Kelli Washington, BSBA ’94, received multiple accolades for her work as managing director of research and investment strategy at Cleveland Clinic.
In June, Washington was named one of Institutional Investor’s Most Wanted Allocators. The list features executives who are “most coveted for chief investment officer roles.” The ranking is determined by both the candidate’s portfolio and the candidate’s non-portfolio management skills, judged by executive recruiters in the industry.
Out of 25, Washington was ranked 14th and was recognized as “very polished” with “a great deal of credibility.” Recruiters encourage readers to “keep an eye on her.”
Rightly so, as Washington was named to another list about a
In her role, Washington works to manage institutional assets
Clinic, one of the largest and most respected hospitals in the
Although her work is based in Cleveland, Washington constantly thinks global. In an interview with Chief Investment Officer, she spoke about the opportunities and challenges when investing in other markets like China, India and Saudi Arabia. “To be able to think about how we can help companies in…other markets to grow and expand while earning a return that will serve our mission is very exciting,” she said.
Washington’s interest for endowment and foundation
management started at Olin where she served as a student representative to the
board of trustees on the finance committee. Through that experience, she “came
to understand the role and importance of having a pool of assets to support
operations, research, and scholarship.”
Olin students traveled to Madrid and Sarajevo to study
entrepreneurship and serve as startup consultants in a new undergraduate summer
July Newsletter features the 16 Olin students who studied the impact
of startup businesses in cities undergoing economic transition.
While in Madrid, students examined the role of start-ups in
the economy after Europe’s “Great Recession.” In Sarajevo, students analyzed
the opportunities found in an emerging economy after war.
The program culminated in a group consulting project where
student consultants shared opportunities for growth on a particular aspect of
the startup company.
During the program, classwork was combined with rich
opportunities to understand the historical, cultural, and economic environment of
the European cities. Students visited museums and local companies, toured the cities,
and participated in workshops from international lawyers and activists.
Madrid and Sarajevo are considered ideal cities for start-ups
with unique historical and economic environments, dedicated investors, and
skilled young professionals.
The 2018 Olin Business magazine shared a series of vignettes featuring alumni (and Dean Taylor) faced with a business decision requiring them to weigh data with their values. We featured these stories to support Olin’s strategic pillar focused on equipping leaders to confront challenge and create change, for good. This is one of those vignettes.
In 2007 and 2008, as world markets tumbled into history’s worst global financial crisis, Mark Taylor was managing the European arm of a $10 billion global hedge fund—and 95 percent of his clients were pension funds. The crisis demanded staff reductions in his team, and with returns down, remaining employees took massive hits to their incentive-based compensation.
“How do you motivate a staff when you’re in the middle of a financial crisis?” Taylor asked. Part of the answer: Leverage as much data as possible to analyze long- term fundamentals—recognizing that the crisis had rendered much conventional analysis unworkable. The goal: Stem losses and preserve as much wealth as possible.
But another part of the answer meant Taylor had to reinforce for his team the reasons they came to work every day.
“This was other people’s money. If we walked away, people’s pension funds could disappear,” he said. When he met with pension fund trustees, he asked them to invite some of the retirees themselves, placing them across the table from his own junior and senior staff members.
His team responded positively to the motivation. And in the darkest moment, Taylor said, his fund was down about 10 percent when world markets were down 40 percent. The fund rebounded sharply the next year.
Part of a series of Q&As with Olin alumni. Today we hear from Nina Gerson, BSBA ’17. Nina works as an investment banking analyst at Union Square Advisors.
What are you doing for work now, and how did your Olin
education impact your career?
I am currently in my second year as an investment banking
analyst at Union Square Advisors, a boutique investment bank that advises
technology companies on M&A and late-stage private capital raising. Upon
completion of the analyst program this summer, I will be joining CapitalG
(formerly known as Google Capital) as an investor on their growth equity team.
I believe having an undergraduate BSBA from Olin helped set
me apart from other candidates during recruiting for investment banking.
Moreover, Olin’s supportive, close-knit community provided me with the
resources to explore and prepare for a career in finance.
Olin has a very entrepreneurial environment. While at Olin, faculty supported me and my peers in our efforts to build out the Washington University Investment Banking Club (WUIB), WUIBWomen and bringing Adventis to campus to teach financial modeling. I cannot stress enough how important it is to take advantage of the opportunity to tap the bright network of students, faculty and staff within Olin for support, ideas and collaboration.
What Olin course, ‘defining moment’ or faculty influenced
your life most, and why?
The first class I took at Olin, Management 100, was a defining moment in my college journey. I vividly remember working in a group on a HBS case study on Southwest’s business model. I was drawn to the applied nature of the case study method and the collaborative, group work environment that is present in most of Olin’s classes. Once I was exposed to this method of education, I quickly switched from a pre-law track into the business school.
How do you stay engaged with Olin or your Olin classmates
Since I graduated two years ago, I have lived in both SF and NYC. Both cities are hubs for Wash U grads and have a great community – both professionally and socially. Olin and its associated professional clubs do a great job of encouraging students to reach out to alumni and I love to hear from current students and stay involved via their outreach.
Why is business education important?
Graduating with a BSBA prepared me for the technical, conceptual and applied aspects of financial concepts that we work with on a daily basis in investment banking. In addition, my classmates and I received the gift of a national professional network that we can tap post-graduation, an opportunity most students only have after earning an MBA.
Looking back, what advice would you give current Olin
Seize the years you have at Wash U and in Olin. Olin’s
students, faculty and staff are eager to mentor, advise, collaborate and
support each of you. This is a special moment where you have an incubated
environment of striving individuals with similar goals and hopes as your own. I
encourage you to use this time to explore your personal and professional
ambitions to the fullest.
In early 2017, WashU Olin marketing alum Diana Zeng decided to launch the greatest rebranding campaign of her young career.
The product was Diana Zeng.
Until that January day, the “Diana Zeng brand” was about developing marketing strategies for startup organizations and nonprofits. By the end of the process, the brand was about a new career in the fine arts. The new Diana Zeng was all-in as a painter.
In between, she retooled the product and, for a time, even identified herself by a riff on her Chinese name—Zen She—to separate the “old” Diana from the new. She devoured biographies of fine artists and plunged herself into developing her studio practice so she could unleash the artist she knew had always been inside.
“I’d been working with startups since graduating. I saw that they often built something from nothing. That’s essentially what being an artist is: starting something from nothing,” said Zeng, BSBA ’14. “I took it seriously.”
The business of the arts
Two years in—with the confidence that she can support herself as an artist—Zeng is returning to Olin to speak to some of the first students in WashU Olin’s minor in the business of the arts. The genesis of the new business minor was a $1 million donation from Richard Ritholz, BSBA ’84, and his wife, Linda, inspired by their daughter’s experience as a fine arts student.
The new program targets students in the creative arts who want to make a career of their talent, but need to understand how to run their careers like a small business—complete with a grasp of marketing and branding, pricing, customer relationship management and finances.
Glenn MacDonald, John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and Strategy, will teach one of the foundational courses of the minor — “the business of art” — and invited Zeng to speak to his students on October 3.
“Diana is an Olin graduate who used her business skills to fashion a visual art business that allows her to make the art she loves while paying the bills,” MacDonald said. “She is an excellent example of the outcome we anticipate for the students who complete our class.”
In some ways, Zeng is the mirror image of the students targeted for the business of the arts minor. Instead of an artist needing business acumen, she was a business student who had never met an artist or visited an art museum growing up. The closest she’d come as a child to making art was learning Chinese calligraphy and ink painting in Chinese school.
She had harbored an interest in art, however, and she took her father’s advice as an undergraduate: major in business, but use every elective to explore other interests. She took courses in queer theory, poetry and nature, and art classes at the Sam Fox School—enough, in fact, to earn a minor in fine art.
A day of reckoning
A year before Zeng’s graduation, while seriously involved with Sam Coster, the WashU 2012 grad she’d met in her freshman year, he was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. A year of treatments forced the disease into remission—for a bit.
By the fall of 2016, the lymphoma had returned and, once again, been beaten back. Zeng and Coster had begun a New Year tradition, asking each other: If you had a year to live, what would you do?
By then, Zeng had held several marketing positions with St. Louis-area nonprofits and startups. The pair had married in October. A month later, the presidential election made them consider drastic changes. In January, as 2017 began, Coster asked Zeng: “If you had a year to live, what would you do?”
“I’d paint,” Zeng blurted out.
And thus began the process—outlined thoroughly on Zeng’s own website—that led her to remake her career and pursue her passion.
“The first year and the second year of my art career have looked drastically different. The first year wasn’t so much focused on making art. It was very difficult and very dark and it wasn’t great,” Zeng said. “The second year has really been about challenging myself and the creation of art. It’s been fulfilling in a really great way. It hasn’t been a very linear progression.”
Sharing the experience
Today, she’s grateful for the business background she gained and can draw a direct line from that experience to her early success as a professional painter, supporting herself in the fine arts. In fact, her first solo exhibition opens Aug. 23 at St. Louis’s Bonsack Gallery.
With that experience comes an appreciation for branding and marketing, for telling her story and finding an audience for that story. It also taught her how to value the work.
“The intrinsic value of my work is important. Understand the value of your work: I say that over and over again to artists,” Zeng said. She has benchmarked herself against other artists at her career stage—and those whose career trajectory she aspires to emulate. Assigning value—a sticker price—to her work is difficult, but necessary.
Under-price it and you cast doubt on whether the work has value. Overprice it and—well, you don’t make the rent. And yet, Zeng said, “It’s the hardest thing to let go of a piece of work and sell it. I genuinely love it and hate it. I want to keep all my work.”
Though hard, it’s not impossible, of course, and a business approach to her career is key. Zeng said artists must not shy away from viewing their work as a business or approaching art as a career.
“It does not interfere with the integrity of your work,” she said. “Connecting how art and business are aligned—I didn’t have that experience in school. This minor wasn’t available. It definitely would have made the possibility of going into art feel more feasible.”