Mary Strother, Managing Director of Investor Relations at Athenian Venture Partners, has built a successful career out of leveraging her differences.
She explained that if your background varies somewhat from the more traditional CVs in your industry, you’ll have skills others don’t necessarily have. The key is to consider your unique qualities as assets. “I mentor some young college women from time to time, and I took one to dinner recently – she was graduating in accounting and beginning to interview for jobs, but she was worried she didn’t have the same qualifications as some of the more typical accounting grads. I felt the same way going into finance early in my career,” she explained.
“Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides. Be bold and focus on what it is you can do. The key is to really practice communicating why your background matters,” she added.
Career in Investor Relations
Strother said that even though she came from a creative background, she knew she was destined for a career in finance. After graduating from the University of Mississippi (“Ole Miss”) with a degree in International Politics and English Literature, followed by law school, some time off in Aspen working on her skiing and mountain biking skills, and then an MBA from the University of New Orleans, she began her career working for a large, publicly-traded multi-bank holding company. After starting out in a number-crunching analyst role, “I later realized I was a natural in investor relations, marketing, and sales.”
She progressed to working for a Fortune 100 company, marketing to institutional clients, and then shifted to a sales role. “In business school, I thought ‘sales’ was spelled with four letters” she said with laugh. “But in learning to sell as a professional discipline, I enjoyed the creative freedom… and the quintupled income didn’t hurt!”
As Strother’s career grew, she marked new achievements, like significantly broadening the scope of her company’s client base nationally and internationally. “The experience has been a nice ride,” she said. “I have a passion for the ability to market and sell and fundraise.”
“I think I’m proudest of my ability in building fundraising and investor relations programs, and therefore my ability to build new client bases as well, in companies where there were none previously, or if they were struggling or nascent,” she continued. “I think it boils down to being bold no matter what, and developing a pretty thick skin.”
Strother says she wishes she had delved into private equity sooner. It would have provided more investment options for her clients, for one thing, she explained. “Representing public equities and fixed income was also interesting and I similarly drew a great deal of passion from that work. But in private equity, I draw a great deal of passion from the fascinating world-changing technologies involved, and also the interesting structures of private equity deals, and working with successful entrepreneurs. Passion, in my view, breeds success.”
Today she is working in alternative investments focusing on venture capital and private equity at Athenian Venture Partners. “The team I work with is amazing. We’re experienced operators at handling IPOs, M&A, recapitalizations, and partial sales, with cross-market knowledge and deal experience between California, Massachusetts, and the middle of country. I market to sophisticated institutional LPs – pension funds, endowments & foundations, fund of funds, and family offices – coast to coast and internationally.”
She continued, “2012 was good to Athenian. We had three exits and two additional liquidity events, and looking ahead two years, we also have a bright future.”
Diversity in Alternative Investments
A strong proponent of diversity in the alternative investment space, Strother believes that the industry would benefit by expanding access to capital for emerging managers. “That could mean women or minority managers, or managers with less than $500 million in assets under management, or other criteria,” she explained.
She also believes in the strength of smaller firms. “Some of the more interesting research shows an inverse correlation between size and returns,” she remarked. “Small is beautiful.”
She also encouraged more women to network with other women in the industry. “I think sometimes women don’t realize the tremendous advantages to seeking out other women. That reticence to network with women can be a barrier to success, particularly in a male dominated industry.”
“I’ve had the privilege to work with some of the brightest female minds in the industry,” she continued. “Leveraging our strengths makes us so much more effective.”
Strother is a member of PE WIN, an “intimate forum for women general partners, limited partners, and private equity professionals.”
“We network, share investment ideas, and explore potential opportunities to work with one another,” she added.
In Her Personal Time
Strother is a member of several boards and works with others to raise funds for early stage tech startups. “It’s interesting to work with a group of angels on the other side of the table,” she explained. Her volunteer board interests include the arts, animal welfare, and education. “I enjoy building relationships with fascinating people.”
An avid traveler, she continued, “I think that being thrown into cultures improves your ability to problem solve and collaborate, and that has been an asset to my career.”
Also a licensed pilot, she exclaimed, “There are not many women in the cockpit!” Strother’s fascination with flying was the result of her father’s career in aviation, as well as her great aunt’s. “My great aunt Dora Strother, who was the first woman to fly the B29 bomber, is 91 now and quite a lady,” she added. “She also has a PhD in aviation education and psychology from NYU (’58), master’s from UIL Urbana-Champaign (’53), and undergrad from Northwestern (’49), all of the above being most unusual for women back in that era! And some of it still is!”