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Valuable insights for future asset management leaders

May 26, 2023

WAM panelists Helen Rattee, Nicole Musicco and Barb Zvan

L to R: Helen Rattee, Nicole Musicco and Barb Zvan

Students in the second cohort of Ivey’s Women in Asset Management (WAM) program recently heard from three influential leaders in the North American asset management industry.

Coming from backgrounds in statistics, kinesiology and mathematics, Helen Rattee, Managing Director of ESG & Portfolios Thematics, OMERS; Nicole Musicco, HBA ’99, MBA ’02, Chief Investment Officer, CalPERS; and Barb Zvan, President & CEO, University Pension Plan Ontario, discussed their career paths with the aspiring asset management students. The engaging conversation touched on a wide range of topics including career progression, challenges in their roles, and the importance of developing culture.    

Advice for women entering asset management

Having each come from unique backgrounds, the panelists began the conversation by addressing some key learnings in their career and providing advice for women joining the asset management industry.

“Think of your career as not so much a ladder, but as a grid,” said Musicco. “Sometimes you’re going to feel like you’re moving up, and other times you’re going to feel like you’re moving sideways. But the idea is to get as much breadth as you can early in your career. Depending on where your interests lie and what you’re hoping to achieve, there’s tremendous opportunity.”

Zvan referenced the book The Invisible Rules by Holly Catalfamo and Paul Harrietha, where the authors interviewed 50 successful Canadian women and asked, what are some of the common themes for women to consider in the corporate world? The common themes were around building credibility, managing a difficult room, promoting yourself and taking advantage of opportunities that arise, and surrounding yourself with a strong support network.

A fine balance of humility and confidence is key, says Rattee. “Know that you are going to make mistakes. As an asset manager, you will definitely be humbled along the way,” she laughed. “You have to be comfortable owning your mistakes, taking accountability, and learning from the experience. Have a growth mindset. At the same time, have confidence to make decisions with imperfect information and continue to move forward and not lose confidence when things don’t go your way.”

Creating culture

WAM students were given the opportunity to ask questions, probing the panelists to reflect on their career successes and challenges. One student asked the leaders to reflect on the steps taken to develop a strong workplace culture.

“We wanted no egos coming through the door,” said Zvan. “We have a strong commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as reconciliation, and we look for that when we hire. We put practices in place so that people feel they’re included. You want to build trust, delegate, empower, and coach.” Zvan referenced completing the Barrett Values Survey with her team, focusing on valued behaviours among the organization. “Our score was 74, and the industry norm is 51 – we were pretty proud. We want people to have a voice and feel that they can bring their whole self to work.”

Skills you wish you developed during your undergraduate career

Students today are asked to do more group work than Zvan recalled ever having to do. “Focusing on how to be a good team member and how you can support others is really important.”

For Rattee, communication skills are a standout. “Early in my career I would have said I’m a great analyst, I’m logical, and I can come in with a great argument for why we should invest in company XYZ, but could I communicate it in a way that resonated with people? If you can’t communicate in a way that resonates with the group you’re trying to influence, it doesn’t matter how great your research or analysis is.”

“Have a global perspective and take in points of view from a global lens,” said Musicco, who joined the panel from Sacramento, California. Musicco also stressed the importance of networking early in your career. “If I think about the talent that was in my HBA class, had I been better at networking earlier in my career, I would have harnessed those great connections.”