Michaela Edwards left a high-profile portfolio manager job to run money for eBay billionaire Jeff Skoll. Here’s what she learned about the ‘quirky’ world of family offices.

Michaela Edwards, partner and portfolio manager at Capricorn Investment Group.

When Michaela Edwards left her job as a senior portfolio manager at Norway’s giant sovereign wealth fund two years ago, she made a big change — taking on a role in the "exciting" yet highly discreet world of family offices.

Edwards is a New York-based portfolio manager at Capricorn Investment Group, which has undergone its own transformation. Founded in 2004 as the family office and foundation for billionaire eBay co-founder Jeffrey Skoll, the Palo Alto, California-based firm now manages more than $8 billion for foundations, sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, and family offices, including Skoll’s own assets.

Edwards previously served as a senior portfolio manager for Norges Bank Investment Management for nine years. At Capricorn, she is one of four partners who sit on the investment committee and hold decision-making power for the money manager’s billions in assets, she told Insider. 

The executive opened up about what it’s like working in the family office world and how the asset management industry can get more capital into the hands of women and minorities.

Edwards was featured among 8 powerful Black women in asset management who also shared their stories with Insider.

The ‘quirky’ world of family offices

"I think every family office tends to have their own philosophy," Edwards told Insider, noting that family offices can be "a little bit quirky, depending on where the wealth is generated, how they want to invest, and what their underlying philosophy is."

She also called family office investing "extremely exciting."

"You can be more flexible, you can be more innovative, you can be earlier in underwriting risk and underwriting earlier-stage money managers," she said. "And we saw that specifically on the environmental side, how family offices often were early on the adaptation of integrating that into portfolios."

Tackling inequity through representation 

Edwards said she is hopeful that innovative bent will also play out when it comes to hiring younger money management firms, resulting in more diversity and inclusion. 

"There’s evidence of that today," she said. "I’m very, very encouraged about that. There’s a lot of collaboration happening across family offices about this topic."

But Edwards added that the industry needs "to adjust all facets of our process."  

"We have to think of how we allocate capital, because there’s clearly ingrained inequities of the distribution of capital in our system," she said. "As an impact capitalist, I do believe that the capital markets can play a pivotal role in adjusting some of those. I’m thinking more of the trickle-down economics of, if you have diverse investors, they tend to invest more with diverse managers and founders. And they, in turn, tend to hire more diverse employees."

Navigating a mostly white and male field  

Edwards spoke candidly with Insider about the microaggressions she has encountered in her career. "People have asked me to get coffee or take notes," she said. "I am not here to make coffee or take notes."

Those experiences have taught her not only that she has to ask for "a seat at the table," but that she has to use her agency to speak up for others.

"In the last few years, we were hiring, and I was in the room when we were discussing an offer to make to someone who came from an underrepresented group," said Edwards. "Someone said, ‘I think this person can take this offer at a certain number.’ And I said, well, it’s not about what that person will accept. It’s about what the role and the job is worth."

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Danielle Walker July 20, 2021 at 03:39PM

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