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Hewlett Foundation CIO: This Is A Numbers Industry; You Are As Good As Your Numbers | Exclusive Q&A - Part I

by trusted insight posted 4years ago 3356 views

Ana Marshall is vice president and chief investment officer for the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. She is responsible for the asset allocation and strategic investment policy recommendation and implementation of the $9 billion endowment portfolio. Previously, she served as a senior portfolio manager of global and emerging market equity portfolios at RCM Capital Management. Prior to RCM, Marshall worked as an portfolio manager of emerging market debt and equity portfolios at Bank of America.

Marshall began her career in 1986 as a research analyst of high-yield assets, including corporate debt, distressed debt and emerging market sovereign bonds. Marshall graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of San Diego in economics and earned her Chartered Financial Analyst designation in 1989.

Ms. Marshall was recently named on Trusted Insight’s 2017 Top 30 Women Chief Investment Officers. Her interview is split into two parts. In the first part, she shares her experience as a female institutional investor and why she believes men and women have equal chances to succeed in this industry despite a wide gender gap currently.

Trusted Insight: What is your experience as a female chief investment officer, considering the fact that women are underrepresented within the institution investment industry, particularly at senior levels?

Ana Marshall: I know many people view the lack of senior-level women in investments as an issue. It's never been an issue for me during my entire career. It's always been about, "can you deliver?" Luckily, unlike other industries, this is a numbers industry. You are as good as your numbers. As long as your numbers are good, you are willing to work really long hours and travel frequently, there is opportunity.

I've been here for 13 years, so my board knows me super well. However, I have heard from a few of my peers that there is an unspoken boys network that could at times undermine the CIO. That sounds like something that could be related to how a specific board functions and less about the woman in the job. Board delegation is usually an investment policy issue and it's written regardless of whether the CIO is female or a male. It's simply conflict arise in moments of high stress. For example, during the crisis, some people felt that is was a sexist thing when a board questions you. I would say it wasn't. It was about how you are doing, how the portfolio returns look, and your relationship with the board.

Trusted Insight: What do you think the industry can do to change the situation?

Ana Marshall: I would say one of the ways is just having more female board members. That's a long-term plan. I’m starting to see more openness to having women at the board level. The investment management business is a business that requires 24-hour focus. As a CIO and as a director of an asset class, you have to be available and accessible 24/7.

I think some women and men self-select out of really senior roles. A person who's willing to work 24/7 is going to appear to be a more dependable person to promote.

Trusted Insight: Is it more of a social change that will need to happen in maintaining a balance between work and life?

Ana Marshall: These are jobs with a great deal of responsibility and for both men and women and for both it's hard to stay balanced. I would say CIO’s and senior asset class directors have more balance than investment banking, but our spouses would probably disagree there is balance in our lives. We are on planes all the time. We miss our kids’ birthdays and recitals. We miss our anniversaries. We have the same trade-offs as men in these roles.

Trusted Insight: What is the most challenging aspect in your job as chief investment officer?

Ana Marshall: The most challenging aspect is keeping the investment team able to recover from a mistake made in manager selection, something bad happening in the market, being able to support them and give them the confidence that we can do things and serve as a sounding board. That is basically my job. Strategic vision and mentoring is basically what I'm there for.

Trusted Insight: How does the foundation’s mission influence your approach on investments or your enjoyment of the job?

Ana Marshall: I would say it impacts the team itself or the way we hire. Every person on the team has to have some part of this foundation granting activity that they really believe in and that they're passionate about. It's a small team. We have seven investment professionals. The more we see our work is connected to a higher purpose, the better the team works.

Trusted Insight: What involvement does your governing board have in the investment decision-making process?

Ana Marshall: The board has very clear delegation of authority to the investment committee. The investment committee has delegated authority to the CIO for everything except asset allocation and benchmarking, which are typically discussed once every three to five years. Manager-specific decisions are delegated to the CIO.

Trusted Insight: How would you describe the investment strategy and team culture at Hewlett Foundation?

Ana Marshall: We have a broadly- diversified portfolio with a fair use of illiquids -- very much like the Yale model. We don't tend to be very fancy. We don't do a lot of complicated derivatives. We don't do a lot of what people would call innovative strategies. Our value added is manager selection. It's really about the relationship with our managers.

Trusted Insight: Currently, what kind of managers are you looking for?

Ana Marshall: We've got a fairly mature portfolio. This means we don't have a lot of new managers in and out of the portfolio every year. These are very long term relationships. There might be one or two new managers a year that come into the portfolio, usually on the private side. There might be another one or two on the public side. We try to keep a concentrated portfolio so if you're going to bring a manager in, there's usually somebody on their way out. They’re usually high active risk kind of managers on the public side of it. We usually have watched managers on the private side. If they're new managers, we probably have watched them through at least two funds before getting involved.

(Please check back on Friday for part two of Trusted Insight interview with Ana Marshall.)

To learn more about women in institutional investing, click here to view the complete list of 2017 Top Women Chief Investment Officers. 
You can view our full catalogue of interviews with institutional investors here.