Looking back, it’s clear to Marie Chandoha that finance was the field for her. As a little girl, Monopoly was her favorite game and she can still remember telling her aunt that she wanted to be a banker. The declaration came from her nine-year-old self and though it wasn’t exactly where she would end up, it was close enough, as Chandoha is currently president and CEO of Charles Schwab Investment Management where she manages $241 billion in assets.
“I was always good at math and although I had some other aspirations along the way, I wound up studying economics in college and a few years after graduating, I read an article about mortgage-backed securities, which seemed like a great way to apply my analytic and math skills,” Chandoha said. “I was able to land a job as a mortgage-backed securities analyst at Morgan Stanley in the mid-1980s and the rest is history.”
A Distinguished Path
Over the course of her career, Chandoha has worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, spending the first half of her career working on Wall Street. Afterwards, she would leave her mark at Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and Credit Suisse, where she eventually became the managing director in charge of Global Fixed Income and Economics Research at Credit Suisse. She eventually shifted her career to managing money, but instead of advising clients on how to invest, she found she preferred to put her ideas to work and do the investing herself. So Chandoha became the Senior Portfolio Manager at Montgomery Asset Management and later went on to lead Barclays Global Investments (BGI’S) Global Fixed Income business.
“There are a few things that I think distinguished my career path. First, I had a willingness to take risks and that has helped me take meaningful steps in my career. There were several roles I accepted where my manager or a new company was looking for significant change in a short period of time and in some cases, there had already been failed attempts to implement the change or a turnaround,” Chandoha said. “I remember being told at one firm, ‘I admire you for taking this job. It seems impossible.’ In some cases, I knew that if I didn’t succeed, I’d be out of a job. But I love a challenge. These situations aren’t always the most comfortable, but if you succeed, there’s nothing like it to demonstrate a track record of results.”
Chandoha says that when preparing for a senior-level role, it’s important to gain exposure to a variety of roles and functions in the field to evolve your skill set. At one time or another, she has been an analyst, computer programmer, securities analyst, trader, and a portfolio manager.
“I’ve managed everything from research departments and technology groups to a global asset management business. Taking on a global assignment is an invaluable learning experience in many ways, and can open up a range of opportunities,” Chandoha said.
Culture is Critical
Chandoha says there is a lot to be excited about at Charles Schwab Investment Management and in particular, the improved ability to deliver a record year in terms of growth in 2013. She says there are many contributing factors to the firm’s success, but one that gets overlooked all too often: culture.
“My leadership team and I have been doing some interesting things to foster a strong culture and highly engaged, inspired employee base,” Chandoha said. “For example, last year we launched an innovation initiative to seek ideas from our employees and received over 80 terrific ideas for our business. A team was selected to choose one idea and build a business plan for that project. The feedback from employees across the board was incredibly positive; they were very excited about being able to participate and make an impact on the firm’s business beyond their day-to-day jobs.”
Advice for Women
Chandoha admits that getting more women to consider finance as a career choice is still a challenge for the industry.
“Over my 30-years in the industry, I have certainly seen more women rise to senior-level positions and there are more role models than ever before, but I don’t think that a career in finance is a top choice for enough young women,” Chandoha said.
This is part of the reason why she urges young women to understand that not all companies are created equal. She asserts there are firms out there that are truly supportive of women – and those are the firms women should find.
“You’ll have a more enjoyable work life and have a better chance of exceling if the wind is at your back,” Chandoha said.