The Notre Dame Institute of Global Investment (NDIGI) welcomed Vivian Lin Thurston, CFA, partner and portfolio manager at the investment firm William Blair, to speak as part of the “Empower Asia Speaker Series” on Wednesday night.
The event, which was hosted in partnership with the Asian Business Society and Smart Woman Securities, covered issues regarding investing in China and other markets within Thurston’s expertise.
Thurston’s colleague at William Blair, Kelly Allison, moderated the fireside discussion.
The discussion opened up by introducing Thurston’s educational and cultural background. Thurston was born and raised in China and received her LL.B. in sociology at Peking University in China. She later moved to the U.S. and completed her M.A. in sociology and M.S. in finance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
China, in the era Thurston grew up, was in the earliest phase of opening up to the world. Thurston expressed gratitude for being “fortunate to experience that entire journey of the country [becoming] more market driven.” However, Thurston said this first phase experienced many issues such as hyperinflation and corruption. The structural barriers at the institutions Thurston worked at, such as state power, inspired her to chase an American dream of sorts, she said.
While explaining why she moved to the U.S, Thurston compared capitalism and the free market in the U.S. to China’s relatively state-controlled economy.
She said she was grateful for being able to continue her career in the U.S. and that her favorite aspects of living in America are the “freedom to learn, to grow, freedom to explore and freedom to be open-minded.“ Thurston said this freedom is helpful when investing.
Thurston spoke about her sociology degree, calling it a relatively rare major for people with careers in finance. When asked how this degree impacts her work as a financial analyst, she said she learned most about how to learn and research. Because of this, she advised students to not rule out a background in social science.
She urged the audience to focus on their own desires, abilities and motivators when navigating career options rather than on compensation or other superficial external motivators.
Thurston incorporated her personal experiences and love for research when explaining what it means to enjoy one’s profession. While referring to her background in sociology, she said she learns something new every day.
“Whether it’s market, whether it’s company, whether it’s industry. You have to keep an open mind,” Thurston said.
As a portfolio manager and partner, Thurston said she is responsible for making tough decisions on a daily basis. She advised students to ask themselves if they can handle a job environment that requires demanding work and confident decision making.
In addition to sharing career advice, Thurston also spoke about investments in China. She said it is important to “put things into a historical perspective, not just politically” when thinking about China’s market. China is still going through “tremendous change and growth” and it is essential to consider these when understanding investment opportunities there, she said.
During the student Q&A, Thurston discussed how fast Chinese monopolies such as Alibaba Group have grown and China’s recent crackdown on technological companies.
“China has already leapfrogged the U.S. in many ways like online/mobile payment and e-commerce,” Thurston said.