Voice of Experience: Nicole Arnaboldi, Managing Director and Vice Chairman of Alternative Investments, Credit Suisse

nicolearnaboldiBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

“While I’m not normally a fan of sports analogies, there’s a great Wayne Gretzky quote,” began Nicole Arnaboldi, Managing Director and Vice Chairman of Alternative Investments in Credit Suisse’s Asset Management division. “It goes something like ‘Head for where the puck is going to be, not where it is.’ When you think about your career, think about where the world is heading, and go to where the tide is rising.”

“I think asset management is one of those areas where the puck is heading,” she pointed out, considering the rise in global wealth.

“This advice isn’t limited to young people. Even as you have become more senior, take a step back and think about where the world is heading, and about what the opportunities are for you,” she continued.

Having spent almost 30 years rising through the alternative investment business, Arnaboldi shared her advice and expertise, based on her career of “going to where the puck is heading.”

Career in Alternative Investments

Arnaboldi studied international relations as an undergraduate at Harvard, and then spent a year working at Boston Consulting Group before returning to Harvard for grad school, where she earned both a JD and an MBA.

“I spent my last best hope for a law career as a summer associate at a San Francisco law firm working in venture capital – then I went into business,” she said with a laugh. Arnaboldi joined Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette (DLJ) in 1985 as an investment banking associate and then migrated into its venture capital division. “It was always an interest of mine,” she explained.

After seven years in the investment management business and leveraged buy-out, Arnaboldi changed gears, and switched from doing deals to the management side. “I helped grow the platform into a diversified investment management business, which was acquired by Credit Suisse. Then we expanded outside the US, and into a broader range of illiquid and AI businesses, which I oversaw, dealing with private equity and alternative investments.”

Arnaboldi considers growing this business her proudest achievement so far. “A lot of people, including myself, considered private equity to be a cottage industry. But helping DLJ and Credit Suisse evolve this platform into a multifaceted business, diversified on a global basis, is what I’m most proud of.”

Currently, she is excited about the continued global growth of the asset management platforms, particularly joint ventures in China and Latin America, she said.

Current Events

“I’ve been spending time working with our lawyers to evaluate the impact of Dodd Frank and the Volcker rule,” she continued. “We’re trying to be responsive to regulators as they figure out how to draft new regulations. The issue from my perspective is to balance the need to mitigate systemic risks with the need to encourage capital formation and economic growth.” She added, “In my view, regulators and politicians are struggling with that too – finding the right balance.”

Additionally, she said, she’s been concerned about the image that the private equity industry has been getting lately. “Private equity has been in the news. I think we, as an industry, need to do a better job out there of explaining the way we create value.”

She continued, “If you do the research, private equity can create a lot of value, aligning the goals of shareholder and management more closely than in public companies.”

Challenges for Women in the Investment Management Industry

“We’ve come a huge distance, in terms of the numbers,” Arnaboldi explained. “In fact, I oversee recruiting in my division. We just made a number of offers and a large percentage of those went to women.”

“We are continuing to gain momentum and hopefully we will start to see a ripple up effect.”

She continued, “As for barriers, I think some are self imposed. But firms also have a responsibility. How do they retain women when the bulk of childcare responsibilities, in our society, falls on women? How do we balance that with a career that is a demanding one? How can firms support and provide opportunities for women?”

Arnaboldi, who has four children, said she worked a flex schedule for several years of her career. “I think a lot of women decide that they can’t, don’t have the option, or choose not to do that juggling.”

Advice for Professional Women

Arnaboldi said one of the things she wishes she had known earlier in her career was the importance of building networks. “When I came out of school, I think I expected that what worked in school would extrapolate through my career, as well. What works in school is working hard. But the corporate world is more complex. Hard work is not always recognized – there are other factors to success as well.”

She continued, “My advice to young women is to find great people to work with – this business, in a lot of ways, is an apprenticeship business.”

Additionally, she advised, “Work hard to enjoy what you do. If you’re miserable for some reason, figure out a way to change the equation. Your happiness could be a function of who you work with or what you are doing.”

Throughout her career, she has been involved with many initiatives at Credit Suisse and DLJ to foster diversity. She explained, “I started the first diversity initiative at DLJ. We put together a series of 40 recommendations, and I co-headed a board of senior men and women to develop those recommendations. We implemented all but one – to diversify our portrait collection.”

The portrait collection, she explained, was made up of members of the US Chamber of Commerce in the late 1800s. “There weren’t too many female Chamber of Commerce members at the time,” she said with a laugh.

Credit Suisse also has a host of programs designed to attract and retain women. “Our Americas women’s network is large and active. We also have a parent network, and an LGBT network, and other employee networks.”

She also described a speaker series for senior women, to which clients are invited as well. “We’ve had a terrific range of speakers in conjunction with the Daily Beast,” she explained.

“Internally, we have a series of other programs including a mentor program that involves our executive board. It’s not just mentoring, however. The participants also work on value added projects – we felt it wasn’t enough just to introduce people and create those connections, but wanted them to get involved in real, substantive projects as well.”

In Her Personal Time

“My first hobby is my four boys,” Arnaboldi said. “And it’s almost a full time hobby!”

“But I’m also very involved in philanthropy. I think education is the most transformative thing you can invest in – there’s an enormous return on investment.”

Arnaboldi is on the board of New Yorkers for Children and Prep for Prep, as well as involved with her alma mater Harvard. “People often think that with a demanding career, there’s no way they can get involved with philanthropy. I encourage people to find time for it. It’s incredibly rewarding,” she said.

Finally, she added, she’s a member of a book club for women in finance. “Needless to say, it doesn’t meet too often!” she laughed.