CEO and Co-Founder
Jane Buchan, CEO and Co-Founder of Pacific Alternative Asset Management Company, has had a great deal of experience being exceptional. A self-described intellectual rebel with a gift for math, Buchan was an all-star high jumper at Yale who then went on to compete in the 1988 Olympic trials. She didn’t make the team, but that was fine with her.
“I was the only one who was working forty hours a week as well as training full-time,” Buchan said when I sat down with her earlier this year. “I knew that I had to choose between track and field and finance, so I picked finance.”
Given the incredible success of her career and the stellar reputation of PAAMCO, it seems Buchan made the right choice.
“The best piece of advice I ever received was from a grad school professor,” Buchan recalled. “He said, ‘Learn as much as you can in your 20s. Work really, really hard in your 30s. And reap the rewards in your 40s.’”
With a Masters and Ph.D. from Harvard in Business Economics, Buchan clearly took her professor’s advice to heart. She, too, encourages those she mentors to prioritize education early on in their careers.
“Often people in their mid to late 20s get over-infatuated with titles. They don’t put themselves in the job where they are going to learn more, and that will limit the development of their careers,” she cautioned.
Her advice for women looking to follow in her footsteps?
“When I was doing my technical finance training in graduate school there were 40 people in the class and I was the only woman,” Buchan said. “I’ve been in many environments like that at both school and work. The best thing to do is accept that it can be awkward sometimes, but never let that stop you from pushing forward and competing for what you want.”
Success through Diversity
Of PAAMCO’s 14 partners, 6 are women or underrepresented ethnic minorities, but Buchan resists putting too much emphasis on the company’s diverse makeup. She wants the numbers to speak for themselves. She explained, “We’ve got some of the stronger numbers in the industry, and part of our success is because the diversity of our team creates an active dialogue within senior leadership. And that results in a better business.”
Buchan continued, “The tone and tenor behind diversity comments are totally counter to my experience. Often it is assumed that women and ethnic minorities get certain jobs solely based on the diversity they bring to the table. I haven’t found that at all. It is so demoralizing when people think that the reason you’re there is not because you’re doing a better job but because you fill out the diversity box. Everyone should be judged only on fair standards and let the work prove you have the right to be there.”
May the Best Person Win
When it comes to hiring, PAAMCO prioritizes a broad and deep pool of candidates. “When we look to hire an investment manager, we want to be presented with people we would not normally come across. I think the real issue is having the opportunity to compete,” Buchan said.
“Women can compete very successfully once they have the chance to do so, but the main problem is getting into the mix.”
PAAMCO’s incoming associate class is approximately 40% women. “We are able to recruit incredible women from the top business schools because women are well-represented in senior leadership positions at PAAMCO,” she said. “Potential employees see that advancement within the company is possible.”
In 2008, Buchan and her husband gave the Reed Endowment $1 million. When I asked about her extraordinary donation, Buchan said, “I think it is very important to give back. I’ve been very lucky in life. I’ve worked really hard and I’ve done well. My husband and I sit down every year and for many years we have given close to 30% of our gross income to charity.”
Buchan continued, “I do my work because I like it. It is just who I am. I don’t do this work because I have to do it.”
Buchan’s dedication to the greater good, in both her public and private lives, is one of her most exceptional qualities.
The firm’s client base is largely made up of big pension plans. “Because our clients don’t have the money for high fees, we keep ours at a very reasonable level. Individuals choose to work at PAAMCO because they have a passion for doing high quality work that positively impacts regular people’s lives,” she said. “That is a passion which I share.”