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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A Missing Factor In Women’s Leadership: Leave The Mean Girl Behind

I recently launched an intimate dinner series called The Whisper Network covering taboo topics facing women’s advancement in the workforce. Many of these topics aren’t addressed because women don’t feel comfortable raising them or might be nervous about repercussions if they are openly talked about in larger forums. As women we tend to have a stronger reliance on one-on-one bonds and smaller, more intimate networks vs. men in order to discuss more controversial subjects such as how much money we might make or not make, how we were passed over for a promotion by a male peer or worse, “the mean girl.”

As we sat around the table, everyone had a story about a mean girl they dealt with in their careers. Certainly, in more male dominated industries, the mean girl, sometimes referred to as the “queen bee” is not just a theory, but a reality. Further, this isn’t just about the women at the top, but also encompasses female peers. With all the focus and momentum on raising each other up as women and building support networks, it should have surprised me that the mean girl continues to present as such a big issue but it didn’t. I hear quite often that while there are so many women walking the walk, there are still many that just talk the talk.

Jennifer DaSilva, President of Berlin Cameron and Founder of Girl Brands Do It Better, wrote an article earlier this year talking about women and the power of community and stated “Among all the women I talk to, the overall sentiment is that the energy of women helping other women is at an all-time high. We’re in a moment where women are less competitive and more willing to help each other succeed. We’re all starting to understand that lifting each other up doesn’t mean you put yourself down.” While I completely agree and as someone who launched a business focused on developing women, I think we need to add to that sentiment: that lifting each other up doesn’t mean you have to put yourself or others down.

Competition is healthy until it’s not. DaSilva also stated in the article that “while women are still supporting each other, [in a recent study] 55% of respondents still feel there’s work to be done. This can especially be said in the corporate world, where a lack of female representation can lead to competition and a lack of camaraderie.” How do we continue to advance and support each other with a little healthy competition in our networks, if we continue to face or be the mean girl at the table?

As a woman, there is heavy competition with men but there seems to be even more competition with some women, mainly because there are fewer of us. This competition is not just at the senior levels of organizations. We live in a culture that perpetuates women’s feelings of insecurity. It’s one the reasons we are banding together to support one another and creating real change. We are also human and filled with insecurities around career advancement, success, financial wealth and power. Company cultures often mirror grade-school school culture, dividing their employees into different groups: top talent, high performers, needs improvement, etc. This can further fuel unhealthy competition, meanness and exclusive behavior.

How we do leave the mean girl at the door but also work with her? It’s hard to escape the mean girl at the office, out with new clients, at women’s events and in other professional environments. “Mean girls exist in business networking events too,” shared Cindy Ashton, CEO of Minerva Enterprises. “They stand in their circle, staring at the other women, making comments on what they are wearing and criticizing what they do. It lowers our self-esteem and confidence. We need to catch ourselves when we get ‘catty’ and reframe – ‘what would it take for me to truly get to know this other woman and collaborate?’” Roll out the welcome mat instead of pulling it out from underneath their feet.

After much deliberation in our dinner, we unanimously decided to call out the mean girl and make them aware of their behavior. At a time when we are calling out certain men for their lack of support, why don’t we call out the women who don’t have our backs and perpetuate the culture we are fighting so hard against? I’m not advocating for confrontation, but I am talking about communication. If we don’t bring awareness to this challenge, those cracks in our networks get larger and success for all vs. just for one decreases.

Focusing on positive reinforcement and how we can work together is just as important as building community with like-minded women and male allies. Share in our successes and in our struggles. We need to team up to help move forward by sharing what we know, how we can support and empower each other, and how we build real community. As women we need to lend our voice and support at the table for other women, become their true advocates for new opportunities, be open and make connections as well as follow through. Walk the walk.

To circle back to DaSilva’s article, Kristy Wallace, CEO of Ellevate Network states “a community is a group of people who are active participants in your success.” Supportive communities celebrate each other and their wins, large and small. This definition of community leaves no room for the mean girl and it’s time to leave her behind. Leading by example is critical and we need to exemplify the qualities we wish to see in others. When we think of the next generation of female CEOs, politicians, activists, entrepreneurs and more, what do we want those women to see when they look up? We don’t want to embrace a future with negativity and bullying. Creating an even playing field that is collaborative and supportive is something I am striving for.

Follow me on Twitter. Check out my website.

I am the Founder and CEO of Luminary in NYC, the premier collaboration space for women who are passionate about professional development and expanding their networks. Luminary is the ultimate career advocate providing our membership community with unparalleled programming and access to industry leaders and pioneering entrepreneurs. A long-time advocate for empowering women and girls, I serve on the National Board for Girls Inc. I have over twenty years of leadership experience in financial services. Previously, I was the Executive Vice President and Global Head of Multinational Corporate Banking for HSBC managing roughly $2 billion in revenue and teams in 55 countries. Prior to that, I was a Managing Director and Head of Multinational Corporate Banking at J.P. Morgan in EMEA. I’m committed to leveraging my corporate experience to support and encourage women and push for gender parity in the workplace.

Source: A Missing Factor In Women’s Leadership: Leave The Mean Girl Behind

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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