Grace Reyes, one of the most prominent voices in finance when it comes to promoting diversity and gender balance in the investment management industry. As the President of the Association of Asian American Investment Managers (AAAIM), a non-profit organization featuring seasoned and rising investment managers that handle over $1T AUM collectively, Grace helps Emerging Managers get access to the largest institutional investors. Over the past decade she has formed a close rapport with an array of industry leaders and prominent investors – relationships that have helped her bring awareness to this personal and professional mission as she leads and drives growth for AAAIM. Grace’s message is further amplified through her top 1% investment management profile on LinkedIn where she engages with 13,000+ followers sharing selfies and conversations with some of the industry’s best-known investors.
Grace’s previous experience includes time as the Head of Investor Relations & Fundraising at The Reliant Group, a real estate private equity firm with $2B in assets under management. Most recently before joining AAAIM, she worked on the corporate and business development team at Switchfly, a travel-tech firm, reporting to the Executive suite.
Grace is also the Founder and Co-Host of goodtimesSF, San Francisco’s largest investment networking happy hour. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics with a Computer Specialization from the University of California, Los Angeles and an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
In a way, we are the culmination of all of our experiences and I had a lot of formative experiences from a very young age. As a child watching my mother work incredibly hard to provide for our family I learned work ethics and dedication of a parent’s drive to provide for their family. I always dreamed big and grew up with the value that hard work would pay off and bring me to the future I wanted to create. While still in my final year at UCLA I had my son, who today is a teenager of whom I am so very proud. Having a child, and singlehandedly raising him, of course changed my life dramatically. I learned how to juggle life! I learned how to create balance and time for my son while also growing my career. Something that wasn’t easy in the field of finance, which typically requires very long hours. My mother passed away when I was 25 – I keep so much of her wisdom and the positive example she led with me. Losing her at a young age taught me to value each and every day, and each and every person that matters.
I think the culmination of all of these experiences – as a mother, as a daughter and as a woman in finance have made me the leader I am today. It has taught me to understand where others are coming from, to be empathetic to their challenges, and to simultaneously feel confident that I can handle what life throws at me and make it great. It has also made me aware of not wasting time in life. For me this means standing up for what I believe in – something that plays greatly into my personal and professional mission with AAAIM to promote greater ethnic and gender diversity within the investment industry.
How has your previous employment experience aided your current role?
Let’s start from the beginning! After a few jobs in the investment industry, I landed my dream position at a real estate private equity firm with $2B in assets under management. As the head of fundraising, I was always busy networking and wanted to find an efficient way to connect with industry leaders and investors without having to dedicate all of my personal evenings to being out. I decided to host happy hour events to bring people together and called it goodtimesSF – networking should be fun! This really took off and became the largest investment happy hour in San Francisco.
Co-hosting these events and leading fundraising for this private equity firm helped me solidify and expand my strong relationships not only with individuals who would later help connect me to future roles (such as my current position), but who would become my greatest asset to bring to those future positions.
My ability to connect organizations with some of the industry’s best-known investors is one of my greatest values and these kinds of relationships are something that can only be built over time. It took me more than a decade to form the close rapport I have with prominent investors – relationships that have helped me to bring awareness to the personal and professional mission of AAAIM, while leading the organization to future growth.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your current role?
It is so humbling to see AAAIM’s mission of gender and ethnic diversity reach new individuals and see the positive effects we are making in the workplace. I love to hear from members about how AAAIM has helped them along their career journey and the true connections they’ve developed from the network. We have seen so much growth in our organization over the past year and I think the greatest challenge will be to keep pace with this growth as the organization continues to expand!
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Leverage technology to expand your network and have your voice heard. I was an early adopter on Linkedin and regularly connect and share updates to engage with more than 13,000 followers. This network keeps me current, it helps me spread my business mission and promote thought leadership that is important to me. Secondly, stay dedicated, keep your eye on the end goal and know your worth. Self-confidence will get you far!
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
The value of relationships and true connections with other individuals will always be paramount to your career success. Yes, you must have your skills in place. Yes, you must be dedicated to your work. But these qualities will get you nowhere if you’re not able to connect with people.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I make a point to find extra time in the day to day to catch up with my son! Sometimes that means taking the long way home so I can hear all about his day at school, or sometimes it’s just a fun meal together like fried chicken and waffles. Last week I was in New York for business conferences and meetings all week so next week, we will be taking off together to Hawaii (his favorite vacation destination) to enjoy some special time together. I think it’s all about finding balance that works for your family. There will inevitably be long weeks at work, or time apart, but helping your child understand that your work is what provides for your family, and balancing that with special time together, is what really matters. Sometimes it’s also about just enjoying the mundane together!
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
While women have come a long way, we still have a ways to go when it comes to equal respect and pay in the workplace.
How can we encourage more women to start their own business?
The more success stories we can highlight of women who have started their own business, the better. I think seeing others who have achieved great things, and who are willing to share the challenges along that road, can do so much to motivate younger generations to feel confident and go after their own goals.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
While I didn’t have a specific mentor that say trained me in all aspects of my career, I have certainly had key figures throughout my career who have supported me, friends and family who have listened to my career challenges and who have also been there to celebrate my victories. These are my “mentors.” My mother was my first and most important mentor – she showed me what it took to be an amazing mom and provider.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Aimie Wang, Co-Founder and former CEO of Alexander Wang, who I’m also fortunate enough to call a friend. She has the business acumen that is second to none, helping Alexander Wang become one of the most iconic fashion design company of our generation. Yet, she stays so humble and does everything with style and grace. She has been a great advisor to me and many females. She epitomizes everything that a business woman should be.
What do you want to professionally and personally accomplish in the next year?
I would be so proud to see the effects of AAAIM’s mission and my personal work to inspire ethnic and gender diversity within the investment industry continue to take force! I hope that this positive message can also have a rippling effect beyond the investment industry.