Ex-State Treasurer Cowell Named CEO of Girls Who Invest

  • CEO will focus on expansion, broadening use of technology
  • Trump policies throw up roadblack for international students

North Carolina’s former state treasurer was named chief executive officer of Girls Who Invest, the nonprofit that’s sent recruits to Blackstone Group LP, Carlyle Group LP and other big investment firms.

Janet Cowell is replacing Kathleen Powers Dunlap, who is retiring, founder Seema Hingorani said in an interview. Cowell, a former Raleigh city council member and state lawmaker, became the first woman elected as North Carolina’s treasurer in 2008. She served two terms and left office last year.

“Janet will take us to the next level,” said Hingorani, a hedge fund investor and former chief investment officer of New York City’s $160 billion pension system. “She knows and sees the issues the way I did. We would always talk about how there were no women on investment teams at so many of the firms that managed the pension fund money.”

Hingorani started Girls Who Invest in 2015 to increase the number of women in asset management. The group’s goals include having 30 percent of the world’s investable capital managed by women by 2030 and getting every U.S. high school to offer an investing club.

Since 2016, Girls Who Invest has hosted free 10-week summer programs taught by college professors for undergraduate women before they’re placed in paid internships with investment firms. Thirty women were accepted to the first year’s program, followed by 60 last year and 100 for 2018, Hingorani said. The organization also offers continuing education online through Coursera and the CFA Institute.

Goldman, Oaktree

Firms taking the interns include Blackstone, Carlyle, Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Oaktree Capital Group LLC, Vista Equity Partners, T Rowe Price Group Inc. and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, among others.

“It’s a great talent source for us,” said Kristen Williams, Blackstone’s global head of recruiting. “The women are smart, they’re passionate, and they’re go-getters. Whether we hire them now or a few years from now, I see this as a long-term relationship and investment for Blackstone.”

Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, is a founding partner of Girls Who Invest and its chairman, Peter Grauer, is a non-executive director at Blackstone.

Cowell, who began advising Hingorani last year on the group’s expansion, said she was drawn to the full-time role because it combines her interests in education, technology and finance as a portal for personal empowerment and social change.

Immigration Roadblock

“I’m still very mission-oriented,” Cowell, 49, said in an interview. “I have a service gene. My dad was a Methodist minister and my mother was a school teacher. When I left public office I didn’t want my service to end.”

She plans to ensure the organization’s existing model works, while managing the expansion of the in-residence program at the University of Pennsylvania to the University of Notre Dame this summer. She will also oversee strategic planning for a West Coast or international location, she said.

President Donald Trump’s immigration policies have put up a roadblock to international growth, Hingorani said. Girls Who Invest accepted fewer international students in 2017 than in the previous year because several women struggled to obtain work visas, she said.

“That is so sad to me,” Hingorani said. “There are women graduating in 2018 and firms won’t even interview them. And these are rock-star women.”

Top-Paid List

Across the 10 biggest private equity firms, women accounted for an average of 10.9 percent of senior managers in 2015, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Across alternative asset classes -- private equity, venture capital, hedge funds, real estate, infrastructure, energy and credit -- one in every 10 senior professionals is a woman, according to researcher Preqin Ltd.

“Why shouldn’t there be more than just one woman on the lists of the 50 top-paid hedge fund managers in the world?” Hingorani said. “We’re focused on changing that.”

Hingorani also formed SevenStep Capital last year to help women- and minority-led hedge funds get off the ground. The firm, a joint venture with asset manager Permanens Capital, is seeking $500 million to seed five to seven new hedge funds, people with knowledge of the matter said last year.

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