Rising Stars Series: Interview with Ani M. Vartanian, VP of Rockwood Capital

Contributed by Heather Cassell

What a fascinating and dramatic world we live in, at least from Ani M. Vartanian’s perspective. With the credit crunch, Bear Stearns crumbling, foreclosure crisis, historical election year, political scandals, and the year hasn’t even hit the halfway mark yet.

“It’s better than reality TV,” said Vartanian, 32, vice president of the acquisition and asset management team of Rockwood Capital, a $6.2 billion private real estate investment company.

Vartanian likes to keep her finger on the pulse of the intersections between politics, business, and public policy, which has helped her rapidly climb the investment real estate ladder.

The San Francisco Bay Area native had her eyes set on a career in media and entertainment after graduating from Stanford University with a B.A. in public policy and political science and an MBA from Harvard Business School, but in a strategic move she found herself in finance. That was more than 10 years ago and she hasn’t looked back.

She now manages a $400 million portfolio of commercial properties and some apartment complexes throughout the United States, but she said she manages primarily an institutional fund, a mutual fund that targets high net worth entities and individuals, out of the firm’s San Francisco office.

The real estate investment firm also has offices in Los Angeles, and White Plains, New York.

Vartanian started her career at Goldman Sachs where she worked in the company’s municipal finance and fixed income sales and trading groups. Within a year and a half, Vartanian increased the financial firm’s market capitalization by $2 billion. At Goldman Sachs, she was introduced to real estate and fell in love.

Vartanian is attracted to real estate investment because the qualities in that industry that build on the foundation of her interests in public policy and business. She is drawn to real estate because it include a “creative component” and a “physical nature” of the hard asset that impacts people’s lives. These qualities keep her in the industry even through the rough patches.

You don’t run into very many women in the real estate investment arm of the financial industry, according to Vartanian, who believes that the requirements of the job can be “quite rigorous,” and can involve frequent travel.

“I would love to see more women in the industry,” said Vartanian, who said there are fewer women in acquisitions, funds, and portfolio management. She believes that more women entering real estate investing as a career option would “benefit the industry.”

Vartanian believes the key to her success is that she enjoys her career.

“You’ve got to enjoy what you do,” said Vartanian. “If you enjoy what you do you will naturally succeed. People will see that and they will naturally follow you.”

But it’s more than enjoying what she does that makes her successful in a field where there are few women. Vartanian is smart and strategic. She moved on from Goldman Sachs in New York to Transwestern Investment Company, a private equity real estate firm in Chicago, before returning to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she grew up, at Rockwood Capital.

No matter how much pleasure she takes in her work, she finds time to play. Vartanian said her greatest escapes from work are getting outdoors to ski in the winter and surf in the summer as well as hang out with her friends. Currently, she is taking kiteboarding lessons.

“I’m pretty happy,” said Vartanian about where she is at this point in her career and life.