Alisa Mall Director of Investments, Carnegie Corp. New York, New York Art by Iris Lei
Alisa Mall

“Alisa joined Carnegie Corporation in the winter of 2009 to manage our real asset portfolio. While she had extensive experience in the real estate space, she had not managed a resources portfolio. In short order, she became as skilled in manager selection in the resources space as she was in the real estate space. I think that this reflects her unique ability to source and due diligence managers. She is able to use pattern recognition to identify the “IT Factor” that would allow a manager to outperform in an asset class and then conduct a comprehensive underwriting to test what she has identified. One of the things that most impresses me is her ability to develop close relationships with her managers. She is a trusted advisor which allows her to give them thoughtful, honest feedback which might threaten the relationship of those on less solid ground. Given that in most funds we are generally a relatively small check, her ability to offer these insights has allow us to have influence way beyond our size.

 

She has begun to branch out into other asset classes with a special focus on identifying diverse talent. I think that diverse managers is a relatively untapped source of potential alpha for those managers who fish in different ponds than is typical for traditional managers. I know that her special ability to provide advice and counsel to managers will serve her well as she tackles this market and I know that it will allow her to be a highly successfully CIO when the right opportunity presents itself to her. I am thankful for the past 10 years Carnegie Corporation has benefited from her talents.”

— Kim Lew, CIO, Carnegie Corp.

 

Former attorney Alisa Mall’s extensive forward-looking strategies earned her a ranking in this year’s NextGen series, through spearheading the Carnegie Corporation of New York’s relatively small real estate & natural resources investment team into stable positive return territory. Mall embraces a consistent strategy of choosing to stick to the script and keeping in tune with her team’s long-term investment strategy, rather than going for portfolio composition changes dictated largely by market swings.

She joined the Carnegie Corporation 10 years ago after working as an equity capital markets investment professional at Tishman Speyer, and before that a real estate-focused attorney at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe. Mall holds a Doctor of Law designation from Stanford University Law School and earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from Yale University.

Mall discusses her evolution from law to asset allocation, what drew her to the nature of her work today, and how she intends to help propel the team’s investment portfolio in the future.

CIO: What makes 2019 an interesting investing climate? How are you handling it?

Mall: Because everything feels expensive, the search for value makes 2019 an interesting investing climate. In addition, with the general “late cycle” sentiment and global growth decelerating, it feels like we are constantly scanning the horizon for signs of a recession.

We try to stay the course and adhere to our long-term asset allocation rather than market time, but are making adjustments on the margins, including shifting towards strategies that offer more liquidity, cash flow, and downside protection. Thematically, emerging markets continue to offer more value than developed markets and remains an area of focus for the foundation.  Because we are fairly small, we can take advantage of smaller, niche strategies that don’t necessarily scale and are less correlated to the equity markets and have been spending lots of time exploring these opportunities. Lastly, as the person who covers natural resources, I tend to be drawn to energy and other commodities that are unloved and out of favor, but could serve not only a source of return, but perhaps as an insurance policy against geopolitical risk. 

CIO: After this year, what are the largest opportunities and the largest threats you see on the horizon?

Mall: From a long-term perspective, the largest opportunities are linked to growth in the emerging markets, renewable energy, and changes in agriculture to feed the growing population.

The largest threats on the horizon, both for investment risk-taking and just our daily lives, are the growing populist movements in many parts of the world, including this country, increasing geopolitical tension with China and Iran, cybersecurity threats, and climate change. Specific to investing, I worry about high and ever-rising levels of government debt. 

CIO: How did you arrive at your current position? And why did you choose this part of the financial services industry?

Mall: I had a circuitous route to Carnegie. My first job out of college was at a software company in Austin, Texas. I had already taken the LSAT and planned to go to law school, but it was the height of the tech bubble and I was curious to learn what all this dot.com mania was about!  After two years (and the bubble bursting), I decided it was time to go to law school. I went to Stanford with an interest in tech, but after taking several courses related to real estate and tax planning, I left with an interest in real estate. I practiced real estate law for a few years before taking a job at Tishman Speyer, a large real estate GP/developer.

It was during my time at Tishman, working with their investors, that I discovered this magical role of being a capital allocator! I was drawn to this part of the industry because of its academic nature. How cool is it to have a job where you get to explore and study lots of different strategies, regions, and themes, and then decide what you think is the best way to express a thesis? And you get to spend lots of time with some of the smartest, most thoughtful investors in the world, literally, learning about what they do.

When I learned that Carnegie was hiring for a head of real assets, I jumped at the opportunity.  The CIO at the time, Ellen Shuman, really took a chance on me. Ellen saw something in me and I’m forever grateful to her for giving me this opportunity.

CIO: What was the most important strategic allocation of your career?

Mall: When the price of oil fell ~75% and the energy markets crashed in the end of 2014, we made a decision to invest heavily in oil & gas opportunities with trusted, high-confidence managers. We increased our allocation by several hundred basis points in the first half of 2015. That strategic allocation decision paid off handsomely over the last few years.

CIO: Tips for money managers who want to work with you, especially what not to do.

Mall:

  1. Try to understand what our portfolio needs are and whether the product being offered is a fit.
  2. Be persistent, but not annoying—hard to thread that needle, but important!
  3. Drop the jargon. If you can’t explain the essence of your strategy to me at its most basic level in a way my grandmother would understand, I probably won’t be interested.
  4. If I haven’t responded yet, or have responded that I don’t think it’s a fit for us, do not proceed to email every other person on Carnegie’s team.

CIO: Biggest goof a money manager has made with you? 

Mall: Called me “little lady” (I’m 6’1”) while ordering my meal for me (without asking me what I wanted)!

CIO: Who in the financial world would you like to have lunch with and why?

Mall: Sonia Gardner, president, managing partner and co-founder of Avenue Capital because she was an industry pioneer as a woman co-founder of a major hedge fund. On a more personal note, as a Jewish woman, I’m fascinated by Gardner’s background as a Moroccan-Jewish immigrant (with a law degree!)

As an aside, I consider myself lucky in that I frequently get to have lunch with some of the smartest people I admire most in the financial world—Meredith Jenkins, CIO of Trinity Wall Street, and Kim Lew—Carnegie’s CIO.

CIO: What are changes you’d like to see the institutional investing community make in 10 years?

Mall: More women in senior decision-making roles—both at allocators as CIOs and at investment management firms across asset classes.

CIO: What are your hobbies not correlated to work?

Mall: Spending time with family—my husband and two girls—is my main extracurricular gig. In addition to that, I’m an avid exerciser and faithful book club member.

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