Women in Business: Sonya Brown, General Partner, Norwest Venture Partners

Sonya brings to NVP more than a decade of investment experience. Based in NVP's Palo Alto office, Sonya is focused on investing across a wide range of sectors including information services, software, business services, financial services and consumer. Her current investments include Bailey 44, Kendra Scott Design, My Alarm Center, PCA Skin, and The Learning Experience. Sonya is also a board observer at Madison Reed.

Sonya was previously at Summit Partners, a private equity firm with over $11 billion under management, where she worked for nine years in the Boston office and was responsible for leading the firm's Consumer and Internet Industry Group in North America. Sonya was engaged in all aspects of the deal process including deal sourcing, due diligence, deal negotiations and board representation. Her most recent and past board directorships and investments include Aramsco, Airborne Health, Central Security Group, Physicians Formula Holdings (NASDAQ: FACE), Snap Fitness and Sparta Systems.

Prior to joining Summit, Sonya was a founder and General Partner of iXL Ventures in 1999, where she oversaw the funding and growth of numerous technology and Internet companies. In addition, she was Vice President of Corporate Development for the parent company iXL Enterprises, Inc., one of the largest global web development companies at that time.

Sonya began her career in the investment banking division of Bear Stearns where she worked on numerous consumer and media transactions.

Sonya holds a bachelor of science degree from Northwestern University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. In addition, she is a Chartered Financial Analyst.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
For many important years in my life my father and grandfather raised me, and their strong personalities have helped shape me into the person I am today. They helped me find a comfort level in the business world and how to work most effectively with different personalities. I owe them both a great deal in shaping my expectations of the world and how I fit in it.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Norwest Venture Partners?
I've been very fortunate and have been afforded many career opportunities. I've worked in operations, investment banking, and now as a growth equity investor. Within these positions I have faced challenges such as expanding the business as well as letting employees go, all of which have contributed to my understanding of the hurdles our portfolio companies may face. My background in all three of these areas has provided the perspective and experience I need to effectively work with portfolio companies on a daily basis.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Norwest Venture Partners?
The amazing entrepreneurs and CEOs I have the opportunity to work with are the highlight for me day-in and day-out. Collaborating with them to make sure they are strategically growing their business is what I find most satisfying. But, it doesn't mean it's always easy--that's why they call it work. I'm here to partner with our portfolio companies to help them face the operational and strategic challenges of growing a business and make sure we have the most effective talent.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking a career in finance?
Stay in the game.

It's important to consider that finance can be a less forgiving industry if you step out of the workforce for much time. If you do decide to step out, it's important to keep those periods to a minimum so you can continue to propel forward. While early on in a finance career, the hours are sometimes unpredictable and schedules can be grueling, but if you stick through, in time you will have more flexibility in your schedule.

How do you maintain work/life balance?
I have a very supportive husband who has been there for me from the beginning. We went to business school together (as a married couple) and we have made it all work. I would not say it is easy, but we have four happy, healthy children and do our best to spend quality time with each of them. We have been able to blend our work and family lives, both of which often feel like 24/7 jobs.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
The biggest issue continues to be that human nature is to surround yourself with people who are most similar to you. Organizations have only begun to understand the benefits of diverse viewpoints and the fact that innovation can come from many different backgrounds. Personally, I don't think this only relates to women and I do hope we continue to make strides for all diverse backgrounds in the workplace.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
A year into my professional career I came across a senior woman who cared enough to be a mentor, to share her story, and to be a sounding board for many years as I took steps into my career.

I also found that as I became more senior in the private equity world, there were fewer female role models. That gave me the opportunity to become a role model for younger women. Today, I'm motivated to give back to these young women by sharing my story and doing what I can to be a sounding board for their careers.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Sheryl Sandberg is an obvious one for me. She not only manages her work and personal life, but she has put herself out there to talk about female leadership and build communities of mentors and mentees.

What do you want Norwest Venture Partners to accomplish in the next year?
For more than 50 years, Norwest has partnered with entrepreneurs to build and grow successful businesses. In the next year, I look forward to Norwest continuing to partner with exceptional entrepreneurs and CEOs--we have a fantastic portfolio that we will continue to cultivate.