When the leveraged buyout boom took hold in the 1980s, new private-equity firms began cropping up all over the country.

But when Lauren Leichtman looked at that landscape and decided to set up her own shop, she saw that she’d be in a unique position.

“When I started in 1984, I didn’t see any other women heading up their own firms,” said Leichtman, chief executive of Levine Leichtman Capital Partners in Beverly Hills.

Indeed, Leichtman is recognized as a pioneer in an industry that even today remains largely a boys’ club.

Private equity, like many sectors of the financial services industry, was historically a primarily male domain. But Leichtman now sees more women in the ranks of upper management at area firms.

“Financial services has not been something where there have been a lot of women traditionally,” she said. “It may just be a question of time until those women matriculate and become senior managing partners.”

Leichtman did not set out to blaze a trail for women in private equity.

After getting an undergraduate degree in psychology, she went to law school and soon got a job in the enforcement division of the Securities and Exchange Commission. She figured her career would be in litigation.

But in the mid-1980s, she and her husband, Westwood One President Arthur Levine, wanted to run their own business, so they started the firm by making investments on a deal-by-deal basis. By the 1990s, they were managing $100 million.

The firm is now the fourth largest in Los Angeles County, overseeing more than $5 billion in investment capital. It has made investments in a variety of companies, including restaurant chain Quizno’s Corp., beauty products company Pacific World Corp. and manufacturer Luminator Technology Group.

Leichtman oversees the strategic development of the firm, helps with the fundraising and monitors the portfolio.

But getting respect wasn’t always so easy.

She said that in the early days she would hold meetings and the people would ask why they couldn’t speak with her husband; they figured he was the one in charge.

“It has been at times challenging to be the only woman,” she said. “But that has become much less so in the last 10 or 15 years.”

But work isn’t everything these days.

“I love yoga. I do a lot of traveling and hiking,” she said. “And I love mystery novels.”

LAUREN LEICHTMAN

Chief Executive and Founding Principal

Levine Leichtman Capital Partners, Beverly Hills

RESIDENCE: Beverly Hills

EDUCATION: B.A., California State University, Northridge; J.D., Southwestern University School of Law; L.L.M., Columbia University Law School

YEARS IN INDUSTRY: 28

YEARS IN POSITION: 28

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