to bring in a strategic growth equity investment, it is often challenging, as there is a void of financial institutions which focus on female leaders. There are some high-profile firms in our industry, such as Harbinger Ventures or Female Founders Fund, but despite their efforts, there are more opportunities than the capital that chases it. We have noticed that despite female founders driving excellent growth and enterprise value creation, they have a difficult time raising capital. At Cambridge we don’t focus exclusively, on female founders, but 80% of our portfolio CEOs are women.
What problems do women face in the workplace today that you feel need to be addressed?
Women rights and workplace equality has come a long way. Today, mid-level managerial positions are occupied by about 50% women. While women have become very important contributors in business, we still aren’t being perceived as leaders. According to McKinney and Company, today we still only see women in 27% Vice President, 23% Senior Vice President and 17% of CEO positions. A study by Quantopian pitted the performance of Fortune 1000 companies that had women CEOs between 2002 and 2014 against the S&P 500’s performance during that same period. The finding was that female CEOs drive three times the returns as S&P 500 enterprises run by men. About 80% of the companies in which Cambridge SPG has invested are run by strong female founders/CEOs. The gender of the CEO did not guide our decision to invest, however these businesses were run very effectively and experienced above average growth.
What improvements would you say need to be made for women in business?
Improvements can be made with role models. There are a few powerful examples of women role models in the workplaces. You can’t be what you can’t see. Research shows that almost two-thirds of women reported a lack of senior or visibly successful female role models as a major obstacle to their career advancement. While women are almost half of the US labor force, they make up less than 20% of CEOs and less than 10% of top earners in the S&P 500. Business leaders can be more intentional about appointing highly qualified women to your executive team, corporate board, C-suite, and/or CEO position.
What steps do you take to empower the women working around you?
I feel privileged to work with such incredible female CEOs, entrepreneurs, and business professionals through our portfolio and network at Cambridge Companies SPG. Through propelling these businesses, we are empowering more and more women to pursue their dreams and take the lead. The greatest lesson I’ve learned in my career is that there are dreamers and there are doers. It’s better to act and make mistakes, rather than limit yourself to just dreaming and never accomplishing. Through our investments, we aim to empower more ‘doers’ who are revolutionizing the nutritional landscape of the world and making healthy food more accessible.
What advice would you give to budding female entrepreneurs today?
My biggest advice for women who want a career in my industry is to be determined and committed. Do not start with the mindset that it’s a men’s world and do not take ‘no’ for an answer. The truth is times have changed and there are plenty of men who recognize a female prospective is an important balance to the decision making pendulum (especially in the consumer or investment fields where half of your customer base is male and half is female.) The Financial Times pointed out that gender diverse management teams raised over 6% more capital than single gender run management teams. This 6% figure is huge, as over 15,000 funds with more than $1 Trillion Dollars under management collectively. Additionally, in my experience, I have learned that through persistence and building the best team possible, any ‘no’ you receive in business can be turned into a ‘yes’ with hard work and dedication. In many ways, my advice for a woman is the same as my advice to a man. Success is built by determination and persistence. Take risks, never give up, and surround yourself with rock stars!
Can you tell us about your involvement in the community and its impact?
I am very passionate about empowering women and children. At Cambridge, we are proud partners of national non-profit, Shoes That Fit, where we have been a part of their campaign for the past three years to donate athletic shoes to elementary-aged children. Personally, I also believe that it is our generation’s responsibility to preserve art and I am personally involved with OCMA and the Symphony Society. I also am an underwriter at Harvesters Food Bank in Orange County and have donated time and resources to The Village of Hope Rescue Mission which helps struggling parents restore stability in their lives and the lives of their children. The impact I want to create is in empowerment, betterment and advancement of human knowledge. Our investment strategy has a positive global impact on public health as our portfolio is geared towards better for you products and my personal contributions empower local women and children. I believe that if we all do something positive in our community, then collectively, the world will be a better place.