Lillian Qian Lin won the Women in Asset Management Awards USA 2022. Here she talks about her journey in the industry, the challenges she faced, and how mentorship has played a critical role in her success.
Lillian, what did winning Next Generation Leader of the Year mean to you?
I am humbled to receive the Next Generation of Leader of the Year award and feel very grateful to be counted on the same list as so many exceptional financial professionals. I would like to thank the judges for their consideration and patience.
Coming to the US 10 years ago for the first time from a different culture, I am exceedingly fortunate to have been exposed to many mentors and surrounded by people who challenge me and provide a very diverse set of points of view.
I feel a great sense of responsibility in accepting this award. As I grew up, it became clear from my family’s example that women have just as much potential as men in the professional world and that we should never be afraid of breaking stereotypes, starting with ourselves.
Throughout the years, I have published a book, mentored others, delivered speeches and moderated conferences to share my experience and help young professionals grow. I have received positive feedback, but none of these is comparable to the influence of winning this award in terms of being able to help and reach others on a broader scale. I will continue to pass on the help I have received throughout the years.
What inspired you to pursue a career in asset management, and what challenges did you face along the way?
Born and raised in Beijing, I was fortunate enough to receive education from both the Eastern and Western perspectives and also lucky enough to work in both HK and California, two very different cultures.
In the Math school at Peking University, famous for its rigorous training in pure and applied mathematics, I attended extremely comprehensive lectures on logic and the philosophy of mathematics. The mathematical world was black and white, with one right answer to each problem. The top students we all strived to be were distinguished as the best problem solvers.
But when I came to MIT for an MBA, I learned that the world of finance actually exists in glorious technicolour. Sometimes, there exists more than one right answer, and simply solving problems is not good enough as you need to identify them first. Then there were, of course, all the subtleties of the English idiom I needed to grasp.
In the professional world, I started my career in the US with PIMCO after my MBA graduation. As with many from my culture, I was quiet, focused only on the task at hand, shy to talk to others, and I tended to want to remain invisible at meetings. Luckily I was surrounded by many considerate colleagues who encouraged me to share my views even if they were out of consensus and join various internal groups to meet like-minded people and to have confidence in myself.
Some of these amazing colleagues have become my mentors leading me and others in the firm through being role models for everyone. They continue to inspire me and guide me in my work and life. Now that I have been with the firm for a while and am very grateful for all of the help and support that I have received, I have also sought to pass it on to others new to the culture to share my experience so they can do better than me and avoid some of my mistakes.
That being said, I know there is still a lot for me to learn in this culture (as a start, perhaps I will learn to drive one day, although my colleagues were jokingly asking me to write a book, “How to Survive in the US (and even trade auto bonds) without ever driving a car”.
What advice would you give other women interested in pursuing a finance or asset management career?
Mentorship has played a critical role in my career. PIMCO is the only firm I have worked full-time at in the US, and as you can imagine, that involves a lot of adjustment and adaptation. Luckily, I have had mentors share their experiences and help me every step of the way. My academic background was pure and applied mathematics, so the transition to the mathematics of finance was effortless; however, I found the other key qualities of a PIMCO employee harder to achieve.
In an academic environment, much of the work can be handled individually in chunks, but the way that PIMCO functions place a heavy focus on teamwork in real time. For PIMCO to deliver exceptional returns, account managers, portfolio managers, and the middle and back office functions must blend seamlessly. The skills required were not innate to my being. However, what I learnt from my mentors was not just a skill set but an attitude needed to succeed.
In PIMCO, mentors can be both official and unofficial, and the very best PIMCO employees seem to manage to mentor a whole host of people. Often the best way they achieve, this is simply by the example they demonstrate as role models for everyone. I have admired and sought to replicate their work ethic and investment wisdom.
Because I am so grateful to have received much help from my official and unofficial mentors, I have also sought to pass it on to others. Every year there are new joiners and also interns in our firm. I have sought to proactively reach out to them to offer help. With that in mind, I have always shared my failures and successes so that they will do better than me and avoid some of my mistakes, knowing that this will lead to those people mentoring other new PIMCO colleagues as the torch passes.
What is the future of asset management, and how is PIMCO preparing for it?
We are focused on diversification between both names and sectors and looking for correlation regime shifts amongst different market segments. We are in unprecedented times with high volatility and very different fundamentals than any other historical period. While generating returns is very important, managing risks is paramount in this environment – clients rely on us to be as conservative as possible whilst generating returns simultaneously.
The future of asset management will be a combination of AI and fundamental human talent. PIMCO is adapting to an ever-changing world by focusing on both the technology and the human parts of the investment frameworks to optimise the investment results for our clients.
PIMCO has also leveraged our size as well as reputation always to be able to get fair and competitive prices for our clients. It is an ever-changing world, but the core values at PIMCO must remain unchanged and continue to define who we are because the truth is objective and doesn’t change.
What advice would you give young women professionals just starting their asset management or finance careers?
In my opinion, young women considering or starting in finance should aim to nurture three qualities that are absolutely key to success: perseverance, conscientiousness, and challenge.
I have found perseverance to be critically important thus far in my career. Because the truth is that, most of the time, we do not achieve what we want right away. Sometimes, we fail even at the first step, but this quality transcends even intelligence to allow us to make the smallest increment towards any goal that we want. The ability to accept failure and persevere has always been part of the cycle of success.
This leads to conscientiousness as a quality that defines success. As we all know, this means accountability, commitment and trustworthiness at work. In finance, specifically, conscientiousness prevents disasters. When you make a mistake you cannot correct yourself, conscientiousness gives you the bravery to admit the issue and immediately get help.
It also means doing a task to the best of your ability, regardless of how initially interesting or worthwhile it may seem. It is a quality that understands that every task is to be cherished no matter how seemingly unimportant it might be. What initially may seem tedious will end up paying dividends because it was done well. Conscientiousness means losing a battle to win a war.
Finally, it is important to embrace challenge, as where there is a challenge, there is an opportunity. Challenge is key because it differentiates between being just competent and being better than others. The challenge is what makes us improve. It means getting out of our comfort zones. You have to challenge yourself even if your job does not immediately ask this of you.
Now if you combine those three qualities, I cannot guarantee where you will be by when, but I can indeed promise that you will live up to your potential.