How These Women Investors Crushed It In 2020

In an investment industry known for big egos, overconfident analysts and “activists” who routinely tell CEOs how to run their companies, investor Nancy Zevenbergen and her team of four portfolio managers differentiate themselves by simply listening.

Zevenbergen, 61, founder of $5.7 billion (assets) Zevenbergen Capital Investments, believes the crucial job of an investor in today’s economy is to uncover the next great entrepreneur or technological innovation early on. The style is about “optimism and a view toward what the future might be,” she says. According to Zevenbergen, her task is to be curious and “understand the ‘crazy’ visions of new leaders and become investors alongside them.” If she likes a company, her Seattle-based firm will load up and watch from the sidelines, tracking the business patiently and holding their shares so long as growth doesn’t stall. Rarely do they worry too much about valuation.

This humble approach to investing has yielded results that make Zevenbergen among the best investors in the world. She has stuck by mercurial Elon Musk and owned Tesla for about a decade; Tesla’s stock is up 730% this year, and is the top performing stock of the ten years. She discovered Ottawa, Canada-based ecommerce company Shopify and its founder CEO Tobi Lütke in late 2016 when it was trading below $50; it now trades for $1,170.

Last September, Zillow chief executive Rich Barton decided the real estate platform would begin buying homes, leading to complaints from skeptics who sent its shares cratering 20% to below $30. Zevenbergen’s team liked Barton’s experimentation and built a large position. Fifteen months later, Zillow now trades for $140.

Nancy Zeverbergen
Seattle-based Nancy Zevenbergen calls investing with a less than five-year time frame “truly speculative.” Case in point: She’s owned Amazon since it traded in the $60s and still holds shares after a 90-fold rise. Tim Pannell for Forbes

With stock-picks like these, Zevenbergen’s Innovative Growth Fund (SCATX) and Genea Fund (ZVGNX) are up a staggering 126% and 154%, respectively, in 2020. Of over 1,000 peer funds tracked by Morningstar, the two mutual funds rank in the top percentile. 

Zevenbergen created her firm from her living room in the late 1980s with just $500,000 in assets while she nursed a young child. Her flagship strategy has beaten the S&P 500 Index by around four percentage points annually since 1987, but 2020 was a watershed. Assets more than doubled soaring towards $6 billion, based on performance and inflows to her mutual funds.

Zevenbergen is not the only woman fund manager who has crushed competition in 2020. Forbes found at least a half a dozen firms led by women-led funds that have blown away their peers and drawn in tens of billions of dollars in assets collectively since the start of January.

Cathie Wood, founder of Ark Investments, had the best year of anyone. In 2014, Wood, 65, created Ark with the idea of packaging stock-picking into tax-efficient exchange traded funds, and focusing exclusively on breakthrough innovations in genomics, robotics, financial technology, autonomous driving, digital services, and artificial intelligence. 

Six years later, Ark manages nearly $44 billion in assets, up from just $300 million at the end of 2016. This year, Ark funds have pulled in over $10 billion in new assets, led by extraordinary returns. Her flagship Ark Innovation Fund (ARKK) has seen assets soar to $17 billion, fueled by a 154% gain in 2020 and a 46% average annual return over the past five years. Her $6 billion Ark Genomic revolution ETF is up even more this year. “I wanted individual investors to catch the wave,” says Wood of today’s enormous technological change. Her funds were designed for those “willing to step out and away from fixed income and into some of the most exciting stocks in history.”

Ark publishes its financial models, trading logs, and research to the investing public, and the firm’s analysts are happy to engage in discussion on Twitter, opening themselves to criticism and mockery. Wood’s $4,000 a share valuation of Tesla a year ago drew many scoffs on Wall Street. But her heady valuation was spot on. Short sellers have been burned by Tesla’s rise, while female investors like Zevenbergen and Wood have been patient bulls. On Friday, Tesla was added to the S&P 500 Index.

Female investing success in 2020 extends well beyond soaring growth stocks. Women-run funds are leading the way in everything from small cap stocks, to emerging market debt portfolios, dividend paying companies, and sustainable investments.

Amy Zhang, portfolio manager of the Alger Small Cap Focus Fund (AOFIX) and Mid Cap Focus Fund (AFOIX) was hired in 2015 to expand Alger’s presence in niche small and mid-cap stocks. When Zhang arrived at Alger, the Small Cap Focus Fund had just $16 million in assets. Now, after a 54% return in 2020 and a 30% annual average return over the past five years, Zhang’s Small Cap Focus Fund has $7.5 billion in assets.

Top holdings include refrigerated logistics upstart CryoPort and fast casual restaurant Wingstop. Her Mid Cap Focus Fund, launched in mid-2018, has attracted over $500 million in assets as it has soared by 84% in 2020, bolstered by casino operator Penn National Gaming and power equipment manufacturer Generac.

Long before sustainable investments became a prolific buzzword, Karina Funk, an MIT-educated engineer at Baltimore-based mutual fund giant Brown Advisory, was a pioneer in bringing sustainable investments mainstream. Funk, 48, a vegetarian who watches her carbon footprint by biking to work, launched the Brown Advisory Sustainable Growth Fund in June 2012, alongside David Powell, with a goal to back about 35 companies with products improving social and environmental sustainability, or efficient operating footprints.

Its focus on companies like Ball Corp. and American Tower has made it one of the best funds on the planet during down markets. Even in 2020, the fund has gained 38% despite its defensive posture, thanks to savvy picks like life sciences conglomerate Danaher and Etsy, which has empowered many small businesses during the pandemic. Funk can be a tough customer. She exited Facebook in the fall of 2018 due to data privacy concerns.

“Sustainability is a means, not an end in and of itself,” she told Forbes as part of a profile three years ago, when the fund’s assets were just $1.1 billion. “Our end goal is performance. We achieve that by finding fundamentally strong companies using sustainability strategies to get even better.” The fund’s assets have since soared to $4.6 billion.

Other female-led funds that have done well include Capital Group’s $128 billion American Funds New Perspective (ANWPX), led by a team of managers including Joanna Jonsson and Noriko Chen, and the $36 billion in assets JPMorgan Equity Income Fund (HLIEX), led by Clare Hart. The New Perspectives fund has beaten its benchmark by four percentage points annually over the past decade, while Hart’s Equity Income Fund has returned an annualized 11.65%, two percentage points annually above its benchmark, according to data from Morningstar.

Rebecca Irwin, Natasha Kuhikin and Kathleen McCarragher of the $1.3 billion in assets PGIM Jennison Focused Growth Fund (SPFAX) have returned 68% in 2020 and 25% over the past five years, ranking in the top decile of peer funds. At Alger, Ankur Crawford, co-manager of the Alger Spectra Fund (ASPIX) and Alger Capital Appreciation (ACCAX) has seen returns surpass 40% this year.

In fixed income, Tina Vandersteel of the $4.4 billion in assets GMO Emerging Country Debt Fund (GMCDX) has been able to outperform emerging market bond indices despite underweighting China and many Gulf-states due to her skepticism of the veracity of their economic data.

The bull market of 2020 is also creating new opportunities for female fund managers to shine. Two years ago, Julie Biel of Los Angeles-based Kayne Anderson Rudnick, was a rising star at the $30 billion (assets) firm and excited about the looming public offering of software company DocuSign. Known for investing in established businesses, Kayne had never participated in an IPO. Biel was late in her pregnancy as the IPO progressed and trying to win an allocation. She needed a doctor’s note to fly to the Bay Area to meet with DocuSign’s management. Kayne eventually won a large block of shares, quickly becoming one of its largest outside investors.

Biel also began to manage the firm’s KAR Small Mid- Sustainable Growth strategy around that time and made DocuSign the fund’s top holding. Its shares have risen 225% in 2020. This year, Biel’s fund has returned 42% through November. In December, Kayne decided to launch a mutual fund version, launching the strategy, called the Virtus KAR Small-Mid Cap Growth Fund (VIKSK), with Biel in charge.

Like Zevebergen and Wood, Biel is starting small and manages just $60 million. But the investment industry rewards performance above all, hinting at much larger things to come. Entering 2021, Biel’s portfolio is loaded with hidden gems like Ollie’s Bargain Outlet and MarketAxess that could grow for years to come. Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Send me a secure tip.

Antoine Gara

 Antoine Gara

I’m a staff writer and associate editor at Forbes, where I cover finance and investing. My beat includes hedge funds, private equity, fintech, mutual funds, mergers, and banks. I’m a graduate of Middlebury College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and I’ve worked at TheStreet and Businessweek. Before becoming a financial scribe, I was a member of the fateful 2008 analyst class at Lehman Brothers. Email thoughts and tips to agara@forbes.com. Follow me on Twitter at @antoinegara

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How Four Female VCs Triumphed In Male-Dominated Silicon Valley

The reputation of Silicon Valley as a bastion of testosterone is by now well-established, and award-winning journalist Julian Guthrie decided it was time to tell a new story—one with a little more estrogen. In her new book, Alpha Girls: The Women Upstarts Who Took On Silicon Valley’s Male Culture and Made the Deals of a Lifetime, Guthrie explores the complicated lives of female VCs through the eyes of four resilient characters. She traces their trajectories—how they’ve dealt with victories and defeats, the ways they’ve juggled work and family, how they’ve coped with sexist attitudes—to get where they are today. They were among the first investors and founding board members of startups that would go on to become the giants of Silicon Valley.

The book takes us through the achievements of Magdalena Yeşil, who helped Marc Benioff grow Salesforce; Mary Jane Elmore, one of the first women to make partner at a U.S. venture firm; Theresia Gouw, who helped build major companies like Facebook and Trulia; and Sonja Perkins, one of the first female partners at Menlo Ventures, where she invested in such companies as McAfee and Hotmail.

Samantha Todd: What gave you the idea for Alpha Girls?

Julian Guthrie: I was on tour for my last book, How to Make a Spaceship, spending a lot of time with entrepreneurs and engineers. I began to ask myself: Where are all the women in these really important and dynamic industries? Although I’d worked at the San Francisco Chronicle for 20 years, I didn’t know there was such a disparity as there is today. I started to look into tech for some kind of hidden figures, some really dynamic women who had great narratives and whose stories hadn’t been told.

I came across this figure that 94% of all check-writing VCs are men. But who is the remaining 6%, who are the women? I wanted to know what the world looks like for them, what it’s like being pretty much the only woman in the room, the only woman chasing after certain deals.

Todd: And what about today? Do you think things have changed in Silicon Valley at all?

Guthrie: With the #MeToo movement, there were all these bad guys who were outed in all these different industries, including tech, and there was a great spotlight that was shined on equity. Now you see these really strong groups like All Raise and Broadway Angels and these all-women investing platforms and political advocacy groups. I see these really promising pockets across the country where women who had climbed their way up that VC ladder and had gotten to partner, to general partner. Many are now starting their own firms.

Todd: But it’s not all good news everywhere, is it?

Guthrie: You look across industries, whether it’s home building or architecture or law or medicine or advertising, and women in the top ranks only represent between 5% and 20%. The progress across these industries has really stalled—it’s hard to imagine that we’re at this place in time and there’s still so much underrepresentation.

Todd: Tell me about the term “alpha girl.” What does that mean exactly?

Guthrie: An alpha girl is someone who goes from navigating to pioneering in whatever field, somebody who seizes an opportunity that’s difficult and persists and finds a way to thrive.

Todd: How did you arrive at the book’s title?

Guthrie: At first I had the Alpha Girls Club. I like the word “girls” because even as women, we can be girls. I think the girl should embody boldness and strength and compassion. Strength combined with girls—I love that equation. Alpha Girls is being adapted for a TV series, and a lot will be changed, with the story fictionalized, but Alpha Girls will remain as the title.

Todd: In the book you talk about how your reporting was already under way when the #MeToo movement began, but that it affected your reporting. Can you discuss that?

Guthrie: These women have to work with the guys, and they have to network. More men have honestly gotten behind this movement, this need, this call to action. #MeToo had a good effect, but there’s a flip side as well. It’s something like 60% of men who were recently surveyed in Silicon Valley in tech said that they won’t have a one-on-one meeting with a woman. They won’t mentor a woman, they won’t have closed-door meetings one-on-one, they won’t do offsite things. And that’s terrible.

Todd: If readers take away one idea from your book, what would you like it to be?

Guthrie: I would say that tech and venture capital are amazing careers for women and more women need to be in this industry that is shaping our future. An alpha girl shows how it can be done, but it’s a dynamic industry, and women should be getting into it in stronger numbers and playing a big role in shaping the future.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

I serve as an assistant editor on the Leadership team at Forbes. Previously, I interned with the Echoes-Sentinel and The Bernardsville News where I covered local news and events. I was editor-in-chief of The Setonian, Seton Hall University’s student-run and award-winning newspaper.

Source: How Four Female VCs Triumphed In Male-Dominated Silicon Valley

A 29-Year-Old Woman Is Now Running The Momofuku Restaurant Empire

When Marguerite Mariscal started interning for Chef David Chang in 2011, Momofuku was about to open up in Australia. Toronto came next, and with all the momentum, the budding restaurant group then took on funding from outside investors for the first time.

Soon after, Chang recalls, “there was a lull.” An era of “complacency” ensued. His next big project—Nishi, a take on Italian food made solely with Asian ingredients—opened in 2016. What Chang calls “a real painful moment” followed. The New York Times wrote that Chang’s usual magic was showing “a little wear.”

“It was, honestly, all my fault. I wasn’t a good enough leader, and I didn’t prepare us to be successful. I wasn’t doing my job. I was, quite frankly, all over the place. It was fear of change, fear of growing up, fear of taking chances,” Chang recalls. “I had thought that what’s good for me is going to be good for the company. And I swore to myself that I was never going to do that again.”

But Chang says Mariscal worked tirelessly against it, proving herself during hard times. She hopped on the line to prep before service, worked the door at private events without being asked and helped out when the in-house reservation system wasn’t working. “She’s probably the most respected employee we have in the whole company, because there is nothing that she won’t do herself, if needed. You can’t say that for a lot of people. You just really can’t,” Chang says. “As she got promoted and had more and more say, I realized she understands Momofuku better than me sometimes, maybe more. She’s seen the highs, and she’s seen the very lows.”

Now Chang is stepping aside to focus on media and work with Momofuku’s next-generation chefs, along with spending more time with his newborn son. And Mariscal, a New York native and member of the iconic Zabar’s family, will become Momofuku’s first official CEO at just 29 years old.

“I’m not tasked as being a steward of the brand. Dave wants me to basically be a custodian of change. He wants to make sure that I’m the person who is making sure that we’re moving forward,” says Mariscal, who was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 food and drink list in 2018. “If I don’t, if things don’t change, if we progress on the kind of trajectory that we are now, that’s failure.”

Chef David Chang brings his ramen to Toronto in 2012.

Chef David Chang brings his ramen to Toronto in 2012.

Toronto Star via Getty Images

Previously Momofuku’s creative director and chief of staff, Mariscal is now in charge of an empire that includes 14 locations, from critically acclaimed Majordomo in Los Angeles to the revamped Noodle Bar location recently opened on New York’s Upper West Side. There’s a new, potentially scalable, concept, too: a Momofuku-inspired Asian convenience store called Peach Mart, with a new flagship inside the shops at Hudson Yards. (And it’s Hudson Yards’ billionaire developer Stephen Ross who backs RSE Ventures, the owner of a minority stake in Momofuku. There are also some other small private investors.)

“For us to grow, the most Momofuku thing is to break with what we are already doing, not try to distill it and franchise it. It’s really figuring out how do you scale without losing what made Momofuku successful in the first place, but at the same time, knowing what made us successful is not going to work moving forward,” Mariscal adds.

She is also taking charge of Momofuku’s growing consumer packaged goods business, which started selling its own Korean chili Ssam Sauce in select Whole Foods locations in 2015. Last year, Momofuku’s partner Kraft Heinz initiated a relaunch, and it now can be found in 3,800 locations nationwide, as well as Amazon. Momofuku says sales increased 38 times from 2017 to 2018 but declined to provide specific figures.

Mariscal says the company is already planning to launch two more products: a fermented chickpea paste called Hozon, featured in Nishi’s signature ceci e pepe, and Bonji, the soy sauce alternative made from fermented grains, not soybeans. Momofuku has previously sold these to other restaurants and distributors but never to customers.

“It was proven really early on to me that Momofuku was a meritocracy. There really isn’t a lot of red tape,” Mariscal says. “We encourage people to come in, learn the systems and then make recommendations as to how to make it better. We have no sacred cows.”

Follow Chloe on Twitter and Instagram.

I cover all things food and drink as a staff writer at Forbes, from billionaires and ag tech startups to CPG entrepreneurs and wine.

Source: A 29-Year-Old Woman Is Now Running The Momofuku Restaurant Empire

Meet The Woman Turning The Payday Loan Industry On Its Head

It’s the early 2000s and Ennie Lim is what creditors refer to as credit invisible. Despite touting a bachelors degree from a prestigious university in Montreal and logging several years of work experience in the US working for San Fransisco nonprofits, Lim has no history with any of the US banking institutions and therefore is unable to get approved for any of the major credit cards. Working in Silicon Valley, her funds are understandably tight and once she goes through a divorce – in spite of the fact that she was working a good job with a steady income – she finds herself unable to afford San Francisco rent prices.

Source: Meet The Woman Turning The Payday Loan Industry On Its Head

How Two Millennial Women Made Over $130,000 While Traveling the World Full-Time

 

Last year, I left my corporate life in New York City behind in a vow to give myself one year to design my dream job. Shortly thereafter, I took off on a 9-month-long social experiment, in which I would circumnavigate the globe by couch-surfing exclusively through my social network. Seventeen countries, four continents, and over a hundred encounters later, I have learned that I am not alone in my quest to earn a living while traveling the world: there are so many people out there right now who are making it work.

Source: How Two Millennial Women Made Over $130,000 While Traveling the World Full-Time

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