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Orfalea College of Business

Lessons in Leadership: Saira Malik

Alumna Saira Malik keeps a level head while navigating the sometimes volatile world of investments. As the managing director of global equity investments at TIAA Global Asset Management in San Francisco, she uses the Learn by Doing philosophy honed at Cal Poly to face unprecedented market conditions with a nimble and collaborative attitude.

Learn how Malik charts her course for success.

What sparked your interest in finance?
My parents emigrated from Pakistan and had a very strong work ethic which they also instilled in me. When I was in high school, we often had the financial news channel on in our house. This sparked my interest in learning about the stock market and prompted me to choose economics as my major at Cal Poly. I had a great experience with my professors there who encouraged me to continue my higher education. I earned my master’s degree in finance which helped open the doors to jobs at asset management firms. My first job out of school was in equity research at JPMorgan Asset Management. After that, I followed two of my mentors from JPMorgan to my present employer, TIAA.

In such a competitive industry, how do you stand out?
My goal is to differentiate myself from my peers. In my junior year as an economics major at Cal Poly, I earned my stockbroker’s license and ran my own newsletter and brokerage business. I eventually turned that newsletter into my senior project. I decided to learn investing on my own by rolling up my sleeves and taking a hands on approach as a means of increasing my marketability. Throughout my career, I have continued with this philosophy of differentiating myself by building skillsets in many areas which are complimentary to investing, including media, marketing, client presentations, and managing people.

The financial markets are full of uncertainty. How have you learned to trust your gut with a lot on the line?
Given the uncertainty in the global financial markets, while I often have to trust my gut when it comes to investing, obtaining a formal education with the right background provided a crucial foundation for understanding the drivers behind global economies. I also often trust my gut when it comes to hiring new research analysts and portfolio managers. While you can look at someone’s track record, it is a judgment call on how the person will do once they join TIAA. Given our unique platform of research analysts and portfolio managers investing significant assets alongside each other, it’s critical to make good hiring decisions.

“I look for team players who can leverage our investment knowledge as a team rather than compete with each other.”
— Alumna Saira Malik, Director of Global Equity Investments at TIAA Global Asset Management

What’s the biggest you learned from the Great Recession?
The Great Recession taught me to remain flexible while maintaining a disciplined investment process. The global markets and economies are constantly changing and we need to be able to filter the noise while maintaining a long term view so that we aren’t constantly reacting to short term data points.

Where do you look for inspiration?
My grandmother grew up in India and was one of the first women accepted into medical school. I have her diploma hanging in my daughter’s nursery as an inspiration for both of us. Like my grandmother, my goal is to set the right example in both work and life by acting with integrity and working hard to achieve my goals as an example for my children.

What role does mentorship play in finance?
I was very lucky to have many mentors to support me throughout my career. My inspiration for choosing the right mentors started with a couple of very supportive professors at Cal Poly. One professor in particular encouraged me to continue my pursuit of higher education. I took this advice and turned down job offers in order to complete my master’s degree. Earning my master’s degree gave me the ability to enter my career at a higher level than I would have been able to without it. I have continued to rely on mentors throughout my career, including two very instrumental trusted advisors I have known for 20 years in the asset management industry, one of whom I continue to work with today.

How have you Learned by Doing in the professional world?
I have continued to Learn by Doing ever since I created my own financial newsletter and became a stockbroker while at Cal Poly. This allowed me to learn to invest on my own which was very applicable to the roles I have held over the past 20 years. I often tell people that I turned my hobby into my professional career which is the main reason I continue to love being an investor.

Saira Malik on the cover of KiplingerYou manage global active equity portfolio management, as well as a team of professionals. What do you think makes a good manager?
Throughout the last decade as a manager, I have managed teams of up to 55 people. I have learned that a good manager hires very talented people and then allows them to do their job without micro-managing them. A successful team makes a manager look good.

What characteristics do you look for when building your team?
Given the volatility and constantly changing market environment, I look for people who are self-aware, humble, open to accepting feedback, and willing to adapt to the changing macroeconomic environment. I look for people with integrity who take personal accountability for their actions. I also look for team players who are willing to share information with their colleagues so we can leverage our investment knowledge as a team rather than compete with each other. Finally, it is important to hire candidates with an established, consistent, long term focused investment process which they can rely on during times of turmoil.

How do you measure your own success?
In the investment industry, workplace success is measured in real time as the markets are always moving. This keeps the job interesting. I also value qualitative measures of success in terms of maintaining a satisfactory work-life balance. Choosing the right spouse, one who is very involved in childrearing and highly supportive of my career, was a tremendously important decision; crucial to my success at work while maintaining a strong work-life balance.

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