Alumna’s Approach to Institutional Investing: Jena Michels ’10 MSF ’09 BSBA (Finance)
March 8, 2019
Jena Michels ’10 MSF ’09 BSBA (Finance)
When Jena Michels thinks about investing, it’s always about more than just the numbers. She also makes it a point to consider factors such as the community she serves and her organization’s mission.
“I always take a step back to think about where my investment decisions are having an effect,” says Michels, whose decade-long career has focused on institutional investing.
Understanding the variables that influence her profession was a lesson she learned early on as a graduate student at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management. It was during that time that she also got her first real-world experience as a graduate assistant and investment analyst for the University’s endowment.
“My biggest takeaway from that experience was that everything is a mosaic,” Michels says. “It wasn’t just about the books and what I was learning from an academic perspective—and it also wasn’t just about being in a practical application setting. It was that all the pieces had to come together, and I could pull from every piece to make a good investment decision.”
She has banked on that experience—and the notion of using a multitude of information and resources to make informed decisions—beyond investing, as well. Michels’ first job out of graduate school, as a senior investment analyst for Ascension Health in St. Louis, came about partly through connections she made and skills she learned during her work on the University’s endowment.
“It’s incredibly important to utilize your network to figure out what you want to do,” Michels says. “Do your research and talk to people, and don’t be afraid to use non-traditional routes to find a job.”
Throughout her career, Michels has worked in both health care and educational settings, and has had exposure to nearly every asset class—from private equity to long-only and hedge funds. She says being receptive to on-the-job learning opportunities has been key to her success.
“Finance is constantly evolving, so I try to be as open as I can to learning new things and knowing I don’t have all the answers,” Michels says. “If you want a career in investments, you have to be particularly open to being vulnerable in that way.”
Today, she serves as the associate director of hedge fund investments for The University of Texas/Texas A&M Investment Management Company(UTIMCO)—where she’s been since 2013. She says her move to the organization was influenced in part by her work experience in graduate school.
“Early on in my career, I came to really embrace the underlying mission of supporting education—knowing my investment decisions were allowing students to go to college through funding from scholarships,” says Michels, who connects personally with her work as a former scholarship recipient herself. “I like the academic element of working for an endowment, and knowing that what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis at UTIMCO has a real impact for the state of Texas. I get to do the sort of work that helps the everyday citizen.”
Even now, as a more experienced professional, Michels often refers back to lessons learned from her days at the Eller College to help inform her work.
“A lot of what I learned in my undergraduate finance classes, and in my master’s program specifically, are applicable in my day-to-day analyses,” she says. “Investing is part science and part art, and what’s different now, as I have more experience, is I’m more comfortable with letting that art piece come through.”