Trevor and Ciera Ashley met while studying finance at Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business. After graduating, the both went on to lead successful – but very different – careers in the field. Hear what they’ve been up to since graduation and how they still Learn by Doing today.
How did you meet?
Ciera & Trevor: Like so many of our married friends from Cal Poly, we met in the dorms in 1999. Ciera was a freshmen and lived in Trinity Hall while Trevor was a sophomore and worked at the front desk of Trinity Hall (passing out mail was an easy way to meet freshmen ladies – smart chap). We met early in the school year and became quick friends. A couple of years later, we decided to study abroad at Oxford University in England where we fell in love. We were married in 2009 at the Enda Valley Vineyard.
Tell us about your paths after graduating from Cal Poly to getting to where you are today.
Ciera: Since graduating from Cal Poly, I have worked hard to expand and nurture my network, which has led to job opportunities and promotions. In that spirit, I went to business school at the Berkeley Haas School of Business, stayed in close contact with past classmates and work colleagues, and helped friends and colleagues in their career endeavors. Most importantly, I have learned that working with smart, motivated, and ethical people is extremely rewarding and challenges me to improve and be creative.
Trevor: Upon graduating from Cal Poly, I went into investment banking in the Bay Area, joining a Consumer Mergers and Acquisitions team where I developed a passion for consumer brands. I’ve followed that passion ever since, transitioning into private equity, where I have been investing in consumer companies for the last 10 years.
You both graduated Cal Poly within a year of each other, however, you’ve had pretty unique career paths. What are the major ways in which your careers have been different? How are they the same?
Ciera: There are numerous career opportunities in finance. In endowment management, I work with a team to maintain (and ideally increase) the philanthropic purchasing power of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. To accomplish this, we invest the foundation’s $6 billion endowment in various asset classes (including private equity) with different expected return and risk profiles. In private equity, Trevor works to directly acquire and grow cash flowing businesses that will generate wealth over the long-term for his investors. Risk management is a key part of both of our investment roles.
How have you learned from each other in your careers?
Ciera: Trevor knows me better than anyone else, which means he has been able to provide honest and constructive career advice and feedback. We have each other’s best interests at heart, which means we are honest when it comes to things like interview preparation, resume drafting, and navigating political issues at the office. When I ask Trevor something, he provides an honest response. I’m grateful for his opinions and I am tougher as a result.
Trevor: As a former management consultant, and now an investor in multiple asset classes, Ciera sees the world from a very different view and can offer unique and powerful insights that I might not otherwise see as a direct investor in private companies. We often bounce ideas off of each other and challenge one another to approach things differently. I think we are both better professionals as a result. Furthermore, it is crucial to have a strong support system when working in a demanding profession or making big career decisions. Ciera has been an incredible partner both personally and professionally, enabling me to take career-related risks and challenges.
What has surprised you most about your investment careers?
Ciera: In the beginning, I assumed an investment career would be primarily about investment analysis and improving upon that skillset. While continuing to improve my analytical skillset has been an important driver of my career development, I have learned that working with fantastic people has had the most positive influence on my career. In my opinion, career happiness and success are the result of working with great people and being a respectful, productive, and intellectually honest team player.
Trevor: A private equity career certainly requires an analytical skillset, but there is also a tremendous amount of salesmanship and networking needed for a successful long-term career in this industry. In private equity, an individual is always selling himself /herself and their firm’s unique value proposition.
How has Learn by Doing manifested itself in your professional worlds?
Ciera & Trevor: With technology changing the way business is conducted, there are now many ventures being founded by younger individuals without former career experience. This means many careers will necessarily be built through “Learn by Doing”. Cal Poly fosters this skillset through programs like the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship that provide an early opportunity to get business experience.
How do you stay connected with Cal Poly?
Ciera: Cal Poly is incredibly special to me. It’s where I met my husband, best girlfriends, and a special professor that inspired me to pursue a career in finance. I remain close with all of these people today. And, it’s been fun to “grow up” with my girlfriends over the past seventeen years. Our conversations have evolved from coaching each other on how to get our first jobs, to planning weddings, and now, to navigating the challenges of parenthood. Cal Poly definitely provided a platform to make numerous relationships that I treasure today. As a result, I remain an active resource for current students seeking careers in finance and periodically volunteer on campus at career symposiums.
Trevor: Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo County each hold a special place in my heart, so much so that my wife and I were married at the Edna Valley Vineyard. We make several trips to San Luis Obispo each year to participate in Cal Poly finance events and enjoy the beautiful central coast with our family. I am now a member of the Orfalea College of Business Dean’s Advisory Council and have enjoyed learning about Dean Scott Dawson’s new vision for the Orfalea College of Business and am excited for its future.
Trevor: It sounds like your career has had some elements of entrepreneurship and disruption. How does innovation manifest itself in a finance career?
Trevor: My career has certainly had some interesting twists and turns, but it really comes down to two things. First, pursuing something you are excited to get up every day to do, and second, working with talented and trustworthy people who can challenge you to grow professionally. I’ve had a couple of doors unexpectedly close, which required some professional reinvention. However, with the support of my wife and a fair amount of hard work and patience, new doors opened that I never thought possible.
Ciera: What is it like facing financial volatility through the lens of your company’s altruistic mission? Does it change how you view risk?
Ciera: Risk management is a key part of our job as investment managers. While we look to generate sufficient returns to maintain the foundation’s purchasing power, we diligently work to ensure that we do not subject the endowment, and ultimately our grantees, to unnecessary or unforeseen risks.
Any advice for students looking to enter a career in finance today?
Ciera: Excellent grades and thoughtful networking definitely facilitated my job search process after college. I still continue to work very hard to nurture my professional network, which is one of the reasons I was invited back to work at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
Trevor: Find your passion, talk to as many people as you can about their respective careers, and pursue internships in fields of interest. You never know who could be sitting next to you on an airplane or what they might be able to teach you. My career has been built through hard work, persistence, networking, and a little luck. I’m a big fan of the phrase “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”