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'Be a Risk Taker,' Says DFA's COO

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Reading a prospectus at age 15 might dissuade many individuals from joining the investment world, but not Lisa Dallmer. Today, Dallmer is chief operating officer of Dimensional Fund Advisors, the $609 billion asset manager based in Austin, Texas.

“Initially, my father taught me about investments,” the Naperville, Illinois native told ThinkAdvisor. “He had a passion for it, and he spent time talking about diversification and investing in mutual funds. And he actually had me read a prospectus before I made my investment.”

Her mother “had a career in databases — nowadays we would call [her] a data scientist.” Her career is an “intersection of technology and investments — both influences from my parents,” she says.

Dallmer joined DFA in December 2019, having previously worked as COO of global technology at BlackRock, COO of European markets for NYSE Euronext in Paris, and vice president of Archipelago exchange (which merged with NYSE).

Her time at the NYSE companies “was a fantastic experience to see the capital formation process and the real maturing of technology and data and pricing information as a critical aspect of investments,” the executive explained.

After graduating from Miami University in Ohio in finance and economics, she worked for NationsBank on the sell side. She was there for about six years, while working on an MBA at night and on weekends at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

Being on the sell side gave her certain insights, says the mother of two boys: “I really observed how technology enables the business by redefining the process, and [it] has the opportunity to remove operational inefficiencies.”

This also led her to work in the fintech side of financial services, where she spent 15 years in client-facing tech businesses.

“At that point, having been both on the sell side and deeply in fintech, I was quite intrigued by the buy side,” so she joined asset manager BlackRock, she said. “I really treated that opportunity as a platform to bring technology and operations [together] as a driving force in delivering those financial products and amazing client service.”

 Who have been your mentors?

I had a lot of mentors, both men and women, in my career. Some of them [have been] bosses, some have been peers. … And one consistent theme that I’ve observed is good leadership skills are about motivating people and creating high performing teams.

A key ingredient in that high-performing team structure is trust, and the way you build trust is through inclusion. And a key aspect of how I lead is through inclusion.

What’s the best advice you ever got?

Be curious and have the confidence to be a figure-it-out kind of person. Bring others into that journey and have a positive attitude.

[And] don’t try to find the perfect job, the perfect everything. Let perfect find you. Be your authentic self and know your strengths and your weaknesses, and try to add to that skill set over time. Because a career is a journey and you can’t possibly define it upfront.

What advice would you give to women entering the field?

Be a risk taker, and in that process be curious and go seek information along the way to build those “figure-it-out” skills with others. Being a risk taker has worked well for me. It’s part of my DNA that I like growth. I like change. And I grow from change.

What can the industry do better to be more inclusive?

It’s really important to put everyone on equal footing. For example, I follow [Ellevest CEO] Sallie Krawcheck [because] I like that she connects with her target audience in helping women achieve what I would call financial literacy, a seat at the table and helping them understand how to invest for their future. … It is valuable for [all] people to know how to do these things.

Who else do you follow?

Reshma Saujani, she’s the founder of a nonprofit called Girls Who Code. … I follow her and what she’s doing, [which] is fantastic because she’s teaching girls starting in junior high through high school what the art of the possible is for them, and helping them see themselves in a potential career in computer sciences. She’s giving them access, role modeling and opportunities, again for equal footing.

What change do you see in the industry?

There are signs if you look at statistics regarding women in C-Suite roles and in the boardroom. Is it changing at the pace that we think it should be? I’d like to see it change faster.

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