BABE #255: LAUREN LEHMAN - Portfolio Manager; Adjunct Professor
Lauren is a portfolio manager at a registered investment advisor where she’s responsible for the investments of roughly 200 portfolios. She’s also an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland Global Campus where she teaches on investing, retirement and estate planning. She’s knowledgeable, thorough, and extremely organized — all qualities one wants in the person managing one’s hard-earned cash. In addition to her avid success (see: MBA, CFA and CFP®), Lauren is a wife and mother of two children — roles she takes on with a whole lot of love, passion, and determination to be present for the people she loves most.
Hometown: Atlantic Beach, Florida
Current city: Rockville, Maryland
Alma mater: Florida State University
Degree: International Finance, MBA
Very first job: Survey Research Recruiter, Regency Mall
Hustle: Portfolio Manager at a registered investment advisor; Adjunct Professor, University of Maryland Global Campus
Babe you admire and why?
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I don’t agree with all of her policies or aims, but I admire her. She’s not afraid of who she is, and she’s honest and transparent about things others might be ashamed of. Lots of people can be charismatic, but you might question their authenticity. Yes, she is sometimes factually mistaken, and yes I am a little nervous about her socialist goals—but, her dedication to transparency has helped me understand her point of view, understand more of the barriers to actual representation and pay significantly more attention to the House of Representatives than I ever have.
How do you spend your free time?
Reading. Endless reading of all the things. Some nonfiction, some trash, some classics, a little fan-fiction. I always have a few books going. If you’re always reading, too, check out the Goodreads app. It keeps me from buying books I’ve already read because they’ve changed the cover and I forget I’ve read it until I’m at home, five pages in. Right now I’m reading “Periodic Tales: A Cultural History of the Elements, from Arsenic to Zinc” and “Three Sisters, Three Queens.”
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
This is not really one for me. If there is someone I’m really interested in, but don’t know personally, I’d rather read their books and any articles about them than ask them questions they’ve already answered a million times. I would much rather have someone show me their pharmaceutical lab, or walk me through their potato chip factory. Does anyone have a cannery they can show me? I’d love to watch someone replicate DNA!
What’s something most don’t know about you?
I operate under a “how hard could it be?” mantra. I’ve repaired a dryer, replaced toilets and done a lot of crafting very successfully with the help of the internet. I know when we actually need to go to the pediatrician because I have mastered throat swabbing the boys for strep (test kit from Amazon), and with my otoscope can tell you if that is an ear infection. I have discovered that sometimes, it can in fact be a lot harder than I originally thought. Removing bathroom tile, for example, is damn near impossible. Painting ceilings is best left to professionals. How hard could it be? The worst that can happen is I have to call the professional I would have called at the beginning.
What tools, books, or ideas help you in your day-to-day work?
Excel. I use it for everything. I track my personal spending, use it for analyzing portfolios, make to-do lists and even have a grocery checklist (with the aisles in the right order).
Tell us about your hustle.
As a portfolio manager, I’m responsible for the investment of around 200 portfolios. Most registered investment advisors (RIA) use models and will fit each client into their pre-designated investment lists. At my company, each client is 100 percent customized. No two clients have the same portfolios, because no two clients are exactly the same. Once a client is invested, I look at their portfolios at least once every two months. As a lead reviewer, I look at a different set of portfolios at least once every 3 months. I check to be sure they are within the asset allocation we outlined in their IPS, that they have enough cash for withdrawals, etc. At the University of Maryland Global Campus, I teach finance classes online. The syllabus and coursework is already designed by the school, I just have to teach. In my classes, this is primarily done in the discussion boards. The students are expected to have read the assigned reading and they do a weekly quiz, but the discussion boards make them think about how what they’ve read actually works. In the investments class the students build model portfolios and track them throughout the semester. In the retirement and estate planning course there are several case studies that help them apply what they’ve read and really think about what it means. At home I’m mom to an 11-year-old and a 9-year-old. My job is making them be the kind of people I want them to be. We volunteer at the homeless shelter and (hopefully) see how blessed we are. We listen to NPR and talk about politics and the economy. We have family reading time where we all sit and read our own books together, and we play a lot of games (spades can get very competitive). I have an excel sheet (of course) where I have a list of things I want for them. The older one made dinner last week; being able to cook for themselves is on my list! They both always have a book going; being lovers of reading is on my list! They’re creative, funny and wicked smart (check, check, check).
What does your typical workday look like?
I start out the day with a cup of coffee, puppy snuggles and my mom hat. Once the boys have been sent off to school, I get to enjoy my 15-minute walk to work. I listen to my favorite podcasts: “The Indicator,” “The Daily,” “RedHanded,” and “Household Name.” When I get to the office I start with email, reviewing new activity that needs to be addressed, and make a list of priorities for the day. Day-to-day things always come up, so for long-term projects and research I try to put time on the calendar and budget them into my daily work. My day is not at all the clamor you see on the stock exchange floor; my office is quiet. I do a lot of reading of research reports, a lot of Excel reports and I interact with clients. Explaining finance is one of my favorite parts of my job, which is why I am also an adjunct professor. I teach one online finance class at a time, usually on my iPad, in my pajamas, before bed. The concepts covered in my class are things everyone should know. With defined contribution retirement plans, the onus is on employees to plan for their retirement; without a basic understanding of finance, it can be hard.
What’s your approach to managing your responsibilities at work alongside teaching and motherhood?
I am very open with my family about my responsibilities. We have weekly family meetings where we go over everyone’s schedule, pick chores and plan for the week ahead. On the weeks I’ll have to grade papers, I let them know in advance I’ll be busy, so we should work on school projects on the weekend instead. Planning ahead helps everyone be prepared for what’s coming. I am also a big fan of asking for help. I’m not superwoman. When my husband travels, I ask other parents to drive the little one home from basketball or scoop the big one up on their way to Scouts.
What’s your advice for someone who wants to invest but doesn’t know where to start?
Start with your goals and work backwards. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably not going to make it. A specific goal is much easier to plan for. Once you know how much you need, how far in the future, you can determine the mix of how much risk you can take and know how much you need to contribute. You have to take on risk to get paid. More risk, more return. If you aren’t comfortable with a year when your portfolio loses money, be honest with your advisor, and understand you won’t keep up equity portfolios. Everyone should know the basics about investing. People put it off because they think you need lots of money, but the key to saving is thinking about paying yourself first. When you contribute to your retirement plan, you aren’t taking money away from yourself, you’re paying your own paycheck when you retire. I love talking about it, so if you have questions, send them my way.
What’s been biggest career milestone?
The world of finance is always growing and evolving, so you can never stop learning. I started with becoming a registered representative, got my MBA, spent my pregnant years earning the CFA designation, and just last year became a CFP®. What makes me proudest, though, is hearing my 11-year-old explain arbitrage to his friends.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
Part of the reason I felt I needed so many designations at the beginning of my career is the scarcity of female leadership in the industry. I have since moved from Jacksonville to the DC area, which has definitely helped a lot. I do think there is still a lot of inequality in finance, but my company is very diverse, across all aspects. We have a fairly evenly split staff in terms of gender, and more than half the employees are immigrants or had parents who were. If you’re looking for a more diverse organization, I think you need to look to a small company.
What’s the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
It is heavily male-centric, for now. Most investment conferences I attend are 70 percent male. Women and men join the financial services industry at the same rate. Surveys report women tend to be promoted more slowly; just one in five senior executives are women. This results in a significantly lower rate of female management and perpetuates the issue. The solution would be for there to be more female representation at the top of the corporate structure; until senior men retire or promote women, that won’t occur. Female leadership would foster a more even promotion schedule and more equal pay. It would also give women better opportunities for mentorship or sponsorship than they are finding with their male bosses. Attrition is not causing the lack of senior women; women are still working in finance, they just haven’t been advanced. The only way to make a real change is for gender equality at upper echelons be a strategic priority. We don’t need to encourage more finance degrees, we just need to promote and support existing women in the field.
With the volatile potential of the investment process, how do you help manage stress in times of financial uncertainty for your clients?
When my clients have a plan, it makes volatile times so much easier. I’m able to evaluate where they are, if they’re still on track and remind them of the long-term. I can also remind them that when we came up with the plan, we knew there would be periods of volatility. The negative periods are baked into the plan. When we have periods of market stress, people want to panic. Corrie Ten Boom said, “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off.” We have to remind clients we know where they are going. The timing and duration of tunnels are uncertain, but we knew they were coming and they will eventually end.
Are you involved with any other side projects or organizations?
I’m on the board of directors for Rainbow Place Shelter, a women’s shelter in my neighborhood. We are open during the hypothermia months. We provide counseling, job training and of course meals and shelter to 28 women at a time. I started by bringing meals and serving dinner at the shelter, and my family does still serve, but being on the board helps me do more. It’s difficult working with a board with disparate views, but we’re all seeking the successful future of the shelter.
Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
Liz Ann Sonders is the chief investment strategist for Charles Schwab; she makes economics understandable even to laypeople. Janet Yellen is poised, fair and diplomatic when talking to and about the most frustrating things. Teresa Kong is a portfolio manager at Matthews Asia; her passion is inspiring.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
It can be easy to feel disenfranchised in an organization, be it your job or a volunteer group. I don’t think anyone should stay somewhere where they aren’t happy, but I would first encourage you to try to bloom where you’re planted. Try to be the change you want to see. See if you can’t make the position or role work for you. Challenge yourself to try to make it work. If you still need to resign from the committee or look for a new position, you can know you gave it your all. The grass is always greener on the other side. Before you leave your yard, make sure you’ve watered, mowed and done whatever else people do to grass to make it green.
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