Publications

- November 1, 2021: Vol. 8, Number 10

Profile: Anne Valentine Andrews, global head of real assets at BlackRock

by Mike Consol

Early in life, Anne Valentine Andrews understood the power of saving, investing and compound interest. While studying, she held various jobs as a tutor, babysitter, waitress and in retail sales to save money. She began investing in the stock market during her early 20s. With the benefit of hindsight, she wishes she had done more investing during those early years.

“I like putting my money to work,” she says. “We invest in property, the stock market and also invest in real asset funds.”

The “we” being Valentine Andrews and her husband, James Andrews.

To this day, the global head of real assets at BlackRock considers herself a saver rather than a spender. When she does spend, the resources go most squarely to family considerations, chiefly her four children between the ages of 10 and 17, both for education and family holidays. The COVID pandemic tripped up some of those plans, such as travels to the couple’s native Australia where, pre-COVID, they visited at least every two years.

Spending priorities such as education and travel are consistent with her eschewing of material possessions.

“I would definitely describe myself as a minimalist.”

The subject arises while discussing her embrace of the Marie Kondo book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

“There is a special type of satisfaction I get from organizing my drawers, cupboards and shelves, and knowing that everything is housed in the correct place and there aren’t any excess items. My label-maker is one of my favorite possessions.” Everything kept must have a purpose.

The Andrews have had a good deal of practice at purging and organization, given that they have renovated several of the homes they’ve lived in, only to sell each place and do it all over again.

“There are so few things that we actually keep that mean anything,” she surmises. “Moving a lot has really informed me about what is important, which is mainly photographs and personal mementos. I have always been like this, not wanting extra things around and wanting to know that everything is in its right place.”

Sounds like a person focused enough to do well managing investment portfolios.

MILESTONES

When her team hit the $60 billion AUM mark this past year, she feted the group with cupcakes and balloons. It’s one of her modes of celebration. And with 430 people working under her purview, that’s a lot of cupcakes and balloons.

“We are about to hit $70 billion,” she says. “I like celebrating and I like making the most of those moments because everything whizzes by fast, and we are all working very hard. So, I do really like to celebrate big milestones, and I give a lot of shout-outs for individual performance.”

Valentine Andrews describes herself as a “high-conviction” thinker, a person who delves into a matter to formulate her own informed decision, though she strives to surround herself with other high-conviction people willing and able to convince her otherwise.

“I like nothing better than someone changing my mind,” she says. “Then I like to make a decision, tell everyone what the idea is and to move to implementation.”

High conviction, high communication, high engagement, high optimism.

“What is that old quote,” she muses, “life is 10 percent what happens and 90 percent how you react to it.”

PAINT IT BLACK

Valentine Andrews made her bones doing infrastructure investing at Macquarie Group and Morgan Stanley. Macquarie represented her break from the practice of law and is the place where she “really grew up.” It was also the place where the mammoth size of the infrastructure opportunity came into focus.

“I saw that infrastructure was going to continue to grow in much the same way as private equity and real estate had, and I felt it was just the start of that growth cycle,” she says.

It was Macquarie Group that gave her the opportunity to move to New York in 2001.  At that time, she worked structuring cross-border leasing deals on aircraft, telecommunications systems and other infrastructure assets. Eventually she was spending months at a time in the Big Apple before returning to Macquarie headquarters in Australia. One day her boss asked, “Do you want to move to the U.S.?” Valentine Andrews was open to the idea and discussed the move with her then-boyfriend James Andrews. The couple not only agreed to the move but to get married to boot.

“That was 20 years ago,” she says. “We came to live in New York for two years 20 years ago.”

It was at her next professional stint, with Morgan Stanley, that Valentine Andrews experienced a career turning point. Specifically, she was working on a fund platform when she realized asset management was what she wanted to do for the foreseeable future.

“That was where I really felt my future.”

After Morgan Stanley, Valentine Andrews knew she wanted to get involved with an organization that was looking to grow infrastructure in a big way. She began having conversations with people in asset management, private equity funds, investment houses, insurance companies and the like. One of those people was a contact at BlackRock, an organization that had been on Valentine Andrews’ mind. She found BlackRock’s ambitions in private markets and infrastructure to be exhilarating. The firm’s leadership wanted to build something huge nearly from scratch.

“That was exciting to me because it was obvious that I could have a massive impact on where the business would go, because I was going to be helping to build it.”

Today, Valentine Andrews oversees nine different businesses within the global real assets group and dozens of alternative investment funds at BlackRock.

BEGINNINGS

Valentine Andrews grew up in Melbourne, Australia, with her parents and younger brother, who also now lives in New York City. Her father was an Air Force-trained engineer who was good with his hands. An avid hobbyist, he plied that skill in a backyard shed, where he would take electronic devices apart and fix them. There were always parts lying around, Valentine Andrews recalls, and she would solder certain components under her father’s supervision.

“I am that person; I am the person that is happy to take things apart and fix things.”

She would also find her father operating a ham radio setup and talking to people from around the world.

Though she has taken more after her father to this point, as time goes on Valentine Andrews hopes to become more like her mother, whom she dubs “probably the sweetest person in the world.”

Valentine Andrews attended Monash University in Melbourne to study economics and law, not certain where she would direct the skills acquired.

She remains affiliated with Monash, serving on an alumni board that brings students to the United States for tours, and also raises money for underprivileged students to attend the campuses in Australia and Asia.

LAW AND ORDER

It was the Kondo book about tidiness that led us into a discussion about how organization can alleviate anxiety. The peculiar thing, however, is that Valentine Andrews doesn’t feel her job is high pressure, let alone anxiety-producing, despite being responsible in no small part for client assets totaling about $70 billion. Valentine Andrews contrasts what she does with the life-and-death situations faced by surgeons or the GIs who spent years in the crucible of war zones.

“I think those types of jobs are high stress, given they involve life and death. I am pretty fortunate that my job is sort of like a big puzzle or a Rubik’s cube.”

Amazing how a bit of labeling and organization can clarify the mind.

“No two days are the same, so that also suits me very well. One day it might be something to do with high-level strategic work, another day it might be focused on hiring, sitting on an investment committee presentation and other days it might be about lots of communication. A big part of my job is communication, making sure everybody knows what’s going on and where we are heading from a strategic viewpoint. I would probably be terrible running something that is exactly the same every day, and I would undoubtedly be bored doing that.”

Valentine Andrews had already been down that avenue after getting her law degree from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. She worked only a couple of years as a lawyer because she found the practice of law to be unfulfilling. She found herself stuck in long meetings with fellow attorneys arguing over the minutiae of legalistic wording in 400-page documents.

Valentine Andrews realized she was more interested in arranging and executing business deals than their legal underpinnings. She didn’t see a suitable career path forward and decided to leave the firm and the practice of law.

Interestingly, Valentine Andrews adored the study of law during her collegiate years, considering it an “amazingly intellectual pursuit” and a powerful education. Alas, law practice was an entirely different experience.

TIME ON MY SIDE

The timing of Valentine Andrews’ move to BlackRock has proven auspicious. A number of trends over recent years — such as the search for yield and portfolio-diversification strategies — have bolstered investor interest in real assets.

Hence, the traditional 60/40 stock-and-bond portfolio has been transitioning to something closer to a 50/30/20 split between equities, fixed-income and alternatives.

“We are continuing to see a shift, and it is broader than just real assets, by the way, it is alternatives in general,” she explains. “And I think we are going to continue to see that in the years to come.”

KEEPING IT SIMPLE

The Andrews’ portfolio, which includes stocks, real assets and alternatives, also has just a smidgen of crypto.

“I like the ones that act as platforms and giving people access to platforms,” she explains. “I like the idea that one day this could give people access to bank accounts and other financial accounts — particularly people in emerging markets that don’t have all of the financial systems we have. That is appealing to me.”

Valentine Andrews is quick to emphasize that crypto occupies a very small percentage of her personal portfolio, and that her interest is driven by a desire to continue to be a student of the markets and understand new investment vehicles.

More core to her portfolio is the property development that she and husband James Andrews collaborate on.

Indeed, even with all her professional credentials, Valentine Andrews points out that she doesn’t pretend to be an expert on picking individual stocks, recommending instead that investing in a broad market index, such as the S&P 500, makes more sense.

“Whatever you can afford, put that in the market or a 401(k) account and over time you will have money, and then you can get more comfortable and can add on another index,” she says, emphasizing that investors and advisers should keep things simple. “That is something that the financial industry hasn’t done a great job at — they have generally made investing quite complicated, which discourages more investing from happening.”

TRANSITIONS

Valentine Andrews sees BlackRock as a very different organization than the one that presented itself to the asset management world in 1988, when it started life as a bond house. Its evolution has been driven by a relentless focus on the future and on clients.

“The founders have been intensely focused on where the industry is moving,” she says. “They diversified into equities and alternatives through acquisitions. Part of BlackRock’s success has been a lot of very large, inorganic acquisitions, and then being able to onboard those businesses in a very intentional way. At other firms, acquisitions get done and some of the subsidiaries get left out there on the sidelines, and there is always this tale of two cultures. Acquisitions are not easy by any stretch, but BlackRock has excelled at not only identifying acquisitions they should do, but then really integrating them properly.”

Being future-focused naturally leads to the organization involving itself in emerging themes. Sustainability became a major focus a couple of years ago. One of the most exciting components of that trend, says Valentine Andrews, is the energy transition to renewables and the move to net zero.

“It’s not just about generating energy, but also building all our materials — concrete and everything we have — in a less fossil-fuel reliant way. That change has to happen over the next 10, 20 or 30 years,” she says. “It’s huge and we are only just at the start of that.  I read Bill Gates’ book while I was on holiday, which I recommend to everyone, because it outlines the challenge by putting it into very simple terms.”

In-house at BlackRock, Valentine Andrews often has discussions with people who are making career decisions, and enjoys helping advise and guide people in their career paths.

“It is important to find out what people do all day in the job or profession being considered,” she says, adding that people need to understand their own passions and motivations. “The more you point yourself toward where your inner strength is, the more successful you are going to be. I always push people to answer the question, ‘What do you like to do?’”

After making those assessments, one can imagine Valentine Andrews encouraging her people to make a decision and do it with conviction.

 

Mike Consol (m.consol@irei.com) is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.

 

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