Facing outside criticism and investor concern over its all-male board, WeWork amended its IPO registration on Wednesday to include a new female board member, Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei.
But behind the scenes, much of the heavy lifting of the controversial initial public offering is being handled by two female bankers, Alice Takhtajan at JPMorgan, and Kim-Thu Posnett at Goldman Sachs, sources told Business Insider.
In the world of IPOs, much like the rest of banking and much of tech, high-profile male leaders are front and center of nearly every deal. But there's an influential rank of female bankers, each with more than a decade of experience behind them, quietly guiding some of the biggest deals in the industry.
JPMorgan and Goldman put their top women behind WeWork
Even for those well-versed in IPOs, trying to parse out the bankers on WeWork's S-1 could make your head spin. The company lists its underwriters in an unconventional format — a circle — quashing most visual cues about which bank is lead left or lead right. Still, slightly to the left and on the top of the circle is JPMorgan, followed by its second in command, on the top to the right, Goldman Sachs.
If the IPO is a success, WeWork will have bankers Takhtajan and Posnett to thank. Both are New York-based tech bankers, with backgrounds in consumer technology IPOs and years of experience.
As an equity capital markets banker, Takhtajan focuses mostly on deal execution. Execution in particular is key for WeWork, which reportedly could go public with an initial market cap of $20 billion — less than half the $47 billion it was valued at in its last funding found.
Takhtajan joined JPMorgan in 2002 after finishing her undergraduate degree at MIT, just a year after interning with JPMorgan. Over the past five years, she's focused exclusively on tech, media and telecommunication companies.
Among Takhtajan's biggest deals this year were IPOs for Lyft, Chewy, and Fiverr. In the case of WeWork, she's working closely alongside JPMorgan Vice Chairman Noah Wintroub.
Posnett, a Goldman partner since 2016, is leading the IPO for the top-ranked investment bank. It's at least the ninth IPO that she's led and she's already successfully brought companies like Pinterest, Etsy and Stitchfix public. And while Posnett didn't lead Goldman's effort on Uber's May IPO – which raised $8.1 billion for the company at a $75.5 billion initial market cap – she was second in command behind one of Goldman's most senior leaders, Gregg Lemkau, co-head of the investment banking division.
Posnett, a member of Goldman's influential partnership committee, joined the investment bank in 2005. A graduate of Yale and the University of Pennsylvania's business school, Posnett was named in 2016 to the Forbes list of 40 women under 40. She now runs global head of internet investment banking and serves as co-head of TMT investment banking services.
Morgan Stanley banker was Airbnb's early champion
At Morgan Stanley, which reportedly forfeited a role on the WeWork IPO, that banker is Kate Claassen, the global head of internet banking based out of Menlo Park.
Sources close to Claassen said she's played a pivotal role in the bank's relationship with Airbnb and was key to nabbing Morgan Stanley a role on the company's 2015 $1.5 billion private funding round which attracted investors including Kleiner Perkins, Tiger Global, Fidelity, T Rowe Price, Temasek, and Baillie Gifford.
She was an early user of Airbnb and hosted her own house on the website, which meant that she was willing to work with the startup before other bankers, according to one of her colleagues. This meant Claasen also convinced Morgan Stanley to extend an $80 million revolving credit line to Airbnb back in 2013 when the company was relatively young.
Airbnb is expected to go public in 2020, and people familiar with the company have said it's still weighing its options around a direct listing, an unconvention listing style pioneered by Spotify in 2018, and followed by Slack in June. Though direct listings don't have underwriters like conventional IPOs, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Allen & Company LLC have held top advising roles on both direct listings so far.
Claassen joined the firm back in 2007 after getting her MBA at UC Berkeley. She was one of the three key Morgan Stanley bankers on Uber. In her 12 years at the bank, Claassen has worked on big IPOs for Twitter, Square, Roku, and Pandora. She's also managed more than a dozen debt offerings for companies including Netflix and Uber and Amazon.
Despite the influence of such senior women, the three banks still have a ways to go before they can claim gender parity at the uppermost ranks. At Goldman Sachs, just 21.6% of senior level officials and managers were women, according to a 2017 demographics report. At JPMorgan, it was just 25.6%, according to its own 2017 report. Just 19% of Morgan Stanley's managing directors were women in 2017, according to the bank.