For this installment of our CCO Spotlight series, ComplySci’s Chief Technology Officer, Sunil Bheda, interviewed Catherine Mandell, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer at Argand Partners, LP. Argand is a New York and San Francisco Bay Area-based private equity firm investing in market-leading, middle-market advanced manufacturing and business services companies.
Developing a Compliance Mindset
Can you tell us a little about Argand Partners and your role within the firm?
Catherine: Absolutely. Argand is a private equity firm that was formed in 2015 by a group of investment professionals who had worked together for several years at another firm. We focus on making control investments in middle-market manufacturing and business services companies, typically with extensive global operations. When I joined Argand as GC/CCO in in 2018, it was the first time the team had in-house counsel, so this was an opportunity for me to build out the role starting from the ground up and to lead the compliance program. I support our investment advisory functions, our funds and co-invest vehicles, our deal activities and our portfolio companies. My role spans the breadth of our firm, and I work closely with our team across the business.
Much of my job is about managing and anticipating risk, looking at various legal and compliance requirements and thinking about how to address them in a way that makes the most sense for our business. We really focus on making sure that what we are doing from a compliance perspective aligns with the size and complexity of our operations and investment activities. I spend a lot of time working to stay up to date on our business and our portfolio investments, as well as best practices in the industry, with a focus on identifying connections and ensuring consistency across the firm.
We see many roads to CCO. Can you tell us more about your journey?
Catherine: Before coming to Argand, I worked as outside corporate counsel and as an in-house legal advisor both for a Fortune 500 business and a private fund adviser. As outside counsel, my practice involved advising clients in the asset management industry on private fund structuring and formation, transactions, and ongoing operations and compliance.
I began my career at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP in Washington, DC, working with asset managers and ultimately focusing on advising private equity funds. I moved up to New York for a secondment to HPS Investment Partners while their in-house counsel was out of the office, and I stayed on for several months to support the business across various fund strategies. I remained in New York and transitioned to Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, where I expanded my practice to include more hedge fund work, including several seed deals. I then joined American Express as counsel for their commercial business, advising on new product development, strategic partnerships, marketing, and commercial contracts. This combination of private fund expertise and broader commercial experience has served me well in my current role, supporting our firm and our portfolio companies.
I went to business school undergrad with the goal of becoming an international corporate lawyer, which I’d say is pretty consistent with where I am now. I studied corporate and tax law and interned at the Division of Enforcement at the SEC during law school, and I also have an LL.M. in Tax.
Interestingly, looking back, I had an early start on compliance functions. Back in high school, I ran annual county-wide youth leadership seminars. In college, I was a student chair of the Honor Council at Georgetown, where I organized and led a conference for high-school students on academic integrity and the transition to college. Before law school, I interned at the Office of the Inspector General of Philadelphia. As part of that role, I participated in ongoing investigations and inspections and I organized ethics training for agency officials across the city. All of that experience informs my current role, particularly when it comes to infusing a compliance focus across our business.
Learning How to Embrace Change
How did your experience during the global financial crisis in 2008 help prepare you for operating during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Catherine: I vividly remember sitting in a bankruptcy class when I learned that Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. I see some parallels between the global financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in forcing companies to think about how they should be doing things and how best to adapt. The GFC led to significant regulatory changes that transformed the private fund space. It was like we hit a reset button.
“The way I look at compliance is quite simple. Yes, there are complex regulations that we and our portfolio companies must navigate and comply with, but the overarching purpose of these regulations and our compliance mindset is a focus on ensuring we do the right thing.”
It was an adjustment to become familiar with the new rules and requirements, and to work through that period of transition to see how the industry would change as a result. Today, we are seeing a new period of significant change, adapting to the current COVID-19 environment and planning for what the “new normal” will and should look like post-COVID. I view this time of uncertainty as a time for intense analysis, requiring a combination of anticipating changes and opportunities and challenges, figuring out how to act on them efficiently, and being prepared to react quickly if things do not play out as anticipated. It is incredible to me how quickly and broadly the working world adapted to remote work as a result of COVID-19. The increased need to rely on technology has been a catalyst for rethinking how our work environment operates and will operate post-COVID. This has also caused our team (including myself) to reassess what types of work need to be done in person versus what can be done remotely, and where tech tools can help improve our existing processes. Looking ahead, I think this is an area of enormous potential.
How have you had to pivot compliance efforts due to COVID-19?
Catherine: Argand has transitioned quite seamlessly. Our team meetings are now held virtually and, despite travel restrictions, we have been able to maintain and even increase communication with our investors and portfolio companies without disruption. We conducted our annual compliance review entirely remotely, and I have also been very grateful to have our Code of Ethics tracking centralized on ComplySci’s platform. While I miss seeing our team in person, I am in regular contact with our team. We have also onboarded several interns virtually.
In addition, we worked closely with our portfolio companies to understand impacts to their businesses, including navigating various stay-at-home orders both within and outside of the U.S.
Our team knows that more change is on the horizon and we will continue to assist our portfolio companies in assessing and adapting to those changes so they can operate successfully.
Looking Ahead to the Future
What excites you the most about 2021 from a business perspective?
Catherine: The pandemic is a true test of resiliency and at the end of the day, I expect that many companies that have weathered the storm are going to thrive. We are excited to seek out those companies and partner with them to help them reach their full potential.
“Our team knows that more change is on the horizon and we will continue to assist our portfolio companies in assessing and adapting to those changes so they can operate successfully.”
I will also be watching for regulatory changes that could stem from a changing presidential administration and newly appointed officials and how they could impact the way businesses operate moving ahead in 2021 and beyond.
How do you help drive a culture of compliance?
Catherine: Given the nature of our business – typically control investments in global middle-market industrial companies – we view compliance requirements not only as they relate to our own operations as an SEC-registered investment adviser, but also as they relate to our portfolio companies. It really comes down to looking at the risk. We need to ensure that we are accurately identifying where risk lies and that we are proactively overseeing and managing that risk.
The way I look at compliance is quite simple. Compliance is all about doing the right thing. This involves not just asking can I do this, but should I do this, and how. This mindset is an important way of managing enterprise risk and protecting our firm. Yes, there are complex regulations that we and our portfolio companies must navigate and comply with, but the overarching purpose of these regulations and our compliance mindset is a focus on ensuring we do the right thing. I think this philosophy was ingrained within the firm’s culture from the very beginning.
Editorial Note: At ComplySci, we understand the tremendous value compliance professionals can gain from networking and learning directly from their peers. For the CCO Spotlight blog series, we are sitting down for candid conversations with Chief Compliance Officers from some of the firms we work with. This blog series will share those CCOs’ thoughts, ideas, and best practices for compliance programs with our readers. The views expressed in this blog post are the CCO’s own views and do not necessary reflect the views of their firms.