Interview With Amanda Pullinger – CEO 100 Women In Hedge Funds
Amanda Pullinger is the Chief Executive Officer of 100 Women in Hedge Funds. She leads a small staff team and manages over 350 volunteer practitioners globally, overseeing the operations of the organization, which now has over 13,000 members in 20 locations.
Ms. Pullinger is a former principal of Aquamarine Capital Management, where she was responsible, over a period of seven years, for managing marketing, investor relations and back office administration for two private investment funds.
Ms. Pullinger is currently Chairman of the Board of The HALO Trust (www.halotrust.org) and serves on the Advisory Board of the Oxford Alumni Association of NY. She previously served on the Boards of SkillForce, NYU Cancer Institute and Girls’ Prep, and was on the founding Board of 100 Women in Hedge Funds, serving as its President for two years. She is a member of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Ms. Pullinger graduated from Brasenose College, Oxford University in 1987 with an Honours Degree in Modern History. She earned an MBA from La Salle University, Philadelphia, in 1998, and received the Academic Award for MBA student of the year as well as the Beta Gamma Sigma designation.
Q&A with Amanda Pullinger
Khai Nguyen: I’m here with Amanda Pullinger, CEO of 100 Women in Hedge Funds (100WHF). Amanda, thank you for joining us today.
Amanda Pullinger: Very welcome.
Khai Nguyen: How did you get your start in the finance industry, and what was your personal experience as a woman in a space that was mostly dominated by males?
Amanda Pullinger: I think I probably have quite an unusual story in that I didn’t come to the finance industry soon after leaving university. All of my jobs throughout my career actually spanned a number of different industries, and most were in environments that were male dominated. I think that’s an important factor because I think there are women who find it easier to be in male dominated environments and there are women who don’t find it so easy.
I’ll take you very quickly through my career: I grew up in the UK and went to Oxford University. After Oxford, I joined a very large UK firm that was in the environmental services field, so everybody I worked with there was male. I ended up being transferred to the US to work for a subsidiary here. I then worked at a market research firm, but again, that firm was business to business, and very much on the industrial side of B2B, so I conducted focus groups mostly with men. I then left and worked for a Caterpillar dealership doing marketing and advertising, and again, in that environment, I was the only woman who wasn’t a secretary at the time. I then worked for Unisys on their hardware computing side – all male engineers. I had a short stint in New York for a dot com before everything blew up, and it was then that I initially started just kind of hanging out in the office of one of my best friends from Oxford who was running a hedge fund at the time.
So my introduction to the finance industry, as I said, is probably not a normal introduction, but it came about through a network effect. My friend basically asked me to partner with him in 2000 to work on the non-portfolio management side of the hedge fund, so I ran the marketing, investor relations, the operational side, and I did the trading for the organization. I came to the industry at a time when I think a lot of people joining hedge funds were doing so with people they knew really well. Because the industry was so new, it wasn’t as if my lack of experience was a big factor, because there were other skills that my business partner thought I brought to bear. I think trust was a really important part of it as well. So you can see I’ve worked in lots of different industries and from the very beginning I wasn’t afraid of being in an environment where there were lots of men. I’ve always felt I could hold my own, I guess.
Khai Nguyen: What led you to 100 Women in Hedge Funds and can you just tell us a little bit about its core mission?
Amanda Pullinger: I got to know 100WHF in the very early days. Now, we’re celebrating our 15th anniversary in December. At the time, I was a partner at the hedge fund I mentioned, so I had been in the industry for 18 months or so. When I heard about 100WHF and attended their very first educational event, I realized it was an organization I wanted to be able to contribute to. I was an early volunteer and ended up running the first gala event we did in New York in 2002 and later joined the board. About 8 years ago, I made a personal decision to leave the hedge fund industry and start a consulting business in the nonprofit space. 100WHF was one of the organizations I approached, because at the time we were an all-volunteer organization and growing very rapidly. The board recognized that we needed a professional to lead the organization on a paid basis, so I stepped down from the board and became a part-time Executive Director. Two years ago I became the full-time CEO.
The organization has grown globally in many ways but our core mission and three pillars of education, philanthropy and peer leverage hasn’t changed from those early days. We educate around 5,000 unique individuals each year – men and women – who come to at least one of our education events held in 20 global locations. These free member events focus on industry topics and might be a panel discussion or keynote speaker, for example. The second pillar, philanthropy, is something we’ve always focused on because our members have always said they value giving back to their communities. We raise around $3.5 million each year for charities, primarily through 6 galas in 6 different countries around the world where we bring the industry together with the end goal of raising funds for a charity we’ve chosen in each of the countries. Our third pillar is what we call peer leverage, which involves making connections between senior practitioners in the industry and providing opportunities for them to connect through smaller activities. Our education events that I mentioned previously can involve hundreds of people, particularly in New York or London, whereas our peer leverage events tend to be smaller, such as a round table discussion with 12 to 14 women or an in depth discussion with a smaller group of 30 to 50 senior practitioners. At the other end of the spectrum, we are also launching Next Gen groups, which provide an opportunity for younger women with 1 to 10 years of industry experience to connect. These groups discuss topics around their careers, around the industry and around creating a peer network that they can tap into throughout their careers. Much of our work is around connecting