You can’t plan every detail of your career, says Jennifer Signori.
“When I first started, I thought I had my future all mapped out, but you realize over time that there will be twists and turns, and you sometimes have to take a step back to make a leap forward,” she says. And many times, that might entail finding yourself working in an industry that didn’t even exist five years prior, so the ability to be open-minded and flexible is crucial. Case in point….impact investing.
Finding Opportunities at the Forefront of a New Industry
Signori began her career in investment banking at J.P. Morgan right out of university. For her, it was the ideal place to start a career, as she was able to learn an important set of fundamental training and tools, from credit analysis to financial modeling, which subsequently opened up opportunities down the road.
She decided she wanted to apply those skills to impact investing—which wasn’t even yet a well-known concept at the time, so she had the chance to get involved early in the days of the industry. She held a director role at Bridges Fund Management, where she played a key role in establishing its U.S. presence, including new fund development and executing due diligence of growth equity, real estate and social impact bond investments. In 2017, she came to Neuberger Berman to pursue a unique opportunity to deepen and broaden the firm’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing capabilities and to drive innovation in impact investing on an institutional platform across asset classes.
This challenge is the professional achievement she is most proud of so far, as she takes specialized knowledge of this industry, which had been largely niche to date, and to help it grow as it becomes more mainstream. She is working on developing and investing a private equity impact investing strategy, which she sees as an exciting next step of her career.
“To bring ESG and impact investing to mainstream markets and striving to generate positive social and environmental impacts is an exciting convergence of trends, where we are taking a market opportunity and combining it with clients’ growing interest in these areas,” Signori says. “It is exciting to try to solve for challenges facing society, while delivering unique solutions for our clients.”
Her team works with different parts of the firm including the Big Data team to harness all types of data and to make sense of it for investment decision-making. “We are seeing disciplines and subject matters that haven’t historically come together, and it allows us to bring a different perspective to deliver great results for our clients,” Signori says.
Helping Develop the Industry for Women
While Signori finds increased awareness of the need for opportunities for women, she believes that first, they need a seat at the table, which can be spurred through a greater understanding of the gaps that can discourage or hinder women. “Senior leadership of companies are increasingly becoming aware of this and focused on improving—not just for the sake of having a woman fill a position, but by making sure that women are armed with the experience and skills that will allow them to succeed once they arrive there.”
She encourages other women to help each other out by advocating for one another, adding that she’s been fortunate to work with women who were equally committed to collaborative relationships.
That advocacy can come from within or outside of the firm. Signori cites one memorable incident that took place when she had organized a series of women’s networking events at a former employer as an analyst early in her career. A fellow co-chair of the group emailed her manager, praising the events and her contribution. “It was an unexpected gesture that went a long way, and I still kept in touch with her as a friend and colleague; interestingly enough, we both ended up in impact investing.”
Having someone vouch for your credibility like that is crucial for career success. In fact, when Signori talks to younger women interested in the investment management or impact investing field, she always encourages them to first display excellent work skills, and back those with a strong work ethic, curiosity, and a focus on building strong relationships. “Your reputation will precede you if you’re working hard and delivering results,” she says.
Currently expecting her first child, Signori describes it as a bit of a nerve-wracking adventure she’s embarking on, but incredibly exciting. She still intends for her career to play a major role in her life, but she realizes there will be inevitable challenges involved in managing new responsibilities. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many of my colleagues at the firm have stopped by my office to offer support and share their experiences, both men and women,” she says. An avid traveler who has visited more than 50 countries, she hopes to continue exploring in that aspect of her life as well.