The glass ceiling keeps coming down, one shard at a time. It’s as true in politics, where the United States appears poised to elect its first female vice president, as on Wall Street, where women are increasingly stepping into leadership roles — and business schools like the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business are in the vanguard.
At a unique student-run club called Darden Capital Management, second-year MBA students at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business use different strategies to manage five endowment funds worth about $22 million, developing skills in investment analysis and portfolio management. This March, putting another crack in that glass ceiling, Rachel Gibson became DCM’s first female CEO.
“My goal is to not only improve the longevity of the program but to also encourage more women to consider careers in financial services,” Gibson tells Poets&Quants.
GIBSON’S FINANCE JOURNEY
For Gibson, the opportunity to be a CEO in financial services is a dream come true. But getting to where she is was no easy feat.
Prior to attending Darden, Gibson graduated from Bucknell University with a B.S. in business administration. Upon graduation, she was passionate about exploring the investing world but didn’t feel supported in the industry.
“I didn’t see many women in financial services and I was questioning myself, wondering if I could be successful,” she says. “I started seeking opportunities with more women in leadership and cultures that could support me, which is how I found Cambridge Associates.”
Gibson became a full-time investment associate and spent four years working in the Pension Practice, which was run by female partners and a CEO who became integral mentors at the start of her career.
BECOMING A LEADER
Soon after Gibson was named to lead the 24-person DCM, Covid-19 hit. As a brand-new CEO, she was thrown into managing the five funds through an unprecedented market downturn — a high-pressure situation for a new leader.
DCM members, nearly half of whom are women, manage the five funds with different strategies. After Covid, they implemented hedging strategies in the Jefferson Fund, including reallocating capital previously invested in equities into fixed-income. In the global Monticello Fund, they had to adjust adroitly as the pandemic worsened in some places and improved in others. The Cavalier Fund, consisting of consumer staples and online retailers, saw a boost to share price performance benefiting from increased demand; the Darden Fund underwent a spring of turmoil as members examined the entire portfolio in the wake of Covid; and the Rotunda Fund, an Environmental, Social, and Governance fund, had an equally uncertain time as DCM managers worked to assess how companies that prioritize ESG initiatives would hold up during the market downturn.
All in all, a challenging time to be in charge.
“I knew how important it was to set the tone of my leadership style for the next year, so I focused on trying to stay positive and not make decisions based on anything short-term,” Gibson says.
A FINE LINE
Gibson says she is continually learning to walk a line between being liked and respected as a leader.
“I care a lot about this program,” she says. “I have so many ideas on how to improve its longevity and I’m learning how to delegate. I want to motivate everyone to lean into their strengths and make decisions that are prudent for the long-term sustainability of the endowment.”
DCM is not Gibson’s only responsibility. She also serves as the VP of finance for the Darden Outdoors Club Board and the VP of diversity and club partnerships on the Darden Private Equity Club Board; she is also on the Student Admissions Committee and is a second-year coach at Darden’s Career Center, where she hopes to help people to follow their passions and find a fulfilling career path.
Her career path post-MBA is already taking shape. Gibson will continue refining her leadership skills in an investor role in the Financial Institutions group at JP Morgan next summer. She says she’s thrilled by the prospect of working in a fast-paced environment in New York City.
ADVICE FOR WOMEN IN FINANCE
Gibson recommends that women interested in financial services connect with other women in the industry to learn more about their roles.
“Gain confidence by speaking to others in the industry,” she says. “Align your interests and passions with roles and places where you can grow, and find work that doesn’t feel like work. Vocalize your interest in being involved, speak up when you have opinions, and follow your gut.”
She particularly stresses the importance of overcoming self-doubt and stepping outside of your comfort zone.
“Each time I had an informational call with another woman in the industry, it helped me learn what would make me happy and what I’m motivated by,” she says. “Sometimes, you’ll get advice when you weren’t looking for it, leading to opportunities that you may not even know exist.”
The ninth annual Darden at Virginia Investing Challenge will take place virtually on Friday, October 30. Learn more about Darden Capital Management by clicking here.