How a Schoolteacher Became a Top Wells Fargo Portfolio Manager

Ann Miletti, a lead portfolio manager at Wells Capital Management, wants more women to consider careers in asset managment

Ann Miletti is hoping her unconventional start in the industry will help more women feel confident in having careers in finance.

Miletti is a managing director and lead portfolio manager for the PMV Equity team at Wells Fargo Asset Management, where she manages the Common Stock Fund, Intrinsic Small Cap Value Fund, Opportunity Fund and Real Return Fund. She joined Wells Capital Management, the firm's RIA, in 2005 as a portfolio manager. Prior to that, she was with Strong Capital Management since 1991.

During a recent visit to ThinkAdvisor's offices, Miletti discussed how she got her start in the industry and why she wants to help other women get their start too.

“Early in my career, I was not confident about telling my story. Because I worked with people that had an MBA from Harvard and this is the path that they took and what they always saw themselves doing. And here I just ended up in this position,” she told ThinkAdvisor. “But I’ve learned over time — and I have a track record and I’ve proven myself — that it’s not a story to be embarrassed about that it’s actually something to be pretty proud of.”

Miletti graduated with a teaching degree and taught elementary school for one semester. And then she says her whole life plan changed when her son was born with a “pretty serious heart defect.”

Miletti and her husband, who both worked during the day, needed someone to stay home with their son. But, at the same time they were facing a mountain of debt, Miletti says.

“If we didn’t take control of the situation and try to deal with that, not just dealing with his health issues but the financial implications of it too were just going to overwhelm us,” she said.

That led to Miletti finding a job at a local financial firm, Strong Capital Management.

“I got hired working in the call center talking to shareholders on the phone, working midnight to 8,” she said. “Although that seems crazy, it fit with my needing to be home and working a different schedule than my husband.”

It also allowed her the time to learn about the business, learn about the product offerings and to study for all the licenses that she needed.

“I’d had some business classes in college and was always interested in business but it’s not like I was deeply trained on the financial markets,” she said. “So it was a lot of self-teaching.”

After working in the call center for a couple of years, Miletti applied for a job working with a portfolio manager, mostly as an administrative assistant. Her boss became a mentor and eventually convinced her she was capable of being an analyst.

“He was a good mentor to me but also really good at pushing my confidence level to say ‘just because you don’t have the background or ever thought about doing this, doesn’t mean you can’t do it,’” she explained.

Quickly from there, Miletti became an analyst, covering media and entertainment and then biotech and then technology, and now she’s a lead portfolio manager, managing $4 billion in assets across several mutual funds.

“I kind of failed my way to success,” she said. “Everything that I was planning on doing didn’t happen and yet I ended up with a job I really like and have been fairly successful doing.”

Miletti, who serves as a mentor in a Wells Fargo program that pairs fund managers with female analysts, thinks her story could help persuade more women to consider jobs in the finance industry.

“When I’m talking to women about considering the field or considering about how to advance in your career,  I try to focus on their strengths and attributes and try to be what my mentor was to me: a boost in their confidence,” she said. “And pushing them to say, ‘It’s not undoable. There are people that have done it and have come into this industry in a very different way, and actually that’s a positive thing because it brings a different thought process.”

Miletti thinks the absence of women in the industry is partially a lack of awareness among female high school and college students and also a lack of mentors within the industry.

“As we’re looking at the pool of candidates that we have, there’s very few women in those pools,” she said. “We’ve done things like reach out to the local universities and develop relationships with professors there, and … they would say ‘it’s a pool problem for us as well.’”

Miletti finds it interesting that “very, very few women” consider finance programs when entering college.

“That says to me, we have to start younger than in college into the high school level,” she said. “How do we get girls to become aware of careers in finance or in asset management? There’s a lack of awareness of what that means.”

Of the 15,000 portfolio managers Citywire tracks worldwide, just 10% are women. According to Kristi Mitchem, head of Wells Fargo Asset Management, Wells Fargo is slightly ahead of the industry trend, with women representing 12.5% of the company’s portfolio managers.

“What’s striking to me is that it’s always been male-dominated,” she said. “While other industries have changed, it hasn’t really changed much. So therefore, you don’t have role models.”

--- Check out Next-Gen Panelists Talk About How They Became Advisors on ThinkAdvisor.

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