When Penny Dyson Foley ’63 attended Shipley, the school was an entirely different place. Foley was a boarder and Shipley was all-girls, both aspects that are long gone. For Foley, though, the core values of Shipley remain consistent, even half a century later.
“The essence of Shipley for me is still very much the same. It was a terrific educational and nurturing environment, a place where you were encouraged to take risks,” says Foley.
Foley has practiced embracing risk in her life. For that and more, she is the recipient of the 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award, recognizing her outstanding achievements as a pioneer for women in investment banking and her dedication to working in emerging markets around the globe, currently as Group Managing Director at Trust Company of the West.
Although her exposure to the world at large was limited when she was very young, Foley was soon transformed by her Shipley experience. “When I got to Shipley I discovered that, in fact, the world was a much wider place than I had imagined, with many more choices and various ways to be happy and successful, and that made an enormous difference to me,” she says. “For me, Shipley was defining.”
Beyond merely discovering the wide world, Foley attributes her capacity for entering into unfamiliar territory—be it a boardroom full of men or a war-torn country—to her Shipley education. “Because it was an environment that was pretty safe, when you fell on your face it wasn’t quite so painful, so you were more willing to take that risk in the real world. That was pretty critical for me, allowing me to decide I wanted to be in the investment business—then very much an old boys’ network—and giving me the courage to stick with it despite numerous setbacks along the way,” she says.
The support system she experienced at Shipley helped to bolster her ambition and own that she could achieve her dreams, no matter her gender. “The most important lesson I learned is that I was a part of a broader community, that there were multiple paths I could take, even though there were a lot of constraints on women in the 60s and 70s.”
In an era when women who worked outside of the home were extremely limited in their job choices, Foley stayed true to her love of mathematics and pursued a career in economics. Attending Hollins University, a small liberal arts institution in Virginia, afforded her the opportunity to work closely with her economics professors—Foley was one of just four economics majors in her class. “It was almost like having a one-on-one education,” she says.
Foley accepted a position with the Federal Reserve in Boston after graduation, then moved to New York to work with Lehman Brothers. “I took a job in investment banking, and the rest was history,” she says.
At Lehman, Foley was one of just two women at the firm who weren’t secretaries. “They hired us together and put us in the same office because they were sure that without that kind of support system it would fall apart,” she says. Although she believed she was hired as a junior member of the corporate finance department, just a few months into her tenure, she learned differently. “This memo went around referring to the statisticians, and we realized that had to be us,” she recalls. “We weren’t even on equal footing with males that had the same educational credentials and lack of experience that we had.”
But her second-class status didn’t dampen her determination to excel in her chosen field. And fortunately, the timing was right. “It was the late 60s and markets were very, very strong, and they had to use us because they didn’t have enough junior analysts,” says Foley. “Luckily, I also got support from a number of younger partners. They weren’t blind to the fact that I was a woman, but they didn’t much care as long as I could do the work. And that was really the beginning.”
After establishing herself at Lehman, Foley continued to grow in her career and in the mid-70s made the move to Citibank, where an investment bank was being set up. After being legislated out of the investment banking industry in the 1930s, Citibank was just beginning to rebuild that division. “They were offering opportunity for younger people and for women because they hadn't been operating in the business for forty years,” says Foley.
“It was exciting for a number of reasons. They gave me more responsibility than I would have had at a more traditional investment bank, and I liked the idea of international markets, which were growing at the time.”
Foley devoted herself to the study and process of investing in emerging markets like Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Asia, which, in the 70s, were known as less-developed countries. “There was no thought that they would ever emerge,” says Foley. “But it was great fun. We were very early in these markets, and we had to modify traditional ways of doing things to fit the realities on the ground.”
After working around the world and studying the international markets for a decade, Foley and her colleagues recognized an opportunity to trade the debt of these emerging nations. She then went to Drexel Burnham Lambert to help set up a trading operation for international debt, and then was one of the founding partners of an emerging markets fund that is still active today. Now she is with Trust Company of the West, managing over $11.5 billion in emerging markets assets, including the fund that she helped to set up while at Drexel Burnham.
Foley has traveled the world throughout her 40-year career, studying and balancing the risk and reward of international investments. “It’s very much a fundamentals-driven research methodology,” she says of her investment process. Through primary research done in country, her firm takes a hard look at each investment it makes. “In the emerging markets, our view is always that the first cut has to be top down—where you want to position yourself from a country and sector perspective. Then, you fill in each country position from a bottom up point of view,” explains Foley.
Although the equations of calculating risk are paramount, numbers are hardly the sole factor considered when investing in emerging markets. “The thing that’s interesting about what we do, and what anyone does in emerging markets, is it’s as much about history and sociology and culture as it is about economics. It’s a really rich landscape,” says Foley.
Beyond her work investing in emerging markets, Foley’s interest in the cultures she researches has led her to give back via involvement in an organization called Trickle Up. “The thing that really gets my attention is that despite the progress that we’ve made over the past 30 years in emerging markets...there are two billion people who still live on less than two dollars a day. Something isn’t working,” she says. As chairman of the board of New York-based Trickle Up for the past four years, Foley has helped sponsor small business owners in Guatemala, West Africa and India, generally setting up women with venture capital of $100 to $250. “It’s not limited to women,” says Foley, “but we’ve found the return on investments in women tends to benefit the family and have a positive impact for generations to come. By investing in 10,000 businesses a year, Trickle Up helps 50,000 women and their families take the first steps out of poverty.
In addition to her work combating international poverty, Foley also works with Kids in Sports in Los Angeles, which provides after school sports programs for at-risk youth, and with the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, which supports breast cancer research.
But Foley’s philanthropic efforts always include Shipley, too, and an investment in the future of educational excellence as a member of the Board of Trustees. “I’d like to help ensure that kids have the same opportunity and experience I did,” says Foley. “This is not something that lasts forever. Tuition doesn’t cover costs for [Shipley’s] kind of education, so fundraising, development, and free labor from the Board of Trustees is all critical to making Shipley a long-term proposition.”
For Foley, the honor of an award from Shipley is unexpected, but certainly gratifying. “I couldn’t be more delighted to be recognized by Shipley,” she says. “It is an outstanding educational institution and a very special community. I can’t think of a better place by which to be acknowledged.”
Her hurdles were many as a banker but Foley has had an exemplary career, and contributed to establishing the position of women in finance. “I get overwhelmed by the notion of role model, but 40 years is a pretty good run,” she says.
Though Foley has considered retirement, she says, “It never seems to be the right time.” Certainly, for this marathon runner—Foley has run 15 to date, all after turning 50 years old—her pioneering nature keeps on offering new rewards in life.