Voice of Experience: Lisa Ferraro, Managing Director, TIAA-CREF

This week we are profiling amazing women in investment management ahead of our annual career panel event on the 5th November for women in the industry who want to make it to the top.

lisa_ferraroBy Michelle Hendelman

According to Lisa Ferraro, much has changed for women in finance over the past three decades as she has worked her way up from an Associate to a Managing Director. “I don’t view my success as a zero-sum game for an individual contributor anymore, and I’ve learned that people who are successful in their industries are interested in diversity and inclusion to help others and their businesses grow,” she said.

As the Portfolio Manager, Energy and Infrastructure in Global Private Markets at TIAA-CREF, Lisa Ferraro oversees a $2.2 billion private equity portfolio which is invested in oil and gas production as well as renewable energy projects. Ferraro comes from a family of entrepreneurs and has always had a keen interest in how businesses successfully operate. “Having curiosity about the fundamentals of the companies I invest in and respect for developers that are trying create value has guided how I built my career,” said Ferraro, who holds a B.S. in Economics from The University of Pennsylvania Wharton School with a dual degree in Marketing and Entrepreneurial Management. “I read financial statements, and projections like a book, to see what story they tell about the company and management team. I get tremendous satisfaction from helping companies grow, which makes me a valuable private equity partner.”

Career at TIAA-CREF

Ferraro worked as an Associate at Prudential while earning her MBA in Finance at New York University’s Stern School of Business. In 1998, she joined the project finance team at TIAA-CREF originating and structuring debt for new construction power plants. She has held a variety of different financial positions, including several on the public investment side. “Although I have worked in public markets, I prefer to have more direct contact with the people who run the companies in which we invest,” said Ferraro. “My experience with many different facets of the energy industry helps me to provide value when I serve on the Board of Directors of these companies.”

In 2007, Ferraro moved into the private equity sector to expand TIAA-CREFs investments in real assets and commodities. According to Ferraro, one of her proudest moments came in 2009 when she completed the purchase of a public Canadian oil and gas company oil and gas company. “It has been difficult at times, but because TIAA is a 100% owner, I serve as the CEO and sit on the Board along with several of my team members. I’ve had a front row seat in turning the company around and making it more profitable. This experience has given me credibility within the industry and opportunities to invest in energy alongside some of the best people in the industry,” explained Ferraro.

Currently, Ferraro is most interested in the technological changes occurring in the energy industry which have created large new production volumes. “The United States is on the path to becoming energy independent. This is important as it can create new jobs,” said Ferraro. She noted that in her role she is focused on all types of energy, including wind and solar transactions. “Energy products pervade almost every aspect of everyday life, and that makes this a fantastic industry to master.”

Advice for Women in Asset Management

Ferraro emphasized the importance of networking and learning from your colleagues as two important vehicles of career advancement. “Rely on your networks and look at every person you work with as offering an opportunity to grow and learn,” said Ferraro. “Great co-workers are important and I am lucky to work with a talented team at TIAA, where the collegial environment and cohesive sense of mission really energizes everyone,” she added.

It is important for women to be recognized for their contributions, said Ferraro, but she advised against creating a “me versus them” environment at work. “There is a lot of external competition in this space, so we don’t need it internally,” said Ferraro, “and it is much more important to look at the bigger picture and identify how people can contribute and complement each other to achieve new goals.”

Technical expertise is critical as you are establishing your career, but Ferraro added that as you advance, creativity is extremely important and will help you stand out from the crowd. “When you reach the senior level of your organization, you can begin to have a lot of input and influence on key decisions of the companies you invest in, and that is incredibly rewarding,” she said.

According to Ferraro, three factors will contribute to your success and career advancement. She advised, “Know your role, know your area, and know about yourself and what makes you happy. If you can do this while going in the direction of your organization, you will be successful.”

There is one aspect of working in asset management that Ferraro noted is the most important ingredient to success in the industry. “Integrity and respect come before everything else,” said Ferraro. “You have to develop strong relationships and establish solid credibility in order for people to want to work with you.”

Outside the Office

Ferraro has the opportunity to travel a lot for work and revisits the places she really enjoys. She likes to support environment and animal causes. Lisa also devotes a lot of her time to her ten year old son, “No matter what is going on, he makes everything I do worthwhile.”