WISE recently held a symposium on investing and careers, part of our Tearing Down the Pink Wall series, with three pre-eminent Wall Street professionals, who just happen to be women. Here are key takeaways from a fascinating and inspirational discussion on building a successful career. A full transcript of the event is available here.
Erin Browne is a managing director and portfolio manager at fixed income giant PIMCO, where she is charged with overseeing PIMCO’s multi-asset and target date funds. She has also served as managing director and head of asset allocation at UBS Asset Management and as portfolio manager at the hedge fund Point 72 Asset Management.
Jane Buchan founded and serves as chief executive officer at Martlet Asset Management. She also co-founded Pacific Alternative Asset Management (PAAMCO) in 2000, a global investment firm that grew to $32 billion in assets under management, making it the third largest fund of funds in the world in 2018. Jane has also worked as an assistant professor of finance at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business.
Katy Sherrerd is the chief executive officer of Research Affiliates, a global asset manager. Prior to joining Research Affiliates, Katy spent 19 years in various roles at CFA Institute, the largest global association of investment professionals.
Our moderator, Consuelo Mack, founder and host of PBS’s WealthTrack, asked these three leaders to share their experiences and insights on how to achieve lofty career goals.
Six Key Takeaways
Get an advanced degree if you want to, but don’t feel you have to
Erin Browne went straight to work after earning a BA in Economics from Georgetown, while both Buchan and Sherrerd pursued multiple advanced degrees. “I believe that a lot of what you learn is on the job. And, I think more now than ever, just because there are so many asset classes, there is so much that you learn in your first one to two years whether at an investment bank, a trading firm or an asset manager. But I do think having a strong analytical foundation is incredibly important and that is what an economics degree provided me,” Browne explained. Browne says she doesn’t feel that she was held back at all by not having an advanced degree; her brother, who did pursue one, is basically at the same point in his career as she is today.
Buchan says that originally, she wanted to go straight to work after college, as well, but ended up in a Ph.D. program because she wanted to teach. “When I graduated with my BA, I thought I was done, done, done. I started at JP Morgan Investment Management in quantitative fixed income,” she explains. “But then as I worked, I realized I wanted to become a professor, and I did become an assistant professor at Dartmouth.”
Sherrerd also continued at school in the hope of becoming a professor, then realized that wasn’t what she wanted. “I loved education, I love learning, I love teaching and I thought potentially, I would pursue an academic career. Turned out that I'm not really well suited to be a full time academic,” she admitted.
The takeaway: Don’t pursue further education because you feel you have to. There are lots of roads to success, and not all of them require an advanced degree.
Play to your strengths and use career transitions to fill gaps in your experience
All three of our panelists were smart, multi-talented individuals, and all had a high degree of self-awareness of their strengths and weaknesses. Erin Browne explains how she purposely took jobs that would teach her new skills in areas she was weak in.
“When I moved to Moore Capital, which is the first hedge fund I worked at, it was because I really wanted to do macro investing, and they are one of the founders and biggest influencers in macro investing. So I knew to get the best education, I would go there to learn,” she explained. “When I moved to SAC Capital, which became Point 72, I went there because I was a really good research analyst, good at crunching numbers assessing the data, but I wasn't the best trader. And so, working for Steve Cohen, I knew I would learn how to trade better there than the other firm. I've used the firms that I've gone to for strategic ways to increase my knowledge in areas that I thought I was weak.”
The takeaway: Don’t be afraid to look for jobs that can help you build skills in areas where you don’t have experience.
Take advantage of what life throws at you
Our panelists were very intentional about shaping their careers, but they all pointed out the value of luck and circumstance in taking them to where they are today.
Buchan, for instance, calls herself an “accidental entrepreneur.” She had no intention of starting her own firm until former clients started calling her to ask how they could transfer money to her after she left a previous job. “I feel today there are too many people who are focused on what is the right career progression. I'm going to do this and this and this. But nothing works out that way. What you need to do is what makes you happy, do a really good job at what makes you happy and success will follow,” she said.
Katy Sherrerd says that she never would have ended up on her career path if she hadn’t gotten dragged to a dinner party where she told the person next to her how much she hated her current job. Impressed by her authenticity, that person invited her to interview, and she got the job. The opportunity to join the CFA Institute came while she was studying for her Ph.D. “I joined the CFA Institute at the exact right time. It was just starting to expand. I got to do a lot of global travel. I got to build various education programs. I worked with lots of interesting people. I was responsible for the board planning committee and strategy. I had some great opportunities, and for 15 years it was everything I wanted, at the nexus of education and business and practice.”
The takeaway: Plan carefully, but be flexible and opportunistic when life points you in another direction.
Don’t be afraid to express an opinion or make a mistake
Many women can be hesitant at times to voice their opinion, but all three of our panelists stressed the value of articulating and defending ideas.
“I tell people when I mentor them here, that I expect them to give me their authentic opinion. Not what they think I want to hear. I already know what I want to hear,” says Sherrerd. “We hire bright people to give us a different point of view and to challenge us to be curious. Of course it's really important that you be prepared. If you go in and say something off the cuff that's not thoughtful, pretty soon you'll be discounted. But if you do your homework and you've got thoughtful ideas, you have to be willing to express them, even if they're dissenting views. That's how firms make good decisions, that's how people get recognized.”
Sherrerd continued, "Don't be afraid of making a mistake. You can learn something from everything you do. If you go somewhere and it doesn't work out, you can still learn about yourself. What is it I didn't like, what is it I did like, where am I going to look next? So, don't be afraid of trying things and you can learn a lot from it."
The takeaway: Do your homework, then speak up. Mistakes and missteps have great value, as long as you learn from them.
Pay it forward
All of our panelists were active mentors, particularly to young women. Jane Buchan was a founding board member at Girls Who Invest, an organization that gets young women involved in finance. She says that helping other women achieve is a great way to burn off your own frustrations about work and life. “I think one way to gain confidence and feel positive about things is rather than promote yourself promote somebody else,” she explains.
Browne is a current board member at Girls Who Invest, and she works hard to build a pipeline of junior talent into her industry. “I think we still have issues as women move into the middle tier of their careers where we see many women who don't progress as quickly as many of their male cohorts. We need to focus on retention policies around keeping those women, figuring out why their leaving and routing that out, so that we can have a more robust pipeline for diverse talent at the most senior level.”
The takeaway: The glass ceiling is real, but there’s a lot you can do about it. Getting involved in mentoring or promoting family-friendly work policies can make a huge difference—and bring you great personal satisfaction.
Jane Buchan spoke about listening closely to advice from mentors, "When you have a mentor say, “this is something you should consider doing”, you should take it to heart. As long as they know you well, I would really take the advice seriously. They have objectivity and perspective about your skills and where you might enjoy yourself. When you enjoy yourself and love what you do, success will follow."
The takeaway: An objective view of your skills can be very insightful. Listen carefully when others you respect offer advice.