Monday 26 February 2018

Ex-Lehman employee goes for gold as she woos women into finance industry

Shelley Smith

Work in a bar. That was a friend's suggestion for Harvard graduate Sara Grillo after she was laid off from Lehman Brothers in 2008. Two years later, the hedge-fund analyst is campaigning to get more women into top financial jobs.

Grillo (32), who co-manages hedge-fund adviser Diamond Oak Capital Advisors, found herself among 225,000 unemployed finance workers that year as the subprime market collapsed.

Dismayed by friends' suggestions that she quit finance, Grillo vowed to help more women join the industry, setting a goal of raising the proportion of women Chartered Financial Analysts (CFOs) to 50pc from the current 19pc.

"If I were a tall, broad-shouldered, grey-haired, 50-year-old man with the same credentials, nobody would have suggested I take a job for less than one-eighth of my salary," said Grillo in a telephone interview from her home in Queens, New York.

"I'm a CFA charter-holder and I always look women right in the face and tell them that if I did it, they can do it as well."

Of the 90,000 CFA charter recipients worldwide, 19pc are women, according to CFA Institute figures. In the Americas, the percentage is 18pc, while in Europe the proportion falls to 17pc. Asia-Pacific has the highest ratio at 25pc. Grillo's efforts to balance the numbers include lobbying and giving motivational speeches. Her most personal approach, though, is to mentor 20 people from various colleges -- or elsewhere.

"One of the women I met on the subway in Queens," Grillo said, "was having a really tough time with a guy giving her trouble and I said, 'look, you don't need this guy. You can do so much better than this. Now let me teach you about stocks.'"

Another is Nan Zhao (25) whom Grillo met after offering an internship for Diamond Oak on LinkedIn's website.


"Looking for a job in finance after the financial crisis was already really difficult because of all the layoffs," Zhao said.

Zhao, who passed the second level of the three-part CFA exam in June, is one of five interns working for Diamond Oak. She corresponds with Grillo via email or telephone and is helping to build an index of hedge funds, she said.

"Sara is teaching me how to apply my knowledge, how to become a businesswoman and a professional," Zhao said.

One challenge women face in the finance industry is that people often judge them by their looks, Grillo said.

"I'm athletic and I eat well and I don't have any wrinkles or grey hair," she said. "It's a problem in finance because I go to these meetings and I stand out. It's difficult for me to get credibility and to build trust because I look like a teenage girl."

Grillo's business partner Eric Hansen established Diamond Oak in June 2009 to provide customised Fund of Funds analysis.

Grillo joined in February. She had planned to start a microcap fund earlier this year, an ambition that had its roots seven years earlier in a jewellery shop.

Grillo said she and her boyfriend were faced with a choice between a platinum, gold or silver engagement ring. He said he didn't care so long as it was the cheapest.

Grillo did care, so she dumped him and invested the money for the wedding in Commercial Metals Co, a small-cap stock that made her as much as 300pc in profit.

As her career in finance developed, she became determined to gain her CFA to gain credibility and recognition in the industry. "I wanted those letters after my name so badly," she said. (Bloomberg)

Irish Independent

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