Author: Lynk – lynk.global
Initially a concert-pianist-to-be, Mitchell began her career in finance when she was offered an internship on Wall Street by Janet Prindle, the very first woman who pioneered socially responsible investing in the American financial services industry. While Mitchell did not obtain her undergraduate degree from an Ivy League school, she eventually got herself the entry ticket to investment banking through polishing her networking skills.
After seven hedge funds and a lifestyle brand, Mitchell has witnessed the shutdowns of some of the funds she poured her heart into. “A lot of people look at my resume and say, ‘oh, you worked with seven different funds, what’s wrong with you?’. But how I see it is that I’ve probably learnt everything that could possibly go wrong in a fund, and that’s the kind of experience not everyone has,” says Mitchell.
Having experiences in banking, investment management, and marketing, Mitchell’s story is a reminder that identical experiences do not always complete the puzzle. “Take a lot of risks, and learn a lot across a broad spectrum…It’s a lot of different pieces that came together to build this puzzle”.
L: Lynk | J: Jamie Mitchell
L: Jamie, you initially started your career in banking and then eventually transitioned into the buyside. Tell us more about your story.
J: I was supposed to go to college to become a concert pianist. But then I went on to pursue a double major in Spanish and Economics when I was an undergraduate, and was offered an internship on Wall Street by Janet Prindle. That was my first taste of Wall Street, and that’s also when I began learning how to network.
Eventually, I decided that I wanted to pursue investment banking. The challenge that came with it had nothing to do with being a woman, it was more about not coming from an Ivy League university. I went to DePauw University in the middle of Indiana. I can’t even tell you how many interviews I had to do to be able to secure that spot. When I first joined Deutsche Bank as an analyst, it was on the heels of Bankers Trust and Alex. Brown merging, I worked in the aerospace and defense group, and Carlyle became our biggest client at the time. So I gained an expertise in leveraged buyout, which was not as common in the late 90s as it is now.
Having witnessed the shutdowns of some hedge funds she worked for, Jamie Mitchell says incorporating ESG into a fund’s investment strategy can help carry funds through tough times. (Photo: Courtesy of Jamie Mitchell)
While studying for my MBA at Columbia, I ended up concentrating on investment management, and decided from there that I wanted to pursue a hedge fund investment job. So I did. I started working as an investment research analyst at a long/short equity hedge fund. For that transition, a lot of people didn’t believe that I wanted to take a step down to be an analyst because I already reached a senior role in banking. But I just wanted to learn the job, and I was ready to restart because I had confidence in my ability. Eventually the first two funds I worked for closed, and I took some time off to figure out my next steps.
Then, I found a really great firm. But they were not looking for a research analyst, they wanted to hire someone for marketing. It took a lot of soul searching for me to get comfortable with giving up my 100+ hours’ week investment banking experience, and actually making the jump to a marketing role on the buyside.
But someone said to me quite aptly, “if you don’t have money, you can’t run money. Raising money is a very important part of the hedge fund business model. If you can marry your investment banking pitching skills with your understanding of how to invest and how to articulate investments, and then generally manage a diligence process like you would in banking, you have a lot more skills than a typical marketer basically”.
L: But at one point, you went to fashion school and started your own lifestyle business. What prompted you to make such a change?
J: What I learnt from my years of experience in banking and investment management was that I love people, I love networking, I love pitching, and I am very competitive. I have a deep understanding about the art of landing a deal, securing money, and measuring performance. I also found that I am very entrepreneurial.
From the multiple experiences of working so hard for a fund and then witnessing its shutdown, I realised I wanted to build something of my own. The idea of working a little bit harder as an entrepreneur but owning what you build really resonates with me and my personality.
During that period of time, boxing was my healthy outlet, but I didn’t want to walk around with gloves slung across my shoulder. I couldn’t find a nice gym bag that would fit my gear. I knew health and wellness was a growing trend and accessories were the sweet spot, profitability-wise, in fashion. So I left the industry entirely and self-funded a business making high end gym bags. I went back to fashion school and learnt how to sew. That was a much needed creative burst after being in finance for so long and so intensely.
But eventually I went back to investment management when a long-time friend asked me to put my lifestyle business on pause, and help raise money for his fund. Once I came back, I never really left again. Eventually, I ended up in my current role raising capital for Inherent Group, an ESG-dedicated manager.
L: You briefly mentioned the absence of the sustainability angle was one of the reasons why some funds you worked for were not doing well. What are some of the other lessons you have learnt from witnessing the shutdown of funds?
J: Quality of capital and alignment of capital are really important. So being able to articulate your investment process, how you invest, and what your goals are, and then making sure that investors completely understand and are aligned are crucial for a fund.
One of the many reasons why a fund shuts down can come down to culture. Without a doubt, all hedge fund managers have high IQs, but a preponderance of them lack EQ. When a hedge fund manager has both a high IQ and EQ, she has a higher chance for success, I believe. These qualities also impact team dynamic and the culture of a fund.
To achieve success on the buyside, Jamie Mitchell says it is important for one to work for a firm where his/ her personality can fit in. (Photo: Courtesy of Jamie Mitchell)
Another reason why funds close down relates to motivation. When hedge funds come to a difficult point where either they can’t raise capital or the returns are poor, often they don’t double down and stick with it, they just walk away. But that’s when I think socially responsible investing comes in to offer a better solution. We believe that businesses that incorporate material sustainability factors into their strategy, operations, and culture will outperform over the long-term. Inherent Group has a mission that goes beyond solely generating good returns – the team is wholly aligned with this mission, and I believe it will carry the firm through difficult times.
L: You highlighted the observation that women don’t normally ask for help until they feel ready. As for men, professional partnerships are often formed in casual conversations. Do you think that has to change?
J: I think it’s a very subtle nuance. Personality fit is a key factor, it either fits or doesn’t in this business because it is so fast paced, dynamic and competitive, you can’t discount that.
With women, I am not sure if it’s pride or they don’t feel comfortable asking for help with work until they have all the answers. My observation is that women tend to feel more comfortable toiling and figuring things out on their own, while men tend to just go out, ask for help, and get things done fairly quickly.
For myself, it wasn’t until when I moved into the marketing role on the buyside where I really studied best practices and learnt to collaborate and reach out for help. Even though you’re all competing for capital, generally speaking, each person has a nuance in their fund that may or may not work with a certain investor. So if you can leverage other people, and all come together and share information, you just get to a better answer faster.
L: Despite competitiveness being the nature of the buyside and personality playing a key role, do you still see any existing problems or challenges facing female professionals in the buyside space?
J: While balancing a career on the buyside with personal milestones such as childcare is a challenge for women, I think it is hard for men too. To push the diversity agenda on the buyside, I don’t think it’s a women-versus-men thing, I really don’t think so.
It could be fit. Each hedge fund definitely has a personality, and I think it’s important to avoid the personalities where you don’t fit. Don’t try to be something you’re not just to fit in because it’s arguably a good firm. Know yourself, be confident in yourself, and find the right fit. Because at the end of the day, the overarching goal is making money. So if you’re a good fit and you perform, you will thrive. But to be fair, your ability to perform is also a function of your fit. Will a portfolio manager hear your pitches? The pitches could be right, but if it’s not a cultural fit, I just don’t think you’ll get heard and your ideas won’t get put into the portfolio.
L: What does an effective allyship mean in the investment management industry?
J: In my experience, when women struggle, they tend to speak about it as a way to work through the issue whereas when guys have a problem, they go into a hole until they’ve fixed it and then they come out. I think it’s important to recognise the difference, and support others in the way that helps best. Effective allyship with men can be as simple as noticing when someone’s having a hard time and checking in. That said, I am persistent about following up again and again, and try not to take a lack of response personally. Sometimes it’ll take as long as five years for them to get back and say, “wow, you were the only one who was there checking in on me, making sure I was okay the whole way through”.
So it’s about caring and nurturing your relationships. I try hard not to reach out to people only when I need something. I reach out to try and help them along the way. A lot of people build a big network but do not invest in it. They only reach out to people when they need something. But your network isn’t going to work for you that way. Nurture your network, not just when you need it.
L: What will be the most important advice you have for a young professional who didn’t go to an Ivy League school and aspires to join the buyside?
J: You would be shocked at how often people don’t say “please” and “thank you”. But honestly, it’s the little things. So it’s about being polite, respectful, and appreciative. When you make an ask, you want to be gracious. And if anyone generously offers you their time, you should make them feel appreciated and respected.
I see a lot of younger students who are so dogmatic about what they want that they end up behaving more like a taker instead of a thanker. They have to understand that they are playing a long term game. While you’re investing in people, they’re also investing in you, so respect that and treat that relationship with care. When you are starting out, you might think that you have nothing to offer as a thank you, but if and when you feel like there’s a way to give back, remember to do that.
L: How has the global pandemic changed the buyside?
J: The way that people are raising capital now has shifted and changed. If you think about it, you always had to travel to the investors’ offices which often came with an incredible expense. To financial professionals, the amount of business travel we did back then was seen as a personal sacrifice as that also meant time away from family. I used to spend three weeks out of the month on the road.
So with travel being limited by the pandemic, you’re saving money and being more productive because you can do more video calls. I don’t think face-to-face meetings will ever go away entirely, but I do think a considerable volume of work can be done virtually.
Professionals who are able to navigate this environment that’s totally disrupting the way that firms raise capital will have a higher chance of succeeding. And I don’t think that’s gender-specific, it’s more personality-specific. So the question is: Are you tucked away with your head down doing your work? Or are you making your presence known by helping other people, collaborating, and sharing information?
This article was originally published on Lynk Insights.
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