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An Investment Career Requires a Listener

Asset management veteran Andrea Almeida Mack (’94) on the value of an MBA and cultural fit
Andrea Almeida Mack (’94)
  • TCW consultant relations executive Andrea Mack focused on finance while earning her UCLA Anderson MBA for a career as an investor
  • Her advice to MBAs entering the field is to be professionally flexible, embrace lifelong learning and don’t ignore the basic tenets of finance
  • She credits her UCLA Anderson alumni network with providing connections worldwide

Andrea Mack (Riordan Fellow 1991, ’94) is a managing director and senior consultant relations executive at the TCW Group, with primary responsibility for the Western U.S. region. Prior to joining TCW, she was a portfolio manager at Western Asset Management Company for a dozen years, and an institutional client service executive at both Western Asset and Payden & Rygel (where she was mentored by Joan Payden, UCLA Anderson Board of Advisors member and president and CEO of Payden & Rygel Investment Management) before joining Western’s U.S. investment team. Mack currently serves on the boards of Westmark School, the Toigo Alumni Endowment and the Riordan Programs at UCLA Anderson. She is on the host committee of 2020 Women on Boards’ Los Angeles chapter. As a student at UCLA Anderson, she was awarded the Robert Toigo Fellowship. She is a CFA® charter holder and a member of the Los Angeles Society of Financial Analysts.

Q: How do risk and your ability to tolerate risk play into your skill set as someone in the investing world?

Wow, that is a cool question, I don’t get asked that a lot. It’s really funny because my husband’s in entertainment and he’s the risk-taker in our house. I’m definitely more conservative in terms of taking risks, and maybe that’s why I found my way into bonds. That said, I find myself pointing out to him that finance is also a creative industry. The evolution of the industry since the 1980s has been astonishing in terms of security types, investment vehicles and sophistication. I’m excited to see what’s to come over the next decade!

A big part of the value-add of an asset manager is identifying and shaping customized solutions. If I don’t hear what you’re saying as a prospective client and tailor my response to what you’re seeking, then I haven’t done my job. You have to be open, you have to be a lifelong learner, you have to be an expert in terms of accurately sharing information, and at the same time you have to be a listener and be able to think quickly on your feet so you can tailor information to a specific client.

Q: What words of advice would you give to current MBA students interested in a finance career?

I was fortunate enough to take some really great classes that helped me on Day One. I learned a bit about how to model options and futures and do option pricing models. A terrific class in investments with Robert Geske was the best class that I took in terms of being able to port those skills immediately and do the job.

I would say to any current student, while some of the theories and the basic tenets of finance seem to have been challenged (I won’t say disproven, I would say challenged) in the recent past and recent crises, it remains as urgent now as it was when I was in school to really understand them. It’s still important to have that knowledge. And then you build on that knowledge and you figure out how real life works relative to that. That way, we all have a good starting point, a common language.

In terms of what you learn in business school versus what you learn on the job, MBA finance classes provide a framework for processing real time information and sorting through what’s useful, what’s noise and how best to apply results of the analysis. I was very fortunate that Joan Payden recommended me and all employees to take the CFA immediately upon graduation. If you want to be an analyst or a portfolio manager investor, becoming a CFA is not redundant to having an MBA, it is additive. I always say it’s analogous to taking the bar after law school. It does provide you with a good ethical framework, and you cannot overestimate or overemphasize how important ethics are in our business.

Q: Joan Payden was not your only Anderson mentor. You were also close to Linda Baldwin, who did so much for UCLA Anderson, including founding the Riordan Programs and serving as admissions director and, later, as our dean of diversity and inclusion.

Linda is an amazing person. She taught me that as a woman and as a person of color and, especially, as a woman of color, you don’t get off days. That’s not an option. You always have to be better, you always have to work harder, you always have to bring your A game, because a lot of people will look at you and you will represent to them an entire gender, an entire race.

Some people would become resentful of that or see that as a burden. I take the opposite approach. Being challenged to always be your best is actually a gift, right? If you look at it from that perspective, it’s a motivator. So you come to expect this level of excellence of yourself and, therefore, others that you’re around. I think we have an impact on culture, not only because of gender and race, but because of this call to be excellent and to represent others.

Q: We’re living in heightened times, with social justice issues at the fore. How do these issues impact your investment strategies, if at all?

First and foremost we have a fiduciary responsibility. That has to be our North Star, right? We are caretakers of someone else’s assets. So you have to be very clear when you write a contract or when you accept a contract as to the goals. If, as a firm, you make a decision to not follow certain “North Stars,” you have to be very clear and up front with your clients, because sometimes you will leave chips on the table. First and foremost is fiduciary responsibility.

What’s so interesting about this current time is that companies that in the past have not embraced diversity and have not had any kind of moral stance are now being given a big red do-over button. If you talk to your clients you can say, “You know what? In the past we have not embraced diversity, we have not really championed change the way that perhaps we should have. And, forgive me, we have never done that, but starting today we are going forward in this way, this is what we intend to do and this is how we’re going to measure it.” All past transgressions are being forgiven. It’s very rare in life when you get a big red do-over button, right?

Q: Do you have any advice for current or prospective students interested in going into the investment world?

I always say this when I’m talking to prospective students: Make sure that whatever company you work for there’s a culture fit and that you feel you don’t have to leave your ethics at the door. I don’t care what they’re paying you, even if it’s $100,000 more than the other offer. That has to be number one or you will be setting yourself up for failure, personally and professionally..

Q: Anything a young investor needs to be aware of?

Approach it with an open mind.

I doubt many people say, “I want to be a portfolio manager so I’m going to be an analyst and then I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that.” It’s good to have a plan, but it’s more important to be flexible and open to opportunities when things don’t work out necessarily in a linear way.

Be open to opportunity, maybe take a left there, maybe a little zig or zag. I think that the most important thing is always make sure that you work for a company that aligns with your ethics and whose culture you feel is supportive of your life and lifestyle.

Another thing is to always, no matter who you are, make your boss look good. Anticipate their needs and do more than what is asked. Always. If they ask you to write a 10-page report on something, give them a little extra. Give them some graphs, give them just a little bit more information that you think is additive — not just to do it, but because it adds something.

Also, it’s important to learn from your peers, and then later to help those who are coming up. My most rewarding accomplishments in this industry are when some young person that I met when they were in business school is now running their own fund. I love that. It makes me so happy. The network is key. And that’s why Anderson is so important to me. Anderson is like a family, I feel like there’s almost nobody in the world I can’t get to through my Anderson connections.

For more about Andrea Mack, read her guest lecturer interview in the Benjamin Graham Value Investing Program newsletter.

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