Whereas most professionals tend to stay within the confines of their subject matter expertise, Steven Schwab prefers to step outside his comfort zone as often as he can.
“I’ve never really been one to just stick to my specialty areas,” says Schwab. “I do very much understand that I have a subject matter expertise, but I value and cherish the opportunity to explore, understand, and get involved with new projects and new issues.”
At Thoma Bravo, Schwab serves as the private equity firm’s senior director, general counsel, and chief compliance officer. It’s the ideal environment because he can challenge himself. “The variety is one of the absolute best parts of my job, without question,” he says. “It’s incredibly rewarding.”
Schwab first joined the team in 2015. The opportunity has allowed him to grow and reap the benefits professionally. “When I was originally hired, my role was primarily focused on regulation and compliance, so it was much narrower in scope,” he explains. “But I was hired with an understanding that I’d eventually do more. In the past eight-and-a-half years, the breadth of my duties has increased significantly to encompass the totality of what it takes, at least from a legal and compliance perspective, to help run a large private equity firm.”
Beyond a much wider range of legal responsibilities, Schwab has taken on leadership duties as well. He now manages a full team of legal and compliance specialists—a team that didn’t exist when he was hired. “The team has grown to several lawyers, one dedicated compliance specialist, and a number of other people who assist,” he says. “I was the first person to hold this role, so I had to define it on my own. I’ve tried to concentrate on building not only a team, but also processes that accommodate both current and future growth.”
Schwab has kept growth front of mind for good reason, given that his own role has evolved in parallel to Thoma Bravo’s considerable expansion. “We have grown exponentially by really any metric you would use to measure the size of a private equity firm, whether it’s assets under management, number of offices, number of employees, products that we offer, or money that we’ve raised,” he says. “It really coincides with the growth that I’ve had personally. If the company grows and needs more out of the folks who are part of it, you have to step up and do more.”
The firm boasts a strong mentorship culture that supports employees. “It starts with our leadership, whether it’s Orlando Bravo or any of our other managing partners. They have been very comfortable—and I think they learned this from Carl Thoma—with giving people a lot of responsibility early on. And if you show you can handle that responsibility, you get more,” Schwab says. “It’s almost like apprenticeship that evolves into mentorship. You learn by watching and by doing, and you pick up the traits that have worked for our organization for quite some time. That then becomes, over time, more of a mentorship model where you can seek guidance or coaching.”
Schwab speaks from experience, having benefited from Thoma Bravo’s apprenticeship/mentorship model himself. “It’s very important to me to continue that model with my team,” he says. “As my own role has become more strategic, the team has started to handle more substantive issues, areas where maybe they didn’t previously have expertise when they were in private practice. But since that change doesn’t occur in an unsupervised manner, it leads to really strong results where people feel empowered to act while still feeling supported and encouraged.”
Schwab reinforces the supportive atmosphere on his team by taking the time to cultivate meaningful work for each team member and by embracing transparency as a guiding principle. “I strive to be a transparent person, and I’m very transparent with my team about wanting to know how they feel about things. I also want them to know that I value their careers,” he says. “I do what I can to be transparent with them about expectations. At Thoma Bravo, we try to create a culture where it’s okay to make mistakes, but it’s not okay to not to learn from those mistakes. Mistakes are really the best way to learn, as long as you’re conscious of and open to those learning possibilities.”
Thoma Bravo has approached its recent growth with the utmost intentionality, in the interest of preserving its company culture. But Schwab is quick to point out that the ability––and willingness—to adapt to change is actually another of the firm’s core tenets. “You have to adapt,” he emphasizes. “One of the mantras for those of us who have been with the firm for quite a while is that we value adaptability. We accept the fact that changes are okay. They may be uncomfortable, but that’s part of learning, and it allows for growth.”
Schwab and his team have demonstrated their adaptability by responding with agility to Thoma Bravo’s increasing organizational complexity. To maintain this approach moving forward, Schwab seeks to anticipate the implications of continued growth to mitigate risk in advance. “It’s not just about direct-line scalability; it’s about trying to forecast the future,” he says. “Where are we going? What are the goals of the organization? What are the external factors, whether headwinds or tailwinds, associated with those goals? And what are the associated risks?”
Schwab savors the dynamic nature of his role. “I really do enjoy where I work. We have a wonderful culture, and I get to work on exciting projects with very smart people who care about doing the right thing consistently, not just when others are looking,” he says. “When I think about the future, I think very much about protecting our brand and doing my part to make sure the firm is well positioned for future growth, wherever that growth might take us.”
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