Christie Hamilton on How Networking and Curiosity Powers Her Career

Although the asset management industry is predominantly controlled by older white men, Christie Hamilton is starting to make waves. She works as an investment director at Children's Health Investment Office in Dallas, Texas, and spoke with She Spends about how she got her start and her advice for young women in the field, along with how to juggle work while raising a young daughter.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

Tell me about how you came to work in asset management. 

It was actually an accident. So many of us have these grand five-year plans. I had mine all together and wanted to go into the trading side of the business and work on trading for funds. The easiest way into that was to work for Fidelity. I got into that and realized I wasn’t cut out for it. I eventually moved to Cambridge Associates, which is an investment consultant. I enjoyed working there but wanted to get my MBA, so I went to University of Texas, Austin. 

I randomly met up with my current chief investment officer, who was working at Children’s Health Investment Office. He shared that they were looking to hire, and it seemed like a great opportunity to work with a phenomenal mission. An opportunity to develop and grow a brand new investment office are incredibly rare. I had to take it. I know that my goal is to run my own fund and to become a CIO. I’ve been very flexible to get there.

What is the typical day in the life of an investment director? 

I walk in around 8 a.m. When I get in, I check Bloomberg and Institutional Investor to see what’s going on. I block my mornings off for internal projects. That’s one of the fun things about working for an institution. You get to see how the assets you manage affect a broad organization. Afternoons are when I schedule my portfolio manager meetings. I meet with or talk on the phone to current and prospective asset managers. In the evenings I read research from Preqin and [other] analysts.

What was it like to get an MBA? 

I got a lot of the presentation experience. I also got a lot of the soft skills. The MBA fills in the knowledge gaps. It lets you go out and see if there’s something out there that you like. It gave me a two-year safe space to talk to everybody who I possibly could. That’s the awesome thing: People look at you as a student. I can’t tell you how many really impressive investors and industry leaders were willing to talk to me because I emailed them with an .edu address. Getting in is the hardest part. I had my child while I was in business school, which was hard, but doable. In terms of getting in, if anybody is interested in it, you can learn about the culture of each school after doing a tour. The rankings are less important than somewhere that will support you. 

How do you continue to stay in touch with the connections you made when you were at business school? 

I hate networking. A lot of us do. It feels very fake. One of the things I get high marks for is that I’m curious about things. The way I could make networking more palatable would be to satiate my curiosity. It’s really interesting because it becomes a sharing of ideas with somebody, versus a hey, can you meet me? I love to reach out to people if something they wrote affected me. I’ve done that with a few CIOs now. I ask questions when I reach out because I find something interesting. With “networking,” it’s a lot easier if you remember that it’s a relationship and a two-way street.

What advice do you have for women looking to get into a male-dominated industry? 

I do notice that I’m frequently one of the very few women at conferences. We all see the men who mansplain things, and there are jerks in every industry. I want to encourage women to prove them wrong and rise above it. Don’t condone that behavior, but more than anything to not let it jade [young women]. I am very fortunate because half of my mentors are men. I would not trade them for anything. The vast majority of men in this space are respectful. They value the opinion and insights of women and it has nothing to do with gender. My boss is a great example of this. He’s super flexible with me about my daughter’s schedule.

The best insight I can give is to guard your energy — your physical and mental energy. When we are building our careers, moving forward to take over the world, we want to say yes to everything. I realized a few years ago that I couldn’t. I couldn’t have the career that I wanted. I’ve started being thoughtful about where I want my career to go and not joining things that I don’t have time for. If I guard that energy, I am so much more impactful on the things I say yes to. I work out, I meditate, and I guard that time. Moms say they don’t have time to work out. Every person needs that time to themselves. 

We’ve talked previously a bit about your divorce and money. Knowing what you know now, would you have approached marriage differently? 

What I learned is contrary to what most people do. I don’t want to partner with someone who I would not trust to merge our finances completely. It’s true with business too. So many marriages end because of issues with money.

The best thing I learned is that when I’m thinking about getting remarried, I won’t do that with someone who I don’t trust 100% with money. I’ve noticed that those irresponsibilities are indicative with other areas of your life. Nobody has time for that. 

What advice about money — and life — can you give to our readers? 

One of my favorite quotes is: “Manage the pennies and the dollars take care of themselves.” It’s absolutely true. If you can manage your budget and your finances at your starting salary, it will be that much easier when you start growing and asking for raises from there. 

I try to teach my daughter the same thing. She has a Pokémon bank. She doesn’t get everything that she wants. Even at almost four years old, she gets that things have a cost, as much as a four year old can. Set yourself up with those skills. Be curious. I know that’s easy to say from someone who is curious. I can’t tell you how many times that people outside of my industry helped me do my job better. Really focus on networking and building strong relationships with people in and out of your industry. Start young. Make a point of talking to strangers, getting good at it and learning. When you’re early in your career, you can be clueless and people will allow you to be so.

The last thing is something I alluded to before: Everybody says you need to have a five-year plan. Don’t listen to everybody. The best opportunities can come from anywhere. You don’t want to feel bad about deviating from your plan. 

--Alicia McElhaney, She Spends Issue 48

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