Interview with Marian Pardo, Managing Director and Principal of Virtual Capital Management, LLC
One of our members sits down with Marian Pardo, the Managing Director and Principal of Virtual Capital Management LLC, trustee of J.P. Morgan Mutual Funds, and Non-Executive Director of Viramal Limited. Ms. Pardo shares with us her in-depth experience with finance and investment, her thoughts on diversity in the field, and her tips for outside counsel.
Marian Pardo is a highly experienced investment professional with a deep background in banking and investment and securities analysis. She has had an extensive career in banking and investment management. Throughout the course of her tenure with investment banks and financial services companies, Marian notably managed accounts and common trust funds totaling over $2 billion and, earlier in her career, was a senior member of a large corporate banking team.
Currently, Marian serves as Managing Director and Principal of Virtual Capital Management, LLC, a financial services consulting firm; Trustee of J.P. Morgan Mutual Funds; and Non-Executive Director of Viramal Limited, a specialty pharmaceutical company focused on women’s health. Due to her experience, she has appeared on CNBC (including “Power Lunch”) on several occasions. Marian is also the president of the Columbus Citizens Foundation, the first woman to hold that position in its 50-plus-year history. The foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the celebration of Italian heritage and the creation of opportunities for younger Italian Americans. The foundation’s most public activity each year is organizing New York City’s Columbus Celebration, which includes a major fundraising gala, and the Columbus Day Parade – the largest celebration of Italian-American heritage and achievement in the world.
Ms. Pardo holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Barnard College of Columbia University and has done graduate work at New York University and New York Institute of Finance.
I recently sat down with Marian, and we discussed her career:
- What drew you to work in finance?
- Despite an increased emphasis on diversity and inclusion within the finance industry in recent years, professions in that industry remain some of the least diverse of any profession. Recently, a government report indicated that women and minorities remain underrepresented as managers at banks, insurance companies and other financial firms. What is your recommendation for women trying to join and succeed in the finance industry?
The finance industry is particularly problematic these days for everyone, since the industry is consolidating and thus there are less entry level opportunities available. So women need to get beyond the “averages.” They need to seek out firms that are better than average in having women in senior or management positions and that are actively looking to do more as evidenced by, for example, mentoring and diversity initiatives. It may not be the first place you find work, but that is what I would look for. For everyone, not just women, the important thing is to get started and get a foot in the door.
- There are many barriers to boosting diversity in the finance industry, including unconscious bias in promotions and a reluctance to recruit from more than a handful of elite universities. What are ways that financial firms can tackle these obstacles?
I graduated from college in 1968 – four years after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, and in the middle of the Vietnam War. So, I have seen a lot of social change. I think the best financial firms really do cast a much wider net, and that is what they should do and continue to do. Companies should keep casting a wider net. If they are not specifically recruiting, they should still go to a wide variety of open houses and job fairs and let job seekers know what their company does. In doing so, they will open themselves up to a wider pool of prospective employees that they may not have considered before.
- If you could, what advice would you give to your younger self, when you were just beginning your career?
When I started my career, it was at the beginning of the use of technology within the financial industry. It was the era of integrating technology into the workplace – for example, being able to do spreadsheets electronically. My work did train me, but, even then, I would tell my younger self to get more training in technology and its applications. It was clear the world was starting to change, and it is even more important today.
- If you had to choose a career other than one in the financial industry, what would you choose and why?
Legal. I was always very good at dealing with agreements and contracts. I have a logical mind and am good at debating. Most importantly, the rule of law is what makes our form of capitalism work. The bottom line is the bottom line: Nothing in finance works if you do not have the rule of law.
- Having worked in various capacities for investment banks and other financial services companies, and in your role at Virtual Capital Management, what do you look for from outside counsel? What are the biggest frustrations you face from outside counsel?
Counsel not only needs to be an expert in their field, but also has to understand my business. My biggest frustration is when counsel legalizes my language and, thus, changes the intent and meaning of my words. Sometimes counsel does so because they think their way is better, and sometimes counsel does so because they think they are trying to protect me from something they do not realize I actually want to do. Thus, it is important for counsel to understand what their clients are trying to accomplish. Communication is key.
- The most recent Columbus Day was on October 14, 2019, and the parade had almost a million attendees in New York City. The holiday has also been met with some criticism. In your own words, why do you think it is important that we celebrate Columbus Day and that the Columbus Day Parade takes place?
The celebration is a recognition of a technological breakthrough equivalent to jet travel: Columbus’ voyages proved the worlds were connected, and jet travel facilitated the joining of those worlds. With new discoveries there are always consequences that need to be interpreted over time. Columbus represents the dawn of a great era of migration for us all, but especially for Italians. All immigrant groups, even to this day, seek to be recognized for their accomplishments and contributions to the betterment of this country. I do believe every group should celebrate its heritage, including Native Americans and indigenous groups throughout the Americas. In fact, 25 years ago, the U.N. decided that the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People shall be observed on August 9 every year. The goal of the foundation is to recognize both days in meaningful ways.
- As the first female president in the Columbus Citizens Foundation’s history, do you feel that there is a special significance to your presidency?
Yes. Whenever you see this sort of change, it is a message of inclusion internally and externally. It is a reaffirmation that we celebrate and facilitate the accomplishments of each of us as individuals and as members of our communities.
- What are some unique challenges that you have faced as the president of the Columbus Citizens Foundation, and how have you overcome them?
When you have a group that has been around as long as ours has, you are always constantly challenged to make sure you maintain your relevance, especially in the 21st century, which means making changes. Change, however, makes people uncomfortable. So, managing change can be a huge issue. Being open to everyone’s concerns and adjusting course if necessary is important. That being said, having a staff like ours that is very capable and supportive of our mission is important and makes facing such challenges easier.
- Navigating a career and a family is challenging, and the finance industry is certainly not known for being the most compatible with family life. How have you managed to maintain a work-life balance?
My husband and I have always coordinated our calendars so that our family does not get left in the dust of our other obligations. Family first is important. It does help that my husband also worked in finance, so we have always understood each other’s schedule and career.
- One last question. If you could invite three people, living or dead, to your dinner party, whom would you invite?
I would invite my dad. He is no longer with us, but I miss him still. Leonardo da Vinci – he was a brilliant intellect. And my grandchildren; they are the ones we truly learn from.
I always wanted to get a graduate degree in economics, but, when I explored graduate school, all the degree programs were focused on econometrics. And, with econometrics, I did not feel like I could do anything meaningful. There were too many calculations and predictions, and not enough computing power. You had to assume away so many variables! So, I turned my sights to business school. I was accepted into Columbia Business School, but then I decided not to take on more debt. Instead, I took a paying job and did some business school classes on the side. Banking, as opposed to econometrics, fascinated me as the place where sources and uses came together.
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