Reign FC Legend: Nancy Zevenbergen

The Legends Campaign, a partnership between Seattle Reign FC and Avanade, honors women for their extraordinary contributions in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Prior to our August 15 match against the Chicago Red Stars, Seattle Reign FC will recognize Nancy Zevenbergen as a Seattle Reign FC Legend.

Nancy Zevenbergen is the founder and President of Zevenbergen Capital Investments, LLC. After taking an interest in the stock market while she was a student at Sumner High School, Zevenbergen launched a successful career in the business world. Today, Zevenbergen Capital Investments manages just under $3 billion in assets.

Zevenbergen sits on the Board at the Seattle Pacific Foundation and the University of Washington Foster School of Business Advisory Board. During her college days at UW, Zevenbergen was a walk-on on the women’s basketball team. She became a soccer fan after two of her daughters grew up playing the sport, with both eventually playing collegiately at the Division-I level.

Q: How did you get into investment management? Is it something you’ve always been interested in?

A: I got the investment bug from my Sumner High School history teacher who ran a simulation of the market crash in 1929. It was a really fun experience. I was a business major at the University of Washington, and had the choice between finance, marketing, and accounting. By far, the finance courses were the most interesting to me. I was working part-time at Rainier Bank, and when there was an internal posting for an investment associate job, I applied. I was fortunate enough to get hired and become an analyst doing research.

The reason I picked it is because it’s an industry and approach that changes every single day. I get up in the morning and there’s news and events and companies changing and innovating, impacting stock prices and investments. It’s really a fun, fascinating industry.

Q: Can you describe the process of founding your own investment firm, and all the work that went into that?

A: When my husband and I were both in our twenties, I had worked at the bank for five years. He was working in construction and had started his own company. I came home and said, “I want to start my own company, too.” We just went for it. We were young and didn’t have a lot to lose. I thought I could offer a service that wasn’t out in the world. It allowed me to invest and use my investment policy 100%.

We went for it knowing I wouldn’t make any money for a number of years. Clients came, people referred business to me, and we got off and going. It was skinny in those first years, but it worked out. I have a client who literally came to my home and hired me from my kitchen table. Now, 30 years later, we manage just under $3 billion in assets, and I still like to get up every morning and go to work.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

A: My role for my clients is to create wealth and let people invest and participate in new companies. It’s rewarding when you’ve done that job and your clients can give back to the community. It’s rewarding to create capital that allows my clients to do good things with that money. It’s also rewarding to create a company where the work environment is awesome, where my teammates can thrive and be creative, and hopefully like to come to work every morning.

Q: What sort of lessons have you learned from your years of working in investment management?

A: When things are tough, whether in a sport or a business, if you believe in what you’re doing you just have to power through and keep going. Often you learn the most in a tough situation that hones your skills to be even better when you get to the other side.

Also, keep an open mind to possibilities. When the investment world is against a company and headline news are negative — take a look, it may mean opportunity. Watch the youth and how they travel, find entertainment, communicate, and shop. They are the future drivers to businesses.

Q: I read a Forbes article about you which mentions that you bet on entrepreneurs and not just ideas. What sort of things are you looking for in a person when you decide to invest in their company or idea?

A: We love it when a company is founder-led, when the individual who had the idea and got it off the ground is going with it. In our backyard there’s Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, the Nordstrom family, they’re founder-led businesses. If those founders have a vested interest in the outcome, that’s just wonderful. We like those companies that have significant founder interest and control through stock ownership, so that they are participating along with us with the hope of long term gains.

Q: Why is volunteering important to you, and how did you get started in community work?

A: I think any responsible individual — whether you give back to your community in dollars or time — we all need to do that. It’s a positive. For my business, that means giving back to the community so it’s a robust economic environment. Someone helped me out when I went to college through a scholarship, someone helped me out when I got my first job, so just giving back now is important. Education is an easy one. There are so many universities here. We want to promote women in finance, so establishing scholarships for that situation. I believe that education is important for total community economic health. We have to prepare young people for a world that, 20 years from now, is going to be very different in a job sense. I invest and give back because someone gave it to me, and I’m paying it back.

We have had a wonderful relationship with Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS), a foundation that assists in bringing graduate students to UW and WSU, helping to supply quality science graduates to our local biotech, tech and healthcare businesses. They are researching breakthrough technologies. In celebration of our 25th anniversary, we set up business scholarships at UW Foster School of Business, Washington State’s Carson College of Business, and Seattle University’s Albers School of Business to promote women in business.

Q: Do you have any experience with soccer? Did you play the sport growing up?

A: I was a walk-on for the UW women’s basketball team. I’m a sideline soccer person. I watched my kids for years. Two of my daughters played college soccer, at Yale and University of Washington. As an employer, I love when job candidates have experience in team sports because you learn so much about working together.

Q: What advice would you give to women entering the workforce, whether in the investment field or any other career path?

A: Look for an area that you want to work in and that allows you to wake up every day and be excited about. But also take the path less traveled. Go for the startup companies. You’re young, you have nothing to lose. You get so much more experience in a small company wearing a lot of hats. Whether it takes off or it doesn’t, the experience you get from that is going to come so much faster than going for a large, established company.