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On Campus: Marcia Page

Uncategorized | Sep 11, 2020 |

Marcia Page, executive chair at Värde Partners, describes her career as one shaped by her education, valued mentors, common sense, and intuition. Page joined Dean Donna Rapaccioli, Ph.D., to discuss her journey from analyst to co-founder, co-CEO, and co-CIO of the global alternative investment firm that now manages $14 billion in assets.

The following excerpt was adapted from their October 11, 2019 discussion held at the Gabelli School.


Dean Rapaccioli: Can you tell us a little about your career path? What was the journey like, in terms of the paths you chose to take, and those you chose not to take?

Marcia Page: I kind of fell into investing. I grew up in a small town in Minnesota, and growing up in the 1970s, there was a deep recession and there were no jobs. After college, I went straight to the University of Minnesota for my MBA. My first job was as a financial analyst for Cargill, a huge private agricultural firm. Little did I know that I had a sponsor in the firm. He was layers ahead of me, but always made sure I got interesting projects and had visibility with senior leadership. 

One of the things that happened was he called me on a Friday afternoon and said, “Do you know what a high-yield bond is?” And I said, “Bob, I can figure it out,” and a stack of paper appeared on my desk and I just poured through it 24/7 over the entire weekend. I pitched the bond on Monday and they went out and bought $5 million in bonds, which was a lot in 1985. After that, I worked on their trading desk and I learned how to trade with some of the best in the business. Three of the senior leaders left to start a hedge fund, and I joined, managing a distressed debt fund for five years before starting Värde 26 years ago.

DR: You’ve talked about your real passion for diversity in the workforce. Can you share why this is so important to you, and what you’re doing at Värde?

MP: In 2015, we did a survey that revealed women in our Minneapolis, London, and Singapore offices had lower engagement scores than the men in each of those offices.

So, you kind of wonder what happened. We started digging in and looking at our own numbers while trying to be as intellectually honest as possible. We had 10 percent women in our investment roles, and they experienced two times the turnover in midcareer, compared to men. 

So, it was an aha! moment. Just encouraging women to advance their careers organically, even with the best of intentions, isn’t enough. We began working to mitigate unconscious bias in our hiring and promotion practices. One thing we’ve done is we’ve removed self-ratings from our review process because women self-rate lower than men. For men, for women, and for other diverse candidates, I want those who show up at our firm to know that they have a fair shot at the top and we have a fair process that helps them do so. 

DR: Our audience tonight is filled with college students. What’s your advice to students, and what makes a good credit manager today? 

MP: Fundamentally, I think of myself as a liberal arts graduate with some technical finance skills. I mean, that’s what I came into the business with, and so I’m still a big fan of what you get out of a liberal arts education. When you think about investing, some of the complex things we do revolve around the ability to connect the dots across a wide range of capabilities and skills. Honestly, the math isn’t all that hard. It’s those other skills that will help you if you’re in a complex situation that requires you to understand all the stakeholders, to be able to read documents very intensely, with critical thinking skills, and then tie it back to finance. So, it’s not a single-subject approach, from my perspective. 

DR: That response is music to my ears. At Jesuit business schools, our students take half of their courses in the liberal arts. So, based on your own experiences, any advice for navigating a recession while trying to find a job? 

MP: My thought would be to get started early. Do those internships and have your hand up. Don’t wait until you have it all figured out. Or do something on campus, with all of the clubs around. Keep yourself actively involved, and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. I think you’ll be ahead of the game, even if it’s during a recession.

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