OW Spotlight Soraya Betterton

Apsley '80

Investment Manager

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

I was born and educated in England to an English father and Spanish mother. Today I live in California, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, with my husband, son, and golden retriever.  

I was one of the first few sixth form girls at Wellington in the late 70’s. I arrived hopelessly behind in math. Teachers Potter and Dolan were very patient with me but it was Mr Berridge, Chair of the Physics Department, who I can really never thank enough. Without his kind, constant encouragement and steadfast faith (at times possibly misplaced) in my abilities, I would never have won a place at Oxford. 

What inspired you to work in the financial industry? 

I have to say, I didn’t really choose finance. It was chosen for me. It was spring of my last year at Oxford. An investment firm with ties to my college was desperate to hire a graduate that year. It was May, rather late in the hiring process – at this point, any college graduate would do. I, meanwhile, following a series of dismal performances at interview, had only one job offer from an accounting firm. I did not want to be an accountant. The investment firm offered me a job and I accepted. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  

Of course, there was just a sprinkling of women in the City in the early 80’s. And here I think my experience at Wellington served me well. I was used to being the only female in the room. I sort of took it for granted. I was lucky also. I had fallen into a job that did not require me to stand up in front of anyone and sound competent – something I was signally incapable of doing. Investment management is all about sitting in a corner analysing companies and coming to private conclusions.  

My first two years in London were a blur of meetings with company managers and broker lunches interspersed with hours of staring at little green and red prices winking up and down on a screen. Then I was offered a job in the San Francisco office. To work on the US market. I came over to take a look. I was gob-smacked. All the familiar, comforting brands that had accompanied me through my (English) childhood, McDonalds, Heinz, Ford, Kodak, Kellogg’s, even….Coca Cola and Pepsi… they were all American??!! I’m not sure which rock I had been living under, but once I had got over the shock, I was entranced.  

Investment management is a fascinating career. You get to interview CEO’s and management teams, analyse financial and economic data, think about what it all means and how that might differ from what everyone else seems to be thinking, and then bet millions on your conclusions. It is not for the faint of heart, however. Losing money is stressful. Lose too much and you get fired. But if you are looking for an endlessly entertaining, high adrenaline job with lots of autonomy where you get compensated for measurable results, it is hard to beat. Sadly, with the advent of index funds, there are not as many active investment manager positions as there used to be. But they’re still out there.  

I spent thirteen years with my first investment firm running US Equity investments, eventually becoming Head of US Investments and CIO of Latin America. In the early 90’s we won a mandate from the World Bank to invest in developing countries and we started investing in Latin American equities. At one point we were one of the largest foreign investors in the region. It was all a ton of fun. 

What advice do you have for students/young OWs? 

First and foremost, and this applies to anyone, at any age, interested in any sector, I would advise you to hone your self-promotion skills. British reticence about bragging is entirely outdated. Such reticence is especially noticeable, and damaging, if you find yourself in America, a nation founded on boosterism.  

Second, start networking now. Almost nothing, not even intelligence and qualifications, can match the power of being acquainted with the right person. This doesn’t have to be a grubby or shameful endeavour. Just keep up with the people you meet in your life – fellow students, your professors, your teachers, colleagues, people you meet through your pets and children. And when you move on, a different company, a different city, don’t lose touch. Send them a text; give them a call. Social media doesn’t count though. A blast post to your LinkedIn connections is not networking.   

Third, and this is more for the girls than the boys, but still…don’t forget to have children. You can be rolling along having a great career, but the time clock of fertility waits for no man. Past 40 years of age, it becomes a lot more difficult. Just something to bear in mind. 

Do you have a fond memory of your time at Wellington that you would like to share?  

Some years ago, I was in England with my son and we went to visit Wellington. The place looked as beautiful as I had remembered it. The choir was rehearsing in the chapel and the most gorgeous sound was floating across the quad. We talked to a few students wandering around. They all said they loved the school. On our way out, my son asked me if anyone there would recognize me. Oh no, I replied, nobody here now would remember me. At that moment, I noticed a familiar figure striding in our direction. Wait…..“Mr Potter?” It was one of those unforgettable moments in life. There indeed was Mr Potter. He remembered who I was – an incredible feat considering how many students he has taught in his lifetime. We talked and laughed. And in those moments, I felt the wonderful permanence of the school as an institution and as a community of individuals, always there for all of us. And there for all those yet to come.  

Thanks to Soraya Betterton (Ap 80)  for this spotlight piece.