Podcast: LEAD – Developing and Retaining Women in Investment Management


Beth Rustin, Founding Partner at Jamesbeck, speaks with Nuveen’s Margo Cook about the LEAD organization and its mission to help develop and retain women in the investment management industry.


Listen here or check out the full transcript below.


You can also listen on Spotify and more.




  • Beth Rustin, one of the founders of Jamesbeck, a boutique executive search firm focused on the investment management community
  • Margo Cook, President of Nuveen Advisory Services





Beth Rustin

Hello and good afternoon. My name is Beth Rustin and I’m a founding partner of Jamesbeck, a retainer-based executive search firm boutique that is a leader in mid- to senior-level investment management recruiting. I am here today with Margo Cook, the President of Nuveen Advisory Services, where she oversees Nuveen’s global client organization, including product, marketing, distribution and solutions for the firm.


Margo has had an esteemed 30-year career in the industry, having held various senior investment leadership roles at BNY, before joining Bear Stearns Asset Management to oversee the global institutional investment organization.


She joined Nuveen in 2008 and has played a critical role in the integration of the Nuveen and TIAA organizations. Margo is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island and Columbia Business School, and serves on the board and the executive committee of the URI Foundation. Additionally, she is chair of the All Stars Project Chicago Board, and serves as a trustee on the Nuveen Fund Board.


Most significantly, for today’s conversation, Margo is the executive sponsor of LEAD, a women’s professional organization that strives to add and retain women in asset management. I recently had the opportunity to join Margo and many of her colleagues at Nuveen’s Lead conference in New York city, which was attended by 150 mostly women from our industry.


Margo, can you please tell us what LEAD stands for and how you went about launching this at Nuveen?


Margo Cook

Thanks, Beth. So, LEAD stands for Leadership, Education, Advocacy and Development. And you know, Nuveen and TIAA… TIAA is the parent company of Nuveen. We are strong believers in responsible investing and really investing through an ESG lens.


So, we think it’s really important that when we’re asking other companies about how they invest and how they approach diversity, whether it’s through their boards or their employee base, that we are thinking about those same very important topics within our own company.


And so about four years ago, we brought several groups within Nuveen together that were actually sort of walking down this road of having a women-oriented employee resource group. And we brought them together, so that we could form one group. And really over a couple of years, we got that group together, we partnered with HR and with TIAA to establish the structure of LEAD.


And it was about two years ago in 2017, that we sort of really came out to the market and said the name of this organization is LEAD, it goes across the whole organization of Nuveen. And we were really going to put the mission forward around solving gender equality within asset management.


And so the real mission of LEAD today is to be this external organization. We have about a 40% minimum attendance goal, so that we’re bringing in people from outside of Nuveen into these events that we have. And it’s really about trying to get at this gender equality issue within asset management.


Beth Rustin

That’s great. What is your vision for LEAD longer term?


Margo Cook

Yeah, so I’d say that the mission again is to really get at the numbers in asset management for women. So, unlike other industries like the government, like law, like the medical profession, the numbers are actually going up for women. The numbers are actually going down in asset management. And even though we start out sort of on this equal playing field where it’s 50/50 coming out of college, the numbers are declining for women within… I’d say… I’d put asset management and even in financial services as a whole.


And so it’s really about how do we get at this issue sort of locking arms with the rest of the industry. I mean, none of us are going to be able to do it alone. So, if we can do it together and we can really create this sort of networking organization that brings the whole industry together, I think we can get at at this issue.


Beth Rustin

And what is your approach to educating other asset management leaders on LEAD, and how they can develop similar programs or at least join your efforts within their own organizations?


Margo Cook

Yeah. I think, actually a lot of other companies are thinking about this too. One of the things that we’ve done is we’ve approached other organizations. Like for example, J.P. Morgan. There’s an organization called Women on the Move that Samantha Saperstein started. There’s a Citi organization. Deutsche Bank has a really strong organization. And there’s a bunch of other companies within our industry that have internal groups.


And what we’ve done is approached a number of these organizations, whether it’s because we have clients there or they are competitors or peers in the industry, and said, “Hey, why don’t you join us at our events?” Again, we have this objective of having at least 40% of the attendees come from outside the organization. And that’s been really successful. So, at the last annual conference that you referenced, we had about 48% of those 150 attendees were from outside of Nuveen.


I think part of this is approaching our peers in the industry. People like you that we work with – people that in recruiting roles – are really important. I think it’s really locking arms and bringing people together, whether it’s events, or it’s figuring out topics that we should be addressing and creating opportunities for women to meet each other, to network with each other, to create potential sponsorship opportunities. And it’s really across the spectrum. It’s from people that are just starting out in the industry, all the way up to very senior women that I think need to know each other.


So, I think one of the other things that we just recently started experimenting with, was we started an advisory council. And Beth, you’re on that advisory council, where we invited 20 women within the industry, senior women to get together and advise us on the structure and the future of LEAD. And we plan to meet quarterly. In doing that, we’ll be able to introduce new ideas into that forum, and hopefully that spreads ideas through the industry. It introduces opportunities for women at the senior level to get to know each other, and create pathways for each other, but also for women that are in mid to junior positions within our firms.


Beth Rustin

Got it. Yeah. I’m very delighted to be part of the advisory council. Let me ask you, how many women would you say have participated in LEAD thus far and how frequently does the group meet?


Margo Cook

Yeah, so we started out a few years ago with about 140 people that originally signed up within Nuveen. It’s now about 700… I think it’s over 700 members. And that’s 700 members that are members within Nuveen. And then we’ve got lots of lots of members outside of Nuveen.


So, it’s grown pretty fast. And the structure of it is that we have a national steering committee. The national steering committee put together that national conference that we did in New York. And then we have six regional organizations, and they are… There are five cities in the U.S. that are represented. And then we have a really strong team in London that represents our European employees. And my guess is sometime in 2020, we’ll start something in Asia.


So, the local leaders, they get a budget and they’re responsible for the local events that take place. And those events, again, the target there is to have 40% people from outside the organization attending. And then as I talked about, the LEAD advisory council just started, where I think that will bring even more of an influx of external voices into LEAD.


Beth Rustin

Those numbers are great. That’s really fantastic growth. Let me ask you, are men also part of LEAD?


Margo Cook

Yes, so men can join LEAD. And men are, I think somewhere less than 10% of the membership. But what I was happy to see at the last annual conference is that we had some really, really strong men helping us to plan, and participate in the planning of it. But then also the events of the day, we had some senior leaders participating in the panel discussions. So, we are very much open to men being members of LEAD as part of the events that are taking place, but also as a voice in the types of events that we’ll have and the types of discussions that we want to have.


Mike Perry, who is the head of our U.S. advisory services was on one of the panels. Alex Prout, who is the head of international advisory services. He is a strong advocate for women in a number of outside organizations. And I can see over the course of 2020, that we’ll be partnering with some of the things that Alex has been involved with.


And so the answer is absolutely, we want everybody’s voice at the table. And I think that is the only way that women will get the opportunities and the growth, and the trajectory in their careers is if everyone is sort of sitting at the table and looking at this problem equally.


Beth Rustin

Yep, for sure. Is there a way to measure the success of LEAD in your view?


Margo Cook

I think it’s two ways. The first is I think it’s really simple to look at the numbers. And so I was just in a meeting earlier today, we were saying that data is so important on this topic. And you can sort of talk about this all you want, but the numbers speak for themselves. And that’s kind of how I got clued in a few years ago. I actually didn’t realize that the numbers in asset management were going down until I looked at a few of the surveys, and was really shocked to see that the number of women managing money was declining. I think there was something that McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace showed that, I think it was… There’s some numbers that came out of FundFire, a survey that they did. And then it’s just been a sort of a common discussion in the industry today, but I don’t think a lot of us were aware of it.


The numbers are really important. And I think measuring what’s happening within Nuveen. And when I say the numbers, I don’t mean like top line, I mean what’s happening below the surface. So, are we recruiting a lot of women and they’re leaving the organization? And if so, why? And/or are we able to promote women in the organization?


I think we’ve actually done a pretty good job of that. Once it really became part of the discussion here, we’ve been very sort of vocal across the leadership team. We hired a whole bunch of mid to senior women this year. I’m really proud of that across distribution. Our new head of product is Deann Morgan. We hired a bunch of women throughout the ranks of the company purposely. So, I think the numbers have to be tracked and I think that’s really important.


And I think then outside of Nuveen in the industry, I think one of the ways we can really judge what’s happening there is also by data. But I think by the simple visual of having more women named to CEO, more women named onto boards and in those decision-making roles. And I think it’s really critical that women are in decision-making roles, because ultimately the influence of how many women get into and advance in our industry is going to be reliant on how many women we have in these decision-making senior roles.


And so I think it’s really both the visual of what’s happening at the leadership level in the industry, and then the data of how we can measure ourselves within our companies.


Beth Rustin

Great. As we both mentioned, I recently had the benefit of attending your New York conference in November and I thought it was fantastic. I thought the energy, the enthusiasm was palpable. This conference had an excellent group of speakers, but it was also centered around unconscious bias.


Can you touch upon unconscious bias and how it manifests itself in the workplace? And are there any takeaways from the conference on this topic that you could provide us with?


Margo Cook

Yeah, so I thought some of the topics were really strong. The first speaker, Jerry Kang, who is out of UCLA. He’s actually a law professor that became the head of D&I at UCLA for a year. And he showed some really, really interesting… If you want to look on YouTube, look him up because his talk is just so powerful.


Beth Rustin

Yeah, he was great.


Margo Cook

Yeah, basically what he was saying is you can’t measure implicit bias, because it’s deeply buried in your subconscious. So, you can’t ask somebody in a survey, are you biased or not? Because they’re going to say no.


So, it really was… A lot of the topics we talked about were the realization that unconscious or implicit bias exists. And it exists in you and me and everybody, because we all sort of have it from how we were brought up, or what we come to the table with. So, it was really about what do you do about it? And there were a lot of really good suggestions thrown out there.


So, Mika Brzezinski who was from Morning Joe, she was fantastic. She said things like, find your voice and make your voice heard, and make sure it’s a strong voice, not a meek voice. And she uses the power of her performance, and the power of her actual voice to make herself heard.


We heard from another sales leader, Ami Tully, who talked about that you have to really ensure that not only is your voice heard but what is heard, what are you saying that’s significant to what the organization is doing.


There were a lot of really good ways of thinking about how do women put themselves into positions where they have to work through that unconscious bias that does exist in the workplace. And then there was a lot of discussion from Corie Pauling, who’s our head of I&D (Inclusion & Diversity) at TIAA, a number of other people talking about what some of the really practical ways of going about addressing, training and educating people in organizations. Because that bias is going to exist, so how do we get at it?


Beth Rustin

Yep. Let me ask you, as a senior woman in the industry, what would you say was the most significant decision you made in your career to get you to where you are today?


Margo Cook

Yeah, I would say there was probably a few of them, and they were clearly influenced by some people who helped me to think about what those next steps should look like. And so, having sponsorship, we talked about mentorship versus sponsorship. Sponsorship is really about somebody using their political capital to gain exposure for you. And to get you to get to the next stage because people know who you are. I think that’s so important.


And I can point to times in my career where I had it, and I didn’t have it and I can see a correlation. But if there was a single moment that kind of changed the trajectory for me… I managed fixed income portfolios for many years, became the head of fixed income, and then the head of the institutional businesses at BNY, and then the same thing at Bear Stearns Asset Management. But it was probably about 15 years ago that I shifted from managing assets to managing the business. And I remember thinking, this is a huge mistake, I should be managing money, that’s the thing that I love doing. But I saw so much opportunity and potential in how the business could grow and moving into the client side.


And so I think that was the single biggest change I’ve made in my career, and it was scary. It was definitely a risk. But it was definitely worth it because I love being on this side of the business. But also having grown up as a money manager, it gives me a lot of insight into how our asset managers think, and then how clients think.


Beth Rustin

It’s interesting that you said that it was a risk because I think one of the knocks on women in our industry is that they don’t take enough risks. So, what advice do you give early stage and mid career women about managing their careers?


Margo Cook

Yeah, I totally agree with that statement. One of the things that I think we as women, there’s this expression out there that we have to know 90% of the job before we’ll take it, and men have to know 25% of it. So, we tend to want to know everything before we’ll actually take that risk. And the reality is, it’s about 50/50. You should probably know a little bit more, but you don’t have to know everything to take the next step in your career.


But I would say a few things. One is that, first of all, you have to be known as being good at something. So, be really like technically good at something, so that people know to call on you, and they know to sort of bring you in the fold and for what. So, I became a good fixed income portfolio manager. And that allowed me then to become the manager of the other managers, the other fixed income managers, and then allowed me to start to learn what it meant to be a leader. So, I think being technically good at something is really important, like the first, call it seven to 10 years of your career.


I’d say the second thing is to ask for assignments. Ask for more responsibility, don’t be afraid to do that. And that’s sort of that risk thing, and maybe the confidence factor too. But ask for things. We forget that our managers have jobs too, and they may not always be a hundred percent focused on what our careers are about. So, ask for things if you think you have a shot at it. Take a risk and ask for it.


And then I said a third thing is, you got to know who’s around you in the organization, and don’t be so reliant on your boss’s ability to influence your career. And so I think in terms of a career, I think about the horizontal relationships around an organization, that began as a base and then grow as you move through your career, and ultimately knowing your boss’s peers is really important. And I think really getting your reputation strong because you’re technically good. Asking for some stretch assignments, and then knowing who’s around you and your boss in the organization helps to build your reputation.


Beth Rustin

That’s great advice. I realize that we don’t have a crystal ball, but with people out there as passionate about maintaining and advancing women’s presence in our industry as you are, what does the future look like for women in leadership positions in asset management?


Margo Cook

I’m optimistic and I think it’s good and getting better. I look at, for example, Jenny Johnson was just named as the future CEO of Franklin Templeton. I look at Suni Harford, who was named as president of UBS Investments. I look at Dawn Fitzpatrick, who is the CIO at Soros, who came out of UBS.


There’s lots of examples where women are moving into the senior most leadership roles. And so I think that that is a key element. When women see other women in these very senior roles, they feel like they can… That visibility is critical. They see that woman, they feel like they can climb that ladder too.


So, I think visibility is really important, but ultimately having women in these decision-making roles. It’s really important that women are in those roles, so they have the visibility and the empathy, frankly, to bring other women up with them.


Beth Rustin

Great. Well listen, this has been a great conversation, Margo, and I thank you for telling us about LEAD and touching upon where you see our industry going as it relates to women’s involvement and progress.

I personally am excited to be part of LEAD, and I look forward to future events. I, too, truly believe that women need to find ways to help other women make this industry in which they want to make their careers.


Margo Cook

Yeah. I appreciate the opportunity to talk and I appreciate the work, Beth, that you’re doing on behalf of getting women into these roles in our industry. And I know you do a lot of work on that front, and when I look at through the lens of being at Nuveen, owned by a company like TIAA, that is very sort of focused on these issues. And then I look at what’s happening within the industry and the response that we’re all getting around this work, I’m very optimistic about the future.


Beth Rustin

Great. Me too, thanks again.


Margo Cook

Thank you, Beth.