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.
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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 our members in smaller, more intimate environments.
We are also increasingly becoming a resource for organizations that want to see more diversity in their ranks. We have a “Women on Boards” initiative that connects boards looking for more diversity with our members who already sit on private or corporate boards, and often offer a skill set that’s not being tapped into by these boards. We also do this for the industry more broadly, because we often hear companies say it’s hard to find women candidates for portfolio management or trading or senior roles. We have women within our membership that fit these roles – there is often just a disconnect in finding that diverse talent.
What I find interesting about our growth is that our name in many ways doesn’t describe us anymore. 100WHF has grown to 15,000 members who are not just women, but also men who support the cause. But most importantly, we’re not just hedge funds anymore. We’ve attracted a much broader base of membership as the industry itself has changed dramatically – most of what larger hedge funds are doing now wouldn’t necessarily be termed “hedge fund” 15 years ago. I always say that if the topics we cover in our education events or senior practitioner events are meaningful to you and you can be additive, we want you as a member. We’re going to be looking at re-branding and potentially changing our name so we can better serve a broader population of women and men in the industry as well.
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: If you look at the traditional data on the roles that women hold in finance, it has been dominated by the sales and marketing area and less so on the portfolio management and trading side. Traditionally, 100WHF has not focused on how to attract more women to this industry. We’ve realized that we need to do a better job in doing very deliberate outreach to young women at universities and in business school who are pursuing the subjects that matter in finance – women in engineering and math – but also women in business school who want to work in finance, but who don’t necessarily know what it means to be in the industry. There are so many different roles in this industry, and I think sometimes young women look and say, “This is an industry that’s A) Dominated by men; are we going to be comfortable? And B) There’s a lot of negativity around Wall Street, is this really what I want to do? If I want to make a difference in the world, is this what I want to be doing with my life?”
Part of what we want to do with our new initiative “Investing in the Next Generation” is very deliberate outreach to universities and business schools globally to provide these young women with a diverse group of our members who are in different roles in the industry who can talk about why finance actually is a great career for women and what they do every day in their jobs. If we can inspire young women to realize that what they’re studying at university that they really love can be translated into something that not only makes money, but from an intellectual standpoint can be one of the most rewarding careers out there, then I think we’ll do a better job of attracting more young women into a variety of different roles in the industry.
I also think there’s a lot of talk about the confidence gap between boys and girls. We’re looking to give these young women access to educational programming through our events, as well as access to the CAIA scholarship program where we help them understand what the industry’s about before they come into it. We think this will help them as they go after their first internship or shadowing opportunity, which we’re also looking to provide on a global level. We believe that giving young women some familiarity with the industry and the women who work in it is the first step to seeing women more comfortable with an industry that is male dominated and does get bad press from time to time, but offers some really unique opportunities.
Once we can get young women into the industry, I believe the Next Gen groups we’re launching in various locations will be incredibly important in encouraging young women to continue even through difficult times when they face tough decisions about family or their long-term career. I think having peers around them who have gone through the experience recently will be a critical change in keeping women in the industry. We also see a real opportunity for change in helping more women make the choice to go to the portfolio management and trading sides of the business, which are definitely
lacking right now.
Khai Nguyen: Very well said. Speaking to that topic, Whitney Tilson, of Kase Capital who’s very well known in the hedge fund industry, particularly in value investing, has been very public and vocal about the lack of women in hedge funds. How important is it to have other industry professionals such as him, advocate and create awareness for this important topic?
Amanda Pullinger: I know Whitney very well – he’s a value investor, and the hedge fund I was at was a value investor, so I spent a lot of time speaking to Whitney during my hedge fund days. I think it’s really great to see men advocating for this. It makes total sense. The research has shown that greater diversity in a number of different places produces a better economic outcome. We’ve seen it on boards and in various studies that have been done on senior professionals within companies, as well as on female hedge fund managers’ performance more specifically. So I think having a male voice out there is really important, not only in advocating for women within the industry, but also in encouraging their own daughters for example, to come into the industry. We did an interesting dinner last year with the teenage daughters of some senior men and women in the industry, and what was fascinating was that I think everyone walked away from the dinner kind of saying, “Wow, who knew?” Because many of the daughters said they didn’t know what their fathers did every day. They never really thought to ask. We structured the environment where daughters could sit and talk to women in the industry about their roles and what they did every day. But it was interesting for their fathers to be there in the room and understand that an organization like ours can be really helpful in providing context for their teenage daughters and an environment where they could talk to women role models in the industry.
So I think part of it is advocating for more women, but the reality is that as much as women may need to change their perspectives, the culture of the industry has to change too. Someone like Whitney is a great advocate, not just because he’s saying the industry needs more women, but because I think he gets that part of the change that has to happen is with managers like him. There are cultural factors that have to change in order to encourage more women to feel comfortable with being in the industry – some of that is on the women themselves, with the help of organizations like 100WHF, but some of it has to be on the current leaders in the industry, many of whom are men.
Khai Nguyen: Continuing on that topic of the data you’ve brought up, a report by the consulting firm Rothstein Kass detailed hedge funds managed by women and their outperformance versus the S&P 500 Index. If this is the case, why aren’t there more women choosing a path in hedge funds, portfolio management or the alternatives space?
Amanda Pullinger: It’s a simple question, but a complicated answer. I do believe women managers are an untapped resource that allocators are massively overlooking. Women managers, for a lot of different reasons, aren’t as visible as men. I think they are not as well-networked because they are more focused on creating good returns, which is why you’re seeing the numbers, but are less focused on getting out there and marketing their fund. In today’s world, the reality is performance isn’t everything. Everybody talks about it as if it is, but the reality is if no one knows who you are then your performance could be great but your fund isn’t going to grow.
So part of the focus is on creating environments where allocators can connect with female managers who are part of our network. For example, we’re putting on our 3rd Annual Allocator Female Manager Conference in San Francisco where we’re pulling in some of the major allocators and connecting them with women managers for one-on-one conversations. We did the same thing in New York last November, and will have our first conference in London at the end of June this year. In every case, what we hear from the allocators is: “Why did we not know these women existed beforehand?” Allocators are impressed with their performance and strategies once they got a chance to meet them. So in some ways, the issue is not that there are no women managers – there are definitely fewer – but the women managers out there are just not as visible as the male managers.
Back to your question around why there aren’t more women in the portfolio management role. I think that comes back to perception and lack of visibility into what the role of a portfolio manager is. I think a lot of women are just put off by the image of the industry and the fact that it’s male-dominated. That’s not dissimilar to the tech industry. If you look at the numbers there, they’re worse than the finance industry. So with the issue of being confronted with a male dominated environment, there are going to be some women – and I guess I count myself in there – who naturally can cope with that, and there are going to be some women who can’t. I don’t think it’s a matter that women can’t do portfolio management as well as men; that’s clearly not the case given the Rothstein Kass report. I just think that they need to be encouraged to think about this as a career in which there are women who continue to be successful in portfolio management, being supported along the way by their peers.
We’re not going to change the finance industry overnight, but what we can do is help change some of the negative perceptions and really illustrate the fact that if you want to make a difference in the world as a young person, one of the big ways you can do it is to invest the funds for an endowment, foundation or charitable organization in a way that’s actually meaningful for that organization. Most young people think, “Oh, I’m going to volunteer in Africa or whatever and I’m going to make a difference,” but the reality is you can make a huge difference in the world through finance. We need to get the message out there that Wall Street is actually a great training ground to understand finance, investing philosophy and the network of people in the industry so that if you really want to make a difference in the world, there are plenty of opportunities within finance to actually do that. But you can’t necessarily leap from being at a university to making that difference without going through the industry, and so for some young women that may well appeal – that the end goal means they need to go through an industry to be trained.
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