Some of functionality may not work while you disabled JavaScript. Enable JavaScript for better User Exprience.
Access here alternative investment news about Wellesley College To Continue Evolving VC Program | Sarah Samuels, Managing Director | Q&A
Venture Capital

Wellesley College To Continue Evolving VC Program | Sarah Samuels, Managing Director | Q&A

by trusted insight posted 1week ago 653 views
Sarah Samuels has been a managing director at Wellesley College since September 2017. Prior to Wellesley, she was the deputy chief investment officer at Mass PRIM, where she focused on asset allocation and manager selection across asset classes.

In this interview, she discusses her role as a founder of the Boston chapter of the Private Equity Women Investment Network (PEWIN); how Wellesley's smaller pool of assets, relative to her previous role in a public pension, opens a universe of investment opportunities with niche strategies; and why Wellesley plans to continue evolving their venture capital program.

Sarah Samuels was recently named as one of Trusted Insight's 2018 Top 30 University Endowment Rising Stars

Trusted Insight: Wellesley's CIO Debby Kuenstner recently stated that AI and machine learning would not be so applicable in an institutional setting, but perhaps in industries where more decisions are made. What's your take on machine learning in the investment office?

Sarah Samuels: When it comes to the investment office, I would agree with that. As long-term investors here at Wellesley, with meaningful investments in private markets, we're unlikely to incorporate AI or machine learning into our decision-making process. That said, on a broader scale, it is a very important area of growth that impacts not only the opportunities we see in the private and public markets investments that we're making, but also in the investment process of some of our managers.

 

"[PEWIN] is a really great network of talented senior women across the GP and LP community. I'm excited to launch the Boston chapter where we expect to have our kick-off event later this year."


I have a great interest in new technologies that impact how you invest. I believe that machine learning is still maturing. It's growing pretty quickly, and there's a lot of research and resources out there being put into furthering the capabilities of machine learning.

Trusted Insight: You're the Boston co-chair of the Private Equity Women Investor Network. Can you tell us a little bit more about the organization and how it came to fruition?

Sarah Samuels: Private Equity Women Investor Network (PEWIN) is a group of senior women that invest in private equity, and it is well-established in other cities, like New York, San Francisco and Chicago. The goal of PEWIN is to drive positive change by providing opportunities to make meaningful connections with peers and to provide educational opportunities.

We realized that PEWIN had a gap in Boston given the large community of private equity GPs and LPs in the area. It's a really great network of talented senior women across the GP and LP community. I'm excited to launch the Boston chapter where we expect to have our kick-off event later this year.

Trusted Insight: How long have you been part of the network, and what's driving you to help the network grow?

Sarah Samuels: I've been a part of PEWIN for about two years now. I really enjoy the connection and meaningful friendships that I've made through the group. We realized that we were missing a big area in the Boston market, and it's just a fantastic way to support women who are in a senior private equity role. We have a community to exchange ideas, and to talk about how we can improve diversity in our industry. We want to make sure there are more women in our positions in the future.

Trusted Insight: It seems you are an advocate of women’s empowerment. What's your perception of gender diversity within institutional investing?

Sarah Samuels: That's a great question, and certainly it's timely. We've seen all sorts of progress being made on diversity, including gender, ethnic, socioeconomic, etc. I’m a firm believer that diversity of thought is really what matters, and that this leads to better decision making and outcomes in any industry.

It's important for me to pay forward the mentorship and opportunities that have been offered to me throughout my career, and there are so many ways to do that. Some of them focus on increasing diversity as defined by women's leadership.

 

"Wellesley has a smaller pool of assets relative to PRIM, and working with a smaller pool really opens up a broader universe of potential investments with niche and specialist strategies."



There are some amazing programs out there like Girls Who Invest and the CFA Boston Society Women's Leadership initiative. These organizations target young women who are still in undergrad to get them interested and engaged in our industry and to sow the seeds of the next generation of investors early on. I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to be part of these initiatives. I really think it's an exciting time for those who want to invest, and those who want to see greater diversity in the future.

Trusted Insight: What is Wellesley College doing to help women take a leading role in the investment industry?

Sarah Samuels: Wellesley is a women's only college, and that in and of itself is an amazing opportunity for me to contribute to such a great mission. The Wellesley women have a lot of different opportunities that they really do embrace. They are big participants in the Girls Who Invest program. They will likely be partnering with the CFA Boston Society for internship programs in the Boston investment community. And we have a variety of other programs that are designed to provide opportunities for the women to have internships and experiences with the asset managers and institutional investment firms in the area.

Trusted Insight: You were previously the deputy CIO at Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management (PRIM). What was the biggest adjustment you had to make in transitioning from a public pension to a university endowment?

Sarah Samuels: The most significant adjustment was the size of the pool of assets. Wellesley has a smaller pool of assets relative to PRIM, and working with a smaller pool really opens up a broader universe of potential investments with niche and specialist strategies. At a larger fund that may not be feasible because the check sizes just wouldn't be large enough to move the needle.

 

"Looking ahead, I expect Wellesley to continue exploring how the venture landscape is changing, across stages, sectors and geographies, and to continue to evolve our investment program."


Other differences exist in the asset allocation and the size of the investment teams. Wellesley’s asset allocation skews toward investing more heavily in private markets. On team size, PRIM we had a larger team than we do here at Wellesley, which I think makes sense given the size of the fund. Both organizations benefit from incredible and talented teams of people who do a great job generating strong investment returns.

Trusted Insight: What are some similarities between the two institutions that made the transition smooth?

Sarah Samuels: PRIM and Wellesley actually have more similarities than you might think at face value. Both organizations have a mission of investing on behalf of important stakeholders, and both groups have a long-time horizon. The Wellesley senior investment team is made up of Debby Kuenstner, Rose Carpenter and I. We share the responsibility of collaboratively investing the endowment assets, as opposed to operating in silos. That's quite similar to what I was doing at Mass PRIM as deputy CIO, making decisions across asset classes.

Trusted Insight: What trends do you believe will play a big part in the institutional investing universe?

Sarah Samuels: Technology is a huge one. The pace of technological change is accelerating exponentially. This is having and will continue to have implications across our portfolio. From our private equity and venture capital investments to asset management to real estate and energy, capital allocators will need to continuously learn about and evaluate the implications of technological change on our investments, because the change could be quite meaningful.

Trusted Insight: What are the next steps in venture capital for Wellesley College?

Sarah Samuels: Our private equity program makes up over 20 percent of the portfolio. Within that, venture capital is a very important part of our investment program. We've benefited from relationships with high-quality GPs in the space for some time. Our venture capital partners offer us access to emerging technologies, and they span from early to late stage.  Looking ahead, I expect Wellesley to continue exploring how the venture landscape is changing, across stages, sectors and geographies, and to continue to evolve our investment program.

Trusted Insight: How do you see diversification strategies changing in the next decade?

Sarah Samuels: Traditional stock picking, both on the long-only and the long short side, has become increasingly difficult. It’s pretty much been a one-way, low volatility environment. The premium for illiquidity that's previously been available to LPs in exchange for locking up our capital has compressed as large amounts of institutional capital have flowed into the space. In the next five years, I could envision new categories of investments, that are sort of off the beaten path and esoteric, by today's standards, becoming mainstream. As LPs, we will need to be able to source investment opportunities that offer an attractive return premium, but also some diversification benefits. They may not be the same strategies we've pursued in the past.


View our full catalog of interviews here

The full list of 2018 Top 30 University Endowment Rising Stars can be found here
top-30-university-endowment-rising-stars-L51-cover