Lead(H)er - Erin Kutner McCafferty, Investment Professional at The Yard Ventures
When Erin Kutner McCafferty thinks about where she wants her career to go, she doesn’t think of a particular company or role. She thinks about stimulating experiences.
The pursuit of experiences that keeps her mind moving has taken her career on an unusual path, from the halls of Harvard to collegiate lacrosse fields to her current role as an investment professional at The Yard Ventures.
McCafferty played lacrosse and studied economics at Harvard. Her roommate’s father and now-husband’s father were both involved in venture capital, and from them, she gained an interest in the investment field she would eventually enter. For her first post-grad job, though, McCafferty worked in sales and trading at Citigroup.
“I just couldn’t pass up a job in sales like that,” she said. She soon realized, though, that her happiness didn’t lie in sales. Instead, McCafferty returned to lacrosse, this time as a coach at Brown University and later at Columbia University.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be something long term, but it was something to do while I was young,” she said. “After that, I was ready to undertake a more mature job search, maybe with more information than the one I had done in college.”
McCafferty sees sports and investing the same way: If you work hard at either one, you’re likely to get something in return. While interviewers at financial institutions may have discounted her athletic experience as a detour from her financial career, McCafferty credits it with giving her the valuable tools that helped her succeed in the business world.
“You’re really put in charge of a small company when you’re coaching,” she said. “When you’re coaching defense, it’s like running a division of that company. I learned a ton.”
McCafferty stayed connected to lacrosse – and to Harvard – by co-chairing the Friends of Harvard Lacrosse alumni group while she worked as a VP at Bank of America, went to business school, and became an investment officer at Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management.
The move led her to The Yard Ventures, which provides venture capital to Harvard alumni (the fund is private and not affiliated with Harvard). The firm combined everything McCafferty enjoyed; it gave her skin in the game by allowing her to make investment decisions that directly affected companies, and it further connected her to the alma mater she had spent so much time supporting as part of the lacrosse group. As soon as McCafferty heard about The Yard Ventures from founder and Managing Partner Michael Madden, whom she had known from her undergrad days, she sent him an email asking how she could be a part of it.
“I really enjoy the learning aspect of it,” McCafferty said of her role at The Yard Ventures. “We’re not sector specific, so I do get to see a lot. It’s kind of hard to make an investment decision in an area that you don’t have experience in, and you only have two weeks to do due diligence. It’s the part that I like, but it’s the part that can be difficult sometimes.”
The challenge, though, is what keeps McCafferty going–providing her with the stimulation she’s always sought in her career.
“I really like being part of companies whose goal it is to change the world,” McCafferty said. “It’s exciting to be a part of.”
Rapid Fire Questions
What do you like to do in your free time?
I don’t have a lot of free time. I would say either dance parties with my kids or exercising, if I can squeeze it in. Usually, it’s doing something fun with my kids, and the dance parties are one of the things we have the most fun doing.
How do you manage stress?
I try to make sure that I make time for myself. If I have to go to the bank, I walk there, so I get a little bit of exercise. I also try to couple “me-time” with work as well. For example, if I have diligence that I need to read, maybe I can do it while I get a pedicure.
How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?
I don’t drink coffee unless my kids have made me pull an all-nighter. Otherwise, it’s water, pretty much – as much as I can to keep me hydrated.
What is your favorite spot in the Boston area?
It’s very specific, but Boston Common in the springtime. I’m a New Yorker by birth, and I love New York, and I miss New York all the time, but the flowers in the Common–there’s nothing in New York like that. It’s gorgeous. It’s one of my favorite things to see.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
I went to business school with a six-month-old and then was pregnant my second year, and I still graduated with honors.
Where did you see yourself 10 years ago, and how does that compare to where you are today?
I don’t think it’s that far off, because I’ve always tried to make sure that I’m doing stuff that stimulates me. If someone said I’d be working at a venture capital fund that’s also in the Harvard universe, that would make total sense because of my involvement with Harvard. I don’t think this is far off from where I wanted to be. I think that’s why I like my job so much, because it fits me well. The fact that I’m doing something where I get to geek out on different things all the time is very me.
What is your advice for recent college graduates?
I did a career panel recently for undergrads, and there were a bunch of people saying this or that was their passion. I think it’s totally okay to have passions that change throughout your life. I’ve moved around quite a bit and people are like, “Wow, you’ve done a lot of different stuff.” I’ve always been excited about everything I’ve done, and I’ve always enjoyed it at each stage of my life. My advice would be to follow your passion, and that can change. It doesn’t have to be the thing you’re going to be doing 5, 10, 15, 20 years from now.
Images courtesy of Erin Kutner McCafferty