Interviews

Multiply My Money!! An Interview With Equity Investor, Stephanie Gardner

One day, on a doggy date with my neighbor, Stephanie, we got to talking about investing. I was talking about how many of my friends struggled with beliefs about money and with understanding investments. We got into a discussion about how difficult it is for women, minorities, and those from families rooted in poverty, to know even where to go to learn how to take control of their financial situation. Stephanie agreed to be interviewed to help teach a little bit about what she has learned through years of successful investing. She wants to help break down the barriers between classes and create a more equitable market.

Hi Stephanie!  Thank you for sharing with us today.  To begin, could you tell us a little bit about your background with investing?  And what makes you passionate about it?

Hi, thanks for having me. A little bit about my background: I studied religion at Brown, and later earned my MBA at Simmons SOM, which at the time was the only all-women’s business school in the country. The common thread for me is the study of value and how we represent that, whether through virtues giving rise to policy, or fiat currencies and economic systems. Through some combination of stubbornness, self-preservation, and privilege I’ve managed to avoid the corporate ladder, and been able to focus much of my energy on the arts and raising my kids.

 Currently, I am the managing director of Lamb Investment Company, which focuses on investments in public securities, emerging entrepreneurs, and social impact investing. Growing up, my Dad was an analyst and mutual fund manager, and was constantly researching and reading about stocks. He would bring home chart books and show me how to analyze growth patterns. He had a stack of annual reports he would read after dinner until he fell asleep on the couch. I think experiencing his passion was my first glimpse of understanding that this could be fun. Later, in college and business school I loved discussing Harvard Business school cases. The “numbers” tell a story almost as compelling as a prose narrative.

It wasn’t until I was faced with a “life reorganization” in my 20s, when I took over the reins of an investing account in my name, and it became entirely my responsibility, that I began to make the connection between companies and stock investing, and develop a holistic approach to investing that has worked for me. I can’t invest with solely a greed motivation, even though traditional capitalism espouses that. My role as a parent, descendant, citizen, and steward informs all of my investment decisions. This is what I mean by “holisitic.”

You spoke about learning about investing from your dad. How have your beliefs about money and the economy grown or changed over the years?  

Growing up, I was a confused but ardent capitalist. I believed in the Invisible Hand implicitly, and because I was born into wealth privilege and fairly sheltered early on, I painted others’ experience with the same brush as mine. After almost 50 years on this planet, I have nearly lost all faith in capitalism as an economic system. It denies resource conservation, which is extremely important for a sustainable earthly existence. It depends on an ever-growing underclass, thereby creating all kinds of “isms” to keep people in an “less-than” state (racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc). The only way it could possibly continue, I think, is with much more oversight and regulation.

It’s like playing Monopoly at someone’s house where their house rules are so overblown that they are printing new Monopoly money just to keep a game going, while creating complicated debt instruments to prop up the impoverished players just so the Boardwalk owner can keep clobbering the others on every round. So out of the 4 players playing, you have 3 players begging to end the game already, and 1 player insisting that they keep the same rules… while offering scraps to the other players. Not really fun for anyone, but it seems like the “game” we are being forced to play.

I’ve been studying the US during FDR’s presidency recently and noticing how the New Deal attempted to rein in the unchecked capitalism which was already stratifying wealth in our country due to industrialism and ‘robber baron’ corporations. One of my ancestors worked in the Treasury Department at that time, and many of them were accused of communism/socialism and even treason for promoting a positive relationship with the Soviet Union. This gave rise to McCarthyism and the backlash created the Cold War, the Wall Street greed of the 80s, etc. I can’t help but wonder what life would be like now if we had moved toward a more people-centered economy then. The current wave of progressive Congresspeople seems to echo the energy of the progressives of the 1930s-40s. I wonder if we will be able to move toward a more balanced and fair economy with our new administration.

It is the new year and many people want to make this the year to get their finances in order.  Do you have any practical tips or examples of achievable goals people could make for themselves with finances?

Understanding that everyone has very different situations and needs, my most general outline would be:

A. Keep a Balance Sheet (assets/debts)– I’m a huge fan of baby steps. Money and finances can be a stress-inducing focus, because our culture has such screwed-up equations about self-worth and net worth in order to keep everyone “in their place.” That said, it is really useful to create even a rudimentary balance sheet of what you have and what you owe.

B. Manage Debt– Gurus like Dave Ramsey, Suzie Orman, and JL Collins place a heavy focus on paying down debt and I can’t disagree that debt has a crippling effect on your ability to grow wealth. However, the negativity of their presentation bothers me. I don’t believe in shaming people or having a “judgy” tone in terms of debt while our predatory banking economy is literally conspiring every day to create more of it for their own profit. However, practically speaking, I would say that coming up with a plan to tackle any debt (highest interest first) is key. Alongside that, though, take a look at the growth rate of any wealth you hold. Whether it’s a retirement account, a cd or savings account, or a brokerage account, we all need to pay attention to the percentage performance we are getting year after year. This may mean calling your financial advisor and asking them for a report.

C. Invest!– The way compounding works, the sooner you can get your money in the market, the more dramatic will be the growth within your lifetime. So, if you haven’t started investing yet, (even if you only have a few hundred a month to devote to it), look into it! There are so many online platforms to invest. You can learn for free on Youtube, or from library books.

D. Keep it fun– Mainly I think it’s important to have a positive, curious outlook about investing. We will never know everything, or be able to predict the future. Once we accept that, we can have fun learning about it.

What are some tips and resources that you could give to those who are interested in getting started with investing?

My favorite book about stock-picking is One Up on Wall Street by Peter Lynch. What I like is his stories about how he invests in companies he knows, and in particular a story about his late wife Carolyn telling him about Legg’s panty hose eggs she saw in the supermarket. When I first heard that story as a kid, I remember thinking stock picking sounded really fun and easy. I am a member of some online investing groups, including “Stock Sisters” on Facebook, which has a valuable and entirely free “academy” in their group resources. They ask all members of the group to complete the units, and it’s actually really fun and informative, even for someone with an MBA.

The best tip I can give for those who have a spare $2500 is to start a brokerage account, and dive in. Or, if you already have an IRA or 401K, take a portion of it and do “self-directed” investing so you can start to see how fun it is. Avoid penny stocks. Avoid industries you know nothing about. Focus on companies that do what you are already interested in. (For me this tends to be media, entertainment, and tech, along with consumer goods.) Once you start to have agency in where your money is invested, you will naturally want to learn more. So, I wouldn’t want anyone to try to read ALL the books before getting started—especially if it brings on paralysis. The best way to learn, in my experience, is by doing.

You have experience working with the nonprofit Pipeline Angels.  Could you tell a little more about that organization and how others might get involved with it?  

Absolutely. A few years ago I was looking for fellow women stock-pickers and finding it hard to find or create a community. (That has since changed, fortunately, with the rise of online affinity groups.) I stumbled upon Pipeline Angels while searching for women in finance, and fell in love with their mission. What they are doing is providing early Angel round investing for companies that are femme-led. Meaning that they have a female, trans or nonbinary CEO. Likewise, the investors are all femmes as well. The current model for Angel and Venture investing is unsurprisingly dominated by white males, so a group like Pipeline is needed to create channels for women who otherwise might not get their company off the ground. Furthermore, BIPOC women, who have been denied the generational wealth of white women and men, often don’t have the family and friends networks to find startup funding. Pipeline pools together small investments from cohorts of women, often local to the company, to help create the boost they need along with non-financial resources that a network of supporters can provide.

A way to get involved as an entrepreneur is to go to their website and submit an application. It’s that easy.

As an investor, you need to be accredited, and also to train at one of Pipeline’s “bootcamps,” which is usually a week-long conference. Mine was in Puerto Rico, where we were able to support the local economy after Hurricane Maria. Pipeline was intentional about staying and eating at locally-owned places, and arranged for tours and meetings with local business leaders and entrepreneurs. I currently have investments in three Pipeline companies, and have loved being part of this powerful network of women.

All this information has been so helpful! Is there anything else you would like to add before we go?

I recently took a class with corporate activist Jim McRitchie, who files shareholder proposals with public companies to try to elicit proxy votes on matters having to do with social, environmental, and governance issues. These proposals cover everything from asking companies to disclose their political lobbying, to requiring prison labor disclosures, to increasing Board diversity. As an investor who is also concerned about social issues, I am increasingly more aware of how my investments are upholding systems of harm in the world. To the degree that we are able to have our say in corporate matters as investors, I think it’s important to explore all avenues of agency. This is an area I am excited to participate in more. Organizations like As You Sow also provide online resources to invest your values.

That’s great to know! I personally have been wanting to look more carefully into the social issues impacted by my investments. I will check out that website.

How could people contact you to learn more about any of these topics covered here today?  

I have a Facebook group called We Hold These Shares where we discuss investing and activism, particularly with a social justice lens. My email is srgardner77@gmail.com.

About the Author: Julie Glaser is a healer who creates sacred spaces for people to share, release, and grow. She’s in the habit of being in awe and wonder and writes to share her own experiences and curiosities with other inquisitive souls in the process of transforming.

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