For Women’s History Month, the Nasdaq shines a light on the women who are advancing inclusive growth and prosperity within the asset management industry.
We spoke with Kim Lew, CEO and President of Columbia Investment Management Company, exploring opportunities for growth and how diversity will drive outperformance.
As CEO and President, what does your day-to-day work entail?
I often feel like my job is to be the organization’s traffic cop – I make sure the flow of information goes to the right place at the right time. However, before settling into my job as a traffic cop, I work with the board, management and team to define an overall portfolio management strategy, which are the ways and rules traffic. Without the establishment of these overarching rules that guide decision-making, traffic management would be impossible, and chaos would ensue, but with them, it is then really about managing traffic, which is coming from many different directions. , including the university, alumni, managers, investors, peers and experts.
As a result, I have very few average days. They’re each very different, but if you ask me to think about what the average looks like over the course of a year, I’d say I spend about 25% of my time doing college-related activities, 10% of my time meeting new managers from my reference network or from the university network, 30% on investment meetings with the team (internal or external), 15% on administrative/organizational issues and the last 20% on the development of the ‘team. Investing in the team is the most valuable thing I do because it creates the most leverage. The best thing I can do is give them the tools to be great investors and support their efforts to find and conduct high quality due diligence with knowledge of traffic rules and lanes.
How did you get started in the institutional investment business?
My first job in institutional investing was at Prudential Capital Group, where I invested in private debt. My first job as a dispatcher was at the Ford Foundation. I was very fortunate to be introduced to the head of research at Ford, who convinced the CIO to give it a shot, and I became the technology and insurance equity analyst.
What’s one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned in your career?
It was first said by Louis Pasteur, “Chance (luck) favors the prepared mind.” I never forget that a lot of my career can be attributed to being in the right place at the right time and having an opportunity that others didn’t, but I wouldn’t have couldn’t take advantage of these opportunities if I hadn’t focused on learning as many things as possible so that I could both see the opportunity and understand how to approach it. I also learned that sometimes just jumping is enough. Taking on new roles and responsibilities isn’t fun if there isn’t something you’ve never done that will challenge you to take it to the next level. Therefore, they should make you a bit anxious, but great things happen when you walk through anxiety armed with the tools to understand how to succeed.
Historically, there has been a shortage of women in leadership positions within the industry. What are you and your company doing to increase diversity at senior levels?
Before I joined Columbia, there were two women in the senior leadership group, which by my count is eight people. Our three current analysts are women and there is significant opportunity for growth. Looking only at the investment professionals on the team, seven of the 14 are women, but they are clearly concentrated at the lower investment levels. I am committed to supporting each of them so that they can evolve into leadership positions.
Additionally, I serve on the board of Girls Who Invest, which is committed to increasing the number of assets managed by women. The success of this industry also compels us to invest in a variety of investors, and we are increasingly supporting funds led by female investors. I firmly believe that outperformance will be driven by diverse and creative investment ideas that are generated by people with unique experiences. We don’t increase diversity because it’s the right thing to do (although it is); we do this because over time it will be necessary to continue to produce the highest risk-adjusted return.
What advice would you give to other women looking to succeed in the investment industry?
A failure is not a failure if you learn from it and it makes you better. We have to give ourselves permission not to be perfect because if you don’t, you won’t try hard things. I tell my daughters all the time to be comfortable with being uncomfortable because the really good things happen on the other side of that discomfort.