“You really have to take charge of your career,” began Stephanie Breslow, Partner & Co-Head of the Investment Management Group at Schulte Roth & Zabel. The reason, she explained, is because while partners or senior people may take an interest in you, you have to leverage that interest into advancement.
She continued, “It’s like the television show Downton Abbey – the people who work downstairs know so much more about the people upstairs than the other way around. You know that your firm is going to try to train you, but you will be much more aware of what you need and what you are pursuing than the partners.”
Breslow advised junior lawyers not to be timid about seeking more responsibilities or experience from those at the top. Also related, she continued, is knowing when it’s time to start doling out responsibilities to people who are more junior.
“It’s human nature that people will be happy to let you handle work if you are happy to do it. But you have to learn when to start to delegate or to hand off tasks to someone else so you can get to the next level.”
Career in Investment Management Law
After earning her bachelor’s degree at Harvard, Breslow began law school at Columbia University, intending to go into criminal defense. But during the summer of her second year, she had an opportunity to try something different. “I went to a mid-sized firm for my summer job, and the litigation department left, so I ended up doing some transactional work. I realized I liked it,” she recalled.
As she began her career doing negotiated deals and moving into joint ventures and partnerships, she found her way to the fund world. “What’s interesting to me is that you need to create relationships between partners that actually last – there’s no winner take all in this space.”
In 1994, she moved to Schulte Roth & Zabel. “About this time investing laws changed, and I was here at the beginning of huge growth in this industry.”
Over time, Breslow gained more experience, client contact, and responsibilities. She became a partner and practice leader at her firm, and today she is recognized across the industry as a leader in investment management, partnerships, and securities, focusing on fund formation.
As an industry expert, she has been named one the 50 Leading Women in Hedge Funds by The Hedge Fund Journal. She is also the Vice Chair of the Private Investment Funds Subcommittee of the International Bar Association and a member of the Board of Directors of 100 Women in Hedge Funds.
She considers her positions on her firm’s executive committee and operations committee among her highest honors. “The executive committee is an elected seat and I’m proud of that. Participating on the business side is challenging in a different way.”
One of the most interesting parts of her career has been developing deep industry expertise, Breslow explained. “I enjoy being a specialist in this industry and having knowledge of things beyond the legal aspects. I’m able to help my clients find new jobs, or decide who to merge with, or come up with market terms for new products.”
In fact, gaining more specialized knowledge is something she recommends to junior lawyers. “I thought, when I started out, that I ought to try to be as much a generalist as possible. But in retrospect I wish I had appreciated more the value of specializing.” She explained, “When you become an expert in something you are interested in, that brings more value to the client as business expertise.”
“When your interest is narrower, it’s also deeper,” she added.
She is particularly interested in how the investment management industry continues to evolve. “There is a lot of consolidation in the industry right now – there is more regulation and capital is gravitating to larger firms. A related issue becomes succession management. There’s a question of whether smaller funds can survive their managers. Historically they didn’t, but that’s becoming less true.”
She also discussed the effects the Volcker Rule is having on the industry. “Banks are playing less of a role in sponsoring funds. How is the next generation going to be sponsored with banks less in the picture?” she asked.
Breslow is also applying her expertise as a member of the advisory board for Third Way Capital Market’s Initiative. “It’s a centrist Democratic think tank – we write white papers to help legislators understand the financial markets and initiatives.”
Women in Law
A key challenge for women in the legal profession is one of visibility. “There is still not a sufficient volume of role models at the top,” Breslow said. “There are many young women in the associate ranks, but at the senior level, there is a small percentage.”
“That’s a problem for women trying to visualize themselves in that role going forward, and it’s also a problem for men trying to project women going forward as successful professionals,” she explained. That also means women don’t have as much social support and encouragement to achieve high levels of success at work. “For men, obviously there is increasing social support, and success is seen as something to strive for. Women are more likely to experience conflict.”
Another issue is the up-or-out eight-year partnership model in place at many firms. “There’s a conflict between the years you’re working harder than you’ve ever worked to make partner, and the years you are trying to start a family.”
She added, “I had a client once who said, ‘Opportunity precedes motivation.’ I think women need to see a path forward in order to stick to it. Because if you do soldier through, it’s an incredibly rewarding place to be.”
Developing Your Personal Style
Breslow encouraged junior women to seek out mentors to help visualize their own path forward. She also focused on the importance of projecting confidence at work. “That’s not to say you want to be glib or portray yourself as having skills you don’t have. But you want to ensure to partners and clients that the confidence they have in you is worthy of the responsibilities you’ve been handed.”
She continued, “The other piece is finding your personal style, and not spending time conquering all of your weaknesses. What I mean is, in the end, your own package of strengths and managed weaknesses is going to be what helps you advance.”
For example, she suggested, a tennis player may have terrible penmanship. But that doesn’t mean she should spend hours improving her handwriting in lieu of practicing her serve.
“When you think about lawyers, there are going to be people who are good at developing clients and there are going to be people who are good at servicing clients. There are going to be people who are very detail oriented and there are people who have great analytical skills. You need to figure out who you are and work with that.”
“I think that’s a place where the lack of female role models is difficult for women – you may not see the person in whom you can see yourself.” She encouraged senior women to actively serve as mentors. “Younger women are looking for someone to help shape their career path. We need to be those people.”
Breslow says Schulte Roth & Zabel has a number of programs in place to help advance and retain women. “We also have an informal culture of support,” she said.
In Her Personal Time
Breslow stays busy outside of work. In addition to being active in Democratic politics, she is on the Board of 100 Women in Hedge Funds, a trustee of the Joyce Theater Foundation, and a supporter of Planned Parenthood.
“If you want to be successful on a business level, bring forward the things that actually interest you,” she said. “Sharing your beliefs is a natural way to interact with people. I do them because I love them, but it also becomes a way to connect with others.”