We need to figure out how to better help young parents balance their professional growth while they are taking on probably the most important job of their lives as moms and dads. This is at its most difficult when the kids are very young. For example, quality early childhood care options need to stay open later than five or six p.m. because no finance job ends at six (and parents still have to make it to the day care from their office). It is in these little moments that we are breaking the ambitions and career tracks of many people. As focused as I am on my professional ambitions, my kids’ wellbeing is absolutely primary to me, and will trump everything else. It would have been nice to have had an infrastructure to help with this, as I know I am not the only person who has struggled in this way.
As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Oksana Malysheva, an investor, entrepreneur and business executive based in Austin, TX. She is the Managing Partner/CEO of Sputnik ATX, an accelerator that funds maker-founders with ideas to create positive change. She is also the Managing Partner/President of Linden Venture Fund. Dr. Oksana Malysheva was born and raised in Soviet Union, Ukraine. Seeking educational opportunities, she moved to the United States with her husband and only $100 to their name. She earned her PhD in physics from the University of Pennsylvania, and soon after, pivoted her focus to business and marketing. Dr. Malysheva previously held top strategic roles at McKinsey and Motorola. Trained as a PhD physicist, Dr. Malysheva brings scientific inquisitiveness, lateral thinking and mastery of insight through data to all of her business endeavors.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
I was born and grew up in Ukraine (then part of Soviet Union), with the banking system in the most rudimentary state. So, for instance, when I was trying to pay $120 for my GRE exam, no one I knew had ever seen a check nor owned a checkbook. It actually seemed incredulous that by writing something on a piece of paper, someone would provide you with a service. So, it was both adventurous and educational to try to figure out this simple process that is taken here completely for granted.
When I got to the U.S. I was just blown away by the freedom that financial systems provide for people to simplify their lives and achieve their goals. It was thrilling, and I was an avid learner: banking account, credit score, credit cards, mutual funds. Little by little I figured it out, and I loved it. This was the beginning of my fascination with the industry, and foundational to my involvement with it. I tackled much more complex problems later as a consultant with McKinsey in New York office working, but it started with the very basics that many of us take for granted.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occured to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
In my life there is something amusing and interesting happening every day. But, let me go back in time to when I was a graduate student in Physics at the University of Pennsylvania, and science was the only world I knew.
Newly arrived to the U.S., I discovered capitalism and the world of business for the first time, and I learned about one of the most interesting jobs I had ever heard of: management consulting. It almost took my breath away. You mean to tell me that you could be in a room with the most influential executives of the world’s biggest companies helping them solve their most difficult problems? And they will pay you to do that? Sign me up.
There was but one problem: I did not have a shred of experience even remotely related to business, neither in my head nor on my resume. I realized this fact would make such a change kind of challenging. But a girl can dream, and a girl can learn. My solution was what a friend later nicknamed my “lunch time MBA”: every day while eating my sandwich I would read the Wall Street Journal. In the B section of the newspaper they had a daily company profile, and I would envision myself running that company. I would pretend I was that company’s CEO, and try to think ‘what would I do’. It started out a bit rough, but it was fun and I did this daily. It came in quite handy when I finally got to the interview that ultimately landed me in McKinsey’s New York office.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
As a venture capitalist investor and Managing Partner of an accelerator program, there are several projects I am involved with right now. At the core of them, my “why” is around empowering ordinary people to take control of their savings and investments and live their lives on their own terms. One of them, SaveDay, is a start-up making 401k plans easily available and accessible to people that work for small businesses. Not many people are aware that in our country, right now, more than 75% of folks that work for small businesses do not have access to 401K retirement options. This is a crisis, and SaveDay is racing at full speed to address it. They are bringing free and hassle-free 401k set up to employers with some of the best fee structures in the industry. I think the strength of our country is in its vast network of small businesses. It is high time the people that work for them have access to secure retirement.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Sputnik ATX is an Austin based start-up accelerator. We are focused on Texas companies. What makes us unique is that in addition to making an investment in your company, we are insisting you learn with us what it would take to nurture your start-up. Here is why: running a start-up is one of the most non-intuitive things you could ever tackle. I am convinced a lot of companies fail not because the idea was bad, but because the founders were not prepared, and did not have the right knowledge set, support or structure. There are many predictable and avoidable mistakes that start-up companies make, and we can help them avoid many of them. It makes the start-up stronger, and helps us to somewhat de-risk our investment. Everyone wins in the process.
Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
Three things are contributing: 1. Strength of talent pool: What we are seeing across the board is “Be so good they can’t ignore you” phenomena. There are several prominent women leaders in the C Suites of the big financial institutions that moved up through the ranks. The talent, skills and ambition of the young women coming up the ranks are unparalleled, and impossible to ignore. 2. Emotional belief: Strength of the talent is not a theoretical thing you read about; the leaders of big banks are seeing it in action not only in the employees they’ve mentored, but also their in wives, sisters and daughters. 3. Greed: The world of finance has always been simultaneously one of the most conservative, and one of the most innovative industries. You simply cannot produce the results expected by your shareholders if you stay “the all white boys club” as it has been proven that diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?
If you are an individual: be so good they can’t ignore you. No excuses. The first one in, the last one out. Take on a difficult project, improve your skills, and help your team succeed. And the skills that will be needed are not just hard skills and knowledge; they are also in leadership, persuasion, clear communication, organization and focus. Create value, but also learn how to clearly promote the contributions you make. Many women I mentor struggle with that, and I used to as well. As with everything else in life, practice makes perfect. Bring it on! And remember that your success also paves the road for women who will follow.
For a company: the evidence is clear that diverse teams perform better and deliver better ROI. Diversity in leadership not only “looks good” but also it is in the very DNA of what will make your firm successful and sustainable in the future. But you cannot just decree diversity and expect it to happen. You need to focus on attracting women and minorities into your firm at the entry level, focus on grooming them and helping them rise through the ranks. We are an “apprenticeship” industry in many respects, so if you want senior women in your leadership ranks tomorrow you need to mentor them into that position today. Also, I think it would be wise to highlight the fact that leadership, grit and commitment (all qualities that are necessary to rise to the top) will sometimes look different in men and women. If you are aware of what you are looking for, it would be much easier to spot. Lastly, please demand excellence and accountability but allow for some flexibility of schedule for young parents, both men and women. In this utterly connected world if the metrics are clear it will not reduce productivity and contribution.
For our society: I think we have tackled the first step, by making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender in the workplace, and my generation is most grateful as this has happened in my lifetime.
Now we need to work on our narrative so that it is absolutely socially acceptable for a talented woman to be the breadwinner in her family, to make more than her husband, and to be the leader of her division at work. I am seeing progress here, but we have still a ways to go. If both parents are working, they probably cannot chaperone school trips, help out at school, or bring their kids to the dentist. Let’s not subtly shame them making them feel like they are bad parents.
And finally, we need to figure out how to better help young parents balance their professional growth while they are taking on probably the most important job of their lives as moms and dads. This is at its most difficult when the kids are very young. For example, quality early childhood care options need to stay open later than five or six p.m. because no finance job ends at six (and parents still have to make it to the day care from their office). It is in these little moments that we are breaking the ambitions and career tracks of many people. As focused as I am on my professional ambitions, my kids’ wellbeing is absolutely primary to me, and will trump everything else. It would have been nice to have had an infrastructure to help with this, as I know I am not the only person who has struggled in this way.
You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each.
1. Compounding interest is both powerful and non-intuitive to most people. If you start saving and investing even a little bit but do it consistently and early, it will pay off big time! For instance, if you start setting aside $2 a day — this is half of a Starbucks beverage, and start this right after high school, by the time you are 60 you will have a million dollars. Everyone can do it!
2. Pay yourself first: when you get a paycheck, set aside 10–15 percent into your investment account. If it were a Government tax, you would for sure do it.
3. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket: you have probably heard it from your grandma; it is one of the most valuable tenets of investing.
4. Investing is fun, and there are financial games that can help. As humans, we are programmed to learn complicated things though play; learning to invest to become financially literate is no exception.
5. Seek out mentors and knowledge. If you have questions, find someone who you can trust to help you start investing. There is also a wealth of information both online and in print.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My mentor is my friend and late boss, Geoffrey Frost, during his time as CMO of Motorola. He took a chance in hiring me, because my background was not only unlike his but also quite unusual for a marketing position. The story goes: when I came in for my interview Geoffrey was initially reluctant to meet with me (probably because my background was a PhD in Physics). However, he ended up clearing his schedule to spend two additional hours speaking with me. He used to say, “casting is not the most important thing, it’s the only thing.” In other words, there is nothing more important than surrounding oneself with the right team. He taught me to see opportunity where others see walls.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Arthur Ash: “Start where you are.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I am a huge believer in the growth mindset. I think in this world you either grow or die. Choosing to grow is just that: a choice. You can make yourself better, kinder, stronger, fitter, smarter — one step at a time. That will make your immediate surroundings better. In turn it will improve your town, region, etc. But it all starts with you choosing to take a step forward. And then another one and another. So commit to growth and commit to kindness.
Thank you for all of these great insights!