It starts with a chat: FinnCap CEO Sam Smith on the female IPO deficit

Sam Smith has led FinnCap through a particularly busy six months, as a flurry of activity in the M&A and IPO markets helped the City broker achieve record half year results last week. 

Earnings jumped 55 per cent to a record £32m, pre-tax profit was up around three-quarters to £6.3m, and the firm enjoyed a 75 per cent surge in deal and advisory fees to £24.8m.

Deal volumes like these mean long hours, and in a bid to tackle burnout among staff post-pandemic, Smith said last week that the firm will offer employees unlimited paid holiday from next year. 

It’s a rule the broker really wants staff to follow. To tackle the trend seen at some firms where unlimited holiday results in employees taking even less time off, FinnCap will require a minimum of four weeks off for every member of staff. 

“The holiday policy is there to change the way we all currently work, to ease any burnout, and to take pressure off holidays, which should support everybody equally,” Smith tells City A.M. 

It seems like a policy that would have been very welcome during the pandemic for many women, who suddenly faced the well-documented increased pressures from their extra unpaid work – namely childcare.

“Our approach to retaining women is all about a good and fair culture for all and one that deals with people’s problems,” Smith says. 

Our conversation coincides with the launch of the 25×25 initiative, a new campaign backed by FTSE giants Unilever, BP, NatWest and GSK to boost the number of female CEOs in the FTSE 100 to 25 by 2025. 

It turns out Smith is involved with the initiative as it trickles down to midmarket companies, working to incorporate more women at the top into their long-term strategies, too. 

“It’s an interesting initiative that’s being executed in a very commercial way, with these big companies in tow,” Smith says. 

“I’m a great believer in that because it changes the culture. Just appointing two executives to your board is not the end of it – rather, getting both men and women on board is a very long-term project. 

“If you want a woman as a CEO in your succession plan, it’s about thinking what the obstacles are that might get in the way of that, and tackling them now. How do you make that a possibility in the years to come?” 

In the fourteen years that she has led FinnCap, Smith has worked on countless IPOs. But a negligible amount have been for female-founded companies, or female-led. 

In fact, only 10 of the 276 companies that went public between 2016 and 2020 were headed up by a female CEO. 

Smith was one of them, when she led FinnCap to its own public listing on London’s Aim market in 2018, following its acquisition of M&A advisory firm Cavendish. 

But why does she have so few peers? 

“Going through my own, big emotional journey with the IPO made me realise how much we don’t talk about openly,” Smith says. 

“People don’t describe the process in a way that relates to female founders, so there’s no sense of other similar people doing it, and being realistic about what that journey is like.

“Quite often the way we talk about it can seem very scary, full of complex jargon, and doesn’t address the worries women may have – i.e., whether an IPO is even the right route, or how to deal with the publicity. 

“But when women do scale their businesses to this point, we need to champion them to talk about it and make the experience more relatable, so that more follow suit.” 


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