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Cathy Ward, Claudia Huntington and Darcy Kopcho – The Capital Group Companies: Building a Life Portfolio

Cathy Ward, Claudia Huntington, Darcy KopchoOnce upon a time, three young women graduated from California colleges ready to conquer the world. Armed with each of their respective degrees — religious studies, English and economics — these women took their first career steps.

One went to law school and quit after six weeks. One took a job with a California investment firm. The other, after some proactive networking, landed a job with an energy company.

Over the next couple of decades, the lives of these women unfolded like many others across the globe. They got married, changed jobs, had children, went back to school, juggled the demands and emotions of working mothers, had good days and bad days, gained traction in their field and, finally, settled into careers with a company that felt right to them — both personally and professionally.

It is at this organization that their stories intersect. These three women — Cathy Ward, Claudia Huntington and Darcy Kopcho — are all successful business leaders with The Capital Group Companies, one of the nation’s largest investment management companies with 19 offices worldwide and 9,000 associates.

While each woman has a different job, the bottom-line goal is the same: Help investors make the most of their money so they can send their kids to college, enjoy life’s pleasures, retire in comfort, and give back to the community. Over the years, as they performed their roles as portfolio counselors, presidents and vice presidents of the company’s varying funds, Ward, Huntington and Kopcho found themselves part of a corporate culture that embraced women professionals.

At the Capital Group, there were less corporate ladders and narrow career paths. The women were encouraged to pursue their passions and strengths and let go of the areas for which they were not suited. What’s more, the Capital Group gave each woman space in her career to excel in her personal life — whether it was raising a family or pursuing outside interests or both. The result: three women with successful and varied investment careers who are all still married to their first husbands, have grown children and have given back to their communities in meaningful ways.

Late in fall 2007, the Forté Foundation caught up with these three women from the Capital Group to find out the secrets to their success, the wisdom in their failures and their advice on navigating the capital marketplace as a young career woman. The result: a fun, spirited conversation between three bright, accomplished women who share their stories, warts and all.

Darcy: First, we want you to know we had a hard time deciding who should be interviewed. There are many other women in leadership positions at the Capital Group who could have told their own unique and compelling success stories. We’re just three of the 9,000-plus associates who help make this place work.

Forté Foundation: Tell us about your first job and how you got it.

Cathy: (Graduated from University of Southern California with an English degree.) I actually went to law school for about six weeks after I graduated from college. I made the decision very early on that I was never going to make it out of law school and clearly didn’t like it. So I was steered toward a recruiter who said: “There’s a company I really think you’ll like. It is a wonderful place, and whatever job they offer you, take it.” So she sent me over to interview for a job for which I was not qualified. The firm offered me a job working in a transfer agency. But because I hated to type, I didn’t take it. Three weeks later, I was fortunate enough that they called me back to interview in the office of the president of the company for a job as an assistant to the president’s secretary. The president at the time was Jon Lovelace, whose father started Capital Research and Management Company. This time I was smart, and I took it.

So, I had an absolutely remarkable beginning here at Capital — being exposed to a man like Jon and his assistant and secretary, who were remarkable people. A lot of what you’ll hear about Capital from the three of us today comes directly from Jon. I did all kinds of different things in that office — everything from helping him with statistical reports to typing (unfortunately!) a lot of market studies that he researched. As a result, I had a very basic entry into the world of finance coming out of an English degree and a history minor background. I had no business education, and — to the strength of this organization — it found a way to leverage the things that I was good at over the years. That was my first job out of college, and my first day was May 16, 1969.

Claudia: (Graduated from Stanford University with an Economics degree; MBA from Harvard University) When I graduated with my economics degree, all I wanted was a real job that had some potential. So I snagged interviews in San Francisco with anyone who would talk to me. The surprise in the interviews was that the first thing most of them asked was: Why do you want to work here? And I really didn’t have an answer. My real answer was: I just want a decent job.

So in 1973, I was hired as an assistant economist with American Express Investment Management Co. in San Francisco. The company was involved in the investment business on the buy side, which, of course, is what Capital does.

I was extremely lucky because — while that firm was not successful — the asset management side was ultimately taken over by Capital two years later. Before that happened, I saw people being fired all around me. It was pretty devastating seeing these people — for the most part men with families and wives and kids — laid off. That was a real eye opener.

Darcy: (Graduated from University of California at Santa Barbara with a Religious Studies degree; MBA University of California at Irvine) While I was at UC Irvine, I was the student representative in the executive program. And I knew exactly what I was going to do: work in alternative energy technology. This was back in 1980 — the peak of the oil business, which is rather ironic, actually, because we may be there again. I wanted to work in a solar or cogeneration firm, and one of the companies in the executive program was Baker International. Baker had been highlighted in Fortune magazine as having provided the highest return to investors in the 1970s. The Baker executive in the program mentioned that Baker was seeking acquisitions in solar and cogeneration. I discussed this with my advisor who gave me a kick in the pants and said: “Go talk to him.”

So as we left class one evening, I ran after him to his car and convinced him to agree to an interview. When it was over, he turned me down.

Later, I found out that my father-in-law played golf with someone from Baker. I persuaded him to get me another meeting at Baker.

I ended up interviewing with a man named Joe Shelton who was in charge of mergers and acquisitions at Baker International. He called me back later and said: “I just don’t think you’re right for the job. You don’t have an engineering degree. This is a technical business.”

So I wrote him a three-page letter about how I would approach the job. I kept calling him. When I finally reached him, I said “I haven’t heard back from you. I sent you that letter. And he said: “Oh, for heaven’s sake come in. I’ll hire you.” And that’s how I got my first job as a research analyst. Basically I was the grunt working on acquisitions for the company. That’s how I learned what I do here at Capital, look at companies and gauge their value.

It turns out Joe was on the board of Investment Company of America, one of the American Funds managed by Capital Research and Management Company, and six years later he introduced me to the Capital Group. So my bottom line is: Be persistent if you know what you want.

Forté: How did you end up at The Capital Group Companies?

Claudia: I was with American Express Investment management in San Francisco for two years. When Capital acquired the asset management side of that business in 1975 they invited a few of us — not many — down to Los Angeles. At that time, I had planned to go back to business school and had been accepted at Stanford.

Meanwhile, though, one of the economists at Capital was very well known and one of my very favorite business economists. I thought, perhaps a bit cavalierly, “I’ll go work with this guy as assistant economist and then I can go to business school later.” After two years, I decided that I loved economics but I didn’t want to be an economist anymore. While I could have approached Capital to see about moving from assistant economist to analyst, I felt it was important to get more background in business, as well as, frankly, put myself on the same level of my male colleagues nearly all of whom had MBAs. Remember this was a time when there were very, very few women in this business. It also felt important to make a clean break with Capital, rather than try to arrange for a leave of absence, because it wasn’t totally clear to me that the investment businesses was where I ultimately wanted to wind up.

Business school convinced me that my nature was suited to this business, and in that case Capital was by far and away the only place I’d want to work. And I was fortunate to be invited back.

Darcy: The oil industry collapsed between 1980 and 1986, so I actually joined Baker right at the peak, and I survived maybe because I scrambled to do anything they wanted me to do. In 1986, the company was moving to Houston, and I had my family out here in California. That’s when Joe Shelton introduced me to the Capital Group. He said: “You know there’s this little investment company in downtown Los Angeles. They’re not very well known, but I think you should interview with them.” I did and was offered a position as an analyst, which I turned down at the time. About a year later, Jon Lovelace asked if I would join Capital and work with him as a research/executive assistant.

So Cathy Ward, who is sitting next to me right now, Jon Lovelace and I went to a baseball game together at Dodgers Stadium. They interviewed me at the baseball game, and I got an offer to join Capital as Jon’s research/executive assistant. This time I accepted.

Forté: Can you talk about your most meaningful promotion?

Claudia: A notion of a promotion is kind of foreign to us. At Capital, the culture is all about having a great passion for what you do. People at Capital have multiple sets of abilities, some overlapping, some separate. And if we’re able to channel our talents in a way in that our capabilities are best used, well, that, to most of us, would define success. The three of us happen to be on investment side of the company so we have clear measures of success. But promotion is way down the list. I don’t even use that word.

Success here is measured by the fact that we have the respect of our peers, that we have contributed a great deal to Capital and either directly or indirectly to the investors or shareholders whose money we manage.

Cathy: I’ve always–not very jokingly — said that any title that one gets at Capital is generally in recognition of something you’ve already been doing. Titles around here are largely and generally ignored. It really doesn’t define who we are. If I leave tomorrow, what I do will probably be split up and given to 12 different people. Capital isn’t the type of organization that has defined positions with titles that then get filled. I’m doing what I do today because I’m good at certain things, and during my time here, the Capital Group made those areas my responsibility. So it’s a funny kind of place that way. It is lovely to work in a place like that. You rarely have to worry about stepping on people’s toes. I love Capital.

Forté: So what are some examples of your strengths and weaknesses?

Cathy: When responsibilities and jobs don’t feel right to me, I’ve given them up. For example, I’m good with people, but I’m not a good day-to-day supervisor on a micro-level. I gave up responsibility of a department of several people probably 25 years ago because following up daily to make sure everybody was doing exactly what they should be doing…well, that’s not me. I’m much better at helping people on a broader basis. So ultimately I have responsibility for a larger department, but basically interface with the senior managers who are really responsible for the day-to -day functioning. And that works really well. I can focus on broader issues.

Claudia: It’s probably important to note that we’re on the buy-side of the finance industry,which is different from the sell-side, in which success is measured by promotions. Success is measured a bit differently on the buy side.

That said, historically I’ve been pretty good at listening, which has helped me better understand my investments, the people who manage the companies I would invest in for our shareholders and my colleagues. It lends perspective to situations in which — if I wasn’t as good a listener — I would probably miss. Early on I had a responsibility as a research director, and I think I had mixed success there. I think I brought some very good people into the organization and made some mistakes as well. I found I was not terribly interested in or suited for managing large groups of people.

Darcy: I love the investing part of this business. I also love people management. It’s more of a talent management role. I’m not a type-A sort of person so I do fairly well at the ‘herding cats’ part of the role.

You might hear some hesitation on our part to promote ourselves. All of us at Capital, men and women alike, are hesitant to boast. This is just a really tough business, and we’re wrong a lot. So the holding back is not because we’re women, but more about the culture.

Claudia: This is a business in which humility is taught us every day.

Forté: Give us a 60-second elevator speech about why young women should consider a career in the investment industry. Also, what is a typical career path?

Cathy: It’s never boring. It keeps stretching you. And if you do a good job over a long period of time of taking care of client and shareholder money, it is a financially rewarding business to be in and psychically rewarding. And gratifying. This is real people’s money we’re managing. I mean my folks are in the fund, and my kids are in the funds.

Claudia: And there is an element — although it’s not perfect — of being able to control your own destiny more so than many other organizations. Think of your career as a marathon not a sprint. If you think of it as a marathon, it is the kind of company in which you have some really good years, but if you have some years because of kids or families that you’re at 80 percent of capacity, it’s OK. Don’t wreck yourself so that 10 years down the line you basically have to quit because you pushed yourself so hard you haven’t maintained balance in your life. This business and this company allows you to do that.

Darcy: There is really no typical career path here. Your background doesn’t have to be in the financial sector. In fact, the big surprise is that expertise in almost any other industry is valuable in the investment world. For example, I came out of the oil service business. We hire people out of the pharmaceutical industry, the mining industry and more. That can be a great background for an analyst, or even a portfolio counselor and portfolio manager.

Claudia: Often it’s better not to come straight from an investment background, because taking a different approach to looking at a business — a creative, free-thinking approach — is often much better than to modeling it perfectly.

This definitely is an industry in which you can make a difference. The vast majority of us have our kids, our spouses, our friends, and in-laws invested in the funds. So we’re not just investing the money of millions of people we’ve never met. All of us feel a strong sense that we are doing the right and fairly conservative thing helping shareholders in a way that benefits them for the long haul — having money for college and retirement. It’s in our DNA.

The other point is this: There are two ways to do good in the world: One is to get involved directly in doing good for others and, as corny as it sounds, what we do at Capital is for the benefit of our clients and shareholders. So, we are trying to spend our working days helping our investors improve their financial wealth over the long term. The other way of doing good, is through participation in projects or organizations that are designed to help others via non-profit methods. A career at Capital has allowed a number of us to participate either through volunteering time or contributing financially — or both.

Forté: What advice do you have for working women on maintaining balance in their lives?

Cathy: My daughters are both in their 30s and both have kids of their own. But when my girls were little, and I was working as Jon’s assistant (my first 15 years at Capital), I could count on one hand the times I was bothered at home by a call from Jon. There was always an emphasis on not intruding on your personal life. There was an emphasis on what was important for your family. Capital feels that, in the long run, you are more effective when you aren’t worried about your family. And I don’t care what anyone says: Balance is important. You have to have it, and all three of us on this call have children and are still with the same person we married.

Darcy: Take all your vacations. I always have. Stay home on the weekends. Don’t travel over the weekends. It is really, really important to take care of your family. And take the time every company affords you to make that balance in your life.

Claudia: Our second child just went off to college, so both our kids are in college, and my husband works full-time. The hardest time for me for balance was when I had two little kids at home. I was research director, portfolio counselor and analyst, and that was too much for me. It was really, really hard. Even at Capital. The only thing that pulled me through, to be honest, was the fact that my husband didn’t have to travel and was very supportive of what I was doing. If you really listen to your family, you’ll recognize a point at which you should not be away from home anymore than you already are. You learn that the hard way. You’ll just know when you’re gone too much.

For most of us, the hardest thing in the world is to say: “OK, I am going to be an 80 percent mom, 80 percent wife and 80 percent employee. I’m going to do my best, and I’m going to keep the long term in mind and know that it’s not always going to be this hard to balance.” You just motor out of it as your kids get older. But to say that there are not tough times, particularly when you have both spouses working and little kids is wrong. It’s tough no matter how you handle it. But the message is: Keep your eye on the long run and know that it’s not going to be this tough forever and if you have to say no to something, say no to something. If you have to do something so that your family knows that they are your first priority, then you need to do it.

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One Response to “Cathy Ward, Claudia Huntington and Darcy Kopcho – The Capital Group Companies: Building a Life Portfolio”

  1. Travis Cox

    I recently left the Capital Group after 19 years with the company. The three ladies profiled here were such an asset to the company. In large part because of them, so many people the world over are living out their dream retirement, sending their kids to college…and are able to afford so many other things they want to do.

    Any young lady starting out in the business world today would do well in reading this article.

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