A career in finance denotes a rigorous path and serious time commitment, especially in the primary years. Oftentimes the industry is noted for its male-dominant corporations comprised of suits, boardrooms, and Excel charts. However, Alexandra Weiss, an associate at BlackRock—one of the world’s largest publicly traded investment management firms—is proving that the stereotype has its outliers.
Alexandra has accelerated her career during her five years at BlackRock, and can be found wearing printed dresses and Pucci flats amongst her male colleagues (and with the utmost confidence). Her plans to attend Harvard Business School in the fall (and a trip to Guatemala on the way) show that there are even bigger ambitions and accomplishments ahead of her. Read more to find out how she moved seamlessly from an all girls school to being one of the only girls at the table.
Education: Stanford University; Biological Sciences major.
Job Title/Company: Associate in the iShares Business Strategy group. My job is best described as the “right hand wo-man” to the Global Head of iShares—I organize and prioritize his client and employee engagements; create his presentations, communications and briefing memos; and work on strategy projects with the broader group to support him and the Executive Committee in making strategic business decisions.
Brief overview of the BlackRock: BlackRock is the world’s largest investment manager. Our clients include pension plans, governments, endowments, corporations, banks, financial professionals, individuals, and many other investors. We provide a broad range of investment capabilities, including iShares ETFs (exchange traded funds). (ETFs 101: ETFs are investment vehicles that give you exposure to several securities in an index, like the S&P 500, and trade like a stock on an exchange, like the New York Stock Exchange.) iShares is the biggest ETF provider in the world, with approximately $800 billion (!) in assets today.
Before this job: I was in college. I did my last summer internship at BlackRock in San Francisco (apparently, I’m one for consistency). Before that, I interned at a healthcare systems startup in Silicon Valley.
How I ended up at my current position: My BlackRock internship in San Francisco turned into a full-time position in the Financial Institutions Group in New York. I spent three years working with my team to manage our relationships with global insurance companies and banks. Ready for a change, I got a job on the Corporate Strategy team, which was then being run by Mark Wiedman, who is now the Global Head of iShares. I spent a year and a half working on strategy projects on behalf of our execs and business leaders to improve and grow existing business, build out new businesses and improve profitability and efficiency. Then, long story short, I eventually followed Mark to iShares, starting my current role last December.
Have you always been interested in business and finance? As a Biology major, obviously not! I thought I was headed for medical school until my internship at that healthcare startup. I discovered that the business aspects of that job were very intriguing and motivating for me, and I decided to take a risk and give BlackRock a shot the next summer. Despite finishing my pre-med requirements in college, here I am several years later.
Describe your style in a few words: Corporate chic: a lot of black and beige. I love blazers. And layers of pearls are my staple accessory, but I try to wear them every other day instead of every day!
Style Icon: The ‘dressed down’ Anna Wintour. In her everyday attire, she always looks professional and chic (classic shift dresses, cashmere shells, blazers, and those necklaces… yes please!).
Favorite brand for office attire: Theory. They have the best basics that I can layer with some more funky (for the finance world) accessories.
In a corporate environment, how do you mix up your daily work-wear routine? I get creative with my shoes, patterned stockings (in the fall and winter), statement necklaces, and pops of bright color (e.g., electric blue shell under my suit, Pucci patterned flats, pink J. Crew tweed blazer).
A day at the office looks like: They all look the same to a fly on the wall—I’m typically in the office from sometime between 8:30am and 9:00am until 7:30pm. When I’m at my desk, my email is on my left monitor and PowerPoint is on the right one. I spend a lot of time on the phone since a lot of iShares employees are in San Francisco, and I get up for anywhere from 2-5 meetings a day—and of course, lunch and an afternoon coffee. The things that a fly on the wall can’t see are different every day; what I do and think about relies heavily on my boss’s schedule and his commitments for the next few days and weeks.
Favorite part of your job: (1) Seeing Mark give a presentation I worked on and rocking it (he always does)! (2) Traveling to San Francisco on a regular basis—the rest of my team is based there.
How has working in a male-heavy industry impacted you personally and professionally? Any positive takeaways from your male colleagues that have helped shape your career? I went to an all girls school from 7th through 12th grade and to an all girls sleepover camp for six years. Obviously, I spent a significant amount of my adolescence surrounded by only females, but for some reason now, when I’m at a conference table with mostly men (which is a regular occurrence) it doesn’t phase me. I usually think to myself in the first few moments I’m in the room, oh, I’m one of the only women at the table. But that’s it; I carry on. It’s all about confidence, I think—believing that they’ll value your contributions just as much as the guy sitting next to you. And I do.
Currently reading en route to work: My work email, then daily emails from NYTimes and theSkimm, and then, if I still have time, the next few pages of Gone Girl (it always takes me a while to get through a book, but I always finish what I start).
For a fifteen-minute break at work I…: Walk around the block and get an iced coffee (in any season) from The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf—so happy to have one in NYC now.
Hobbies/free time activities: Walking The Highline, organizing (things and activities), meeting up with friends, checking off my NYC bucket list, always trying to make time for a nap (and never taking one).
Workout routine: I don’t belong to a gym anymore because I do SoulCycle 2-3 times a week, go to bikram yoga (usually on the weekends), and run outside (amazingly, the highline is empty at 7:00 a.m.—it’s a great way to end a run along the Hudson River).
Favorite city in the world: Without a doubt, New York. I can’t believe I’m moving back to Boston (I grew up in Massachusetts), but mark my word, NYC, I will be back!
You are heading off to Harvard Business School soon. What made you decide to take this next step? I have wanted to get an MBA for the past five years, and I felt ready to apply this summer, when I knew that I had spent enough time at BlackRock to take a leap and explore the breadth of business beyond finance. HBS will give me the opportunity to meet a lot of other people who are passionate about their careers and can provide perspectives on other industries and professional experiences. I know I will be exposed to a broad range of complex real-world strategic business and leadership challenges and will become better equipped to make a decision about the next step (and next several steps) in my career. Plus, I’m excited to have time to travel! First trip—Guatemala in June.
In 10 years…: I will figure out how to have a career and kids. Now, I don’t think I even have time for a puppy—or even a fish!
Best piece of advice ever received: When I was leaving my first group at BlackRock, my manager said to me, “Why are you spending so much time making this decision? You already know the answer; you’re just trying to justify it.” Essentially, when we’re making decisions, we almost immediately know the right answer. Why waste time thinking about it—just go with your gut!
Also, never buy shoes that don’t fit. If they don’t fit today, they’re not going to fit tomorrow.
My mentor(s): (1) My mom and my dad—they taught me to value my education and career. I’m more thankful for that today than ever before—getting to go back to HBS and follow in my dad’s footsteps is a dream! (2) Mark Wiedman. He helped me navigate my career at BlackRock, gave me the opportunity to work for iShares and, on top of that, encouraged me to give it up to get an MBA.
Career wisdom for young professional women: Speak up. People want to hear what you have to say just as much (or even more) than the guy sitting next to you. Also, be proactive about your career. It’s okay to have a 2-year, 5-year and/or 10-year plan. Your plan can change—but make one and be proud of it!