February 16th, 2022

At age 50, after 25 years working as an executive on both the institutional and retail sides of financial services, Manisha Thakor decided it was time for a shift in life focus. She retired from what she calls the traditional “W2 corporate world” with the intention of spending her next chapter writing (she’s the author of two personal finance books for women, with a third one on its way), keynote speaking, and serving in the boardroom. She recently joined the board of the Lincoln Variable Investment Product Trust, under the purview of F500 company Lincoln Financial Group, where she’s finding deeper meaning and broadening her impact as a leader.

In this interview, we learn more about Manisha’s executive journey, her tips for rising women executives, and how her Athena membership helped round out her career as she finds balance in her third act.

Tell us about your executive journey up to this point.

After graduating from Wellesley College in 1992, I started in the investment banking training program at S.G. Warburg. At the time, they were the “Goldman Sachs of the U.K.”, and I had become a card-carrying anglophile after spending my junior year of college studying at Oxford University. My first renegade career act was being the second female financial analyst in the program in the U.S. — and leaving in less than a year. I hated it.

On a whim, I applied for a role at the privately-held institutional investment management firm Atalanta/Sosnoff Capital Corp, and my life was changed forever. For any early-stage career women reading this, I want to highlight that I only applied to this job because the industry had the word “Investment” in it—so I figured it must use the same skills I had been hired for in investment banking. The wisdom of time has shown that the two career paths could not be more different; my point in highlighting this is to emphasize how powerful it can be when you don’t stop yourself from exploring a new opportunity, even if you don’t fully understand what it is at first!

After 3 years in the world of institutional investment management, I was hooked. Unlike investment banking, where it seems that the allocation of work (and the bonus pool!) was incredibly subjective, I loved that the world of institutional money management was more egalitarian. Either your investment recommendations made money — or they didn’t. Either you pitched for new business and won it — or you didn’t. The outcomes were 100% clear, thus making it as close to a “gender-neutral” financial services experience as likely existed in the early 1990s.

To position myself to move to the next level in investment management, I earned my MBA from Harvard Business School graduating in 1997. By this time I had a clear sense of the investment style I wanted to practice; it was a very Philip Fisher / Warren Buffett-esque style… and thankfully one of the best current practitioners, Mr. Fayez Sarofim, had graduated from HBS and his firm recruited there. I started as a buy-side equity analyst at Fayez Sarofim & Co in Houston two months after graduation, and it was truly a dream work experience. I ultimately progressed to portfolio manager and started a separately managed account business that grew to $6B in assets. This decade-plus chapter of my work life gave me a 360-view of the investment management and mutual fund industries; not only was I engaged in the investment side, but I was also involved in marketing, sales, distribution, operations, trading, legal, and compliance.

When I was 38, I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico with my then-husband and tried to retire — which lasted about a month. I eventually started my own wealth management practice, which grew to $50M in assets in just over 2 years. But I didn’t enjoy running an RIA practice. So I merged my client base into a larger company (Buckingham Asset Management) and worked with them as a thought leader around women and wealth.

When I got divorced at age 45, I decided to gift myself a blank slate and moved to Portland, Oregon without knowing a soul. By sheer luck, the amazing account I chose to work with in Portland was about to move to a delightful wealth management firm called Brighton Jones. She introduced me to Charles Brighton and then Jon Jones — two industry visionaries — and thus began my final chapter in the traditional “W2 corporate world” serving as a national thought leader around the issues of financial wellbeing.

The key bridge between my institutional and retail financial services industry experiences were two personal finance books directed at young women in their 20s and early 30s that I co-wrote with a friend from business school. These books ultimately led to a wide range of media appearances, keynote speaking requests, and brand ambassador assignments. So in 2009, a year after leaving the institutional world, I established what these days we’d call a “side gig” — MoneyZen, LLC. Since then, MoneyZen has served as the overarching umbrella for all of my financial wellbeing work and will continue as such as I enter this third act.

How did you get started on your path to the boardroom?

I had two eye-opening interactions with boards before joining Athena. When I lived in Santa Fe, a semi-retired neighbor who had formerly been the global head of energy investment banking for an A-tier firm reached out to see if I’d throw my hat in the ring for a smaller public energy company he was involved with. I ultimately didn’t get the board seat (it went to a white male, thus maintaining the 100% white male nature of that board!), but the seed of corporate board service was planted in my head.

After that, I started investigating. I sent my resume to a mentor, an amazing woman who graduated in one of the first classes of Harvard Business School that accepted women. She led a world-class non-profit whose board of directors was like a “Who’s Who” of F100 company CEOs. She put me in touch with someone on her team who had a lot of nom/gov experience to take a look at my resume and see what kind of board opportunities would make sense for me to pursue. Alas, this individual came back to me and essentially said, “Well… this is pretty much a non-starter. You’re never going to get an F500 corporate board seat. You’re not a CEO. You’re not a CxO. You have a bizarre career path that makes no sense. Focus on nonprofit boards instead.”

So I did, serving terms on both the National Board of the Girls Scouts of the USA and The National Endowment of Financial Education. Both of these were amazing experiences — the boards were very professionally run and I had the opportunity to cycle through a range of committee assignments. At this point, I assumed national non-profits would be the outlet for my board interests.

Then right as I was preparing to retire from the corporate world, a dear girlfriend introduced me to Athena. That changed everything. I eagerly attended as many educational Salons as possible. These sessions help me develop a much deeper understanding of the various ways in which corporate board directors add value. I also began working with my coach, Tissa Richards, to help remove my self-limiting blinders. Most importantly, I learned that while I may not have the traditional background sought for F500 companies, my skill set was a perfect match for mutual fund director boards. It was a bolt of lightning. The idea of being the protective, fiduciary voice for the investors utilizing mutual funds and associated financial products tied together my institutional career, my retail career, and my MoneyZen work in a perfect bow.

I joined the Lincoln Variable Investment Products Trust board on January 1, 2022. I’m now using the wide range of educational programming Athena offers around the topics of successful onboarding and education for “early-stage” board members. I truly can’t emphasize enough how invaluable my Athena experience — and Tissa, my coach — have been in taking me from the concept of corporate board service to the actual work of becoming a mutual fund board director. I’m so looking forward to adding as much value as possible in my new role.

What advice do you have for women rising in the executive ranks?

The most powerful thing you can do in your career is to surround yourself with people who level you up, whether it’s in your friendships or the people you chat with in the office. Push yourself to be with people who are better than you, because they will lift you up and you will learn so much. People shy away from reaching out to people they see as experts, but most people want to help. Be on the lookout for people you can learn from. That habit and curiosity are superpowers to move your career forward. Oh, and when you are ready to consider board work — join Athena!

Members who wish to connect with Manisha can do so by clicking “Request to Connect” on her Athena profile.

Athena provides the persistent support, learning, and connections women leaders need to reach their biggest career goals. Learn more about membership here.



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