'Smart women go into finance'

Alice Schenato, who left two investment giants to join a young and entrepreneurial investment manager, on how women can succeed in finance


Alice Schenato used to believe she could only find her path working for a large organisation, being told what to do. Now, at 26, she has taken two big career risks, both of which have really paid off.

The first was deciding to leave her first full-time job, at Goldman Sachs, after eight months.

“At Goldman I was in the Real Estate Financing Group, it was very specialised,” Alice says. “I had a lot of responsibility, which was good as I acquired a lot of deal experience early on. But then I was offered a job at Blackstone, the largest alternative investment manager in the world.”

Lots of people advised Italian-born Alice, MFA2019, against changing jobs early on, saying it signalled a lack of commitment and loyalty. But Blackstone was hard to turn down. She gave in her notice on 11 March 2020, the day the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a global pandemic.

“Yes, I left on a pretty unique date,” she says. “It was an interesting time. At Blackstone I joined another very specialised team, the Real Estate Debt Strategies Group.”

Bigger fish in a smaller pond

Alice started work at Blackstone remotely, and found searching and underwriting deals in a volatile market challenging and rewarding. But as time passed, she started to feel like a “small fish in a big pond”, and realised she wanted to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond, doing something more entrepreneurial. She decided to join SURPLUS Equity Partners (“SEP”), a young Munich-based investment and asset management firm. She gave in her resignation at Blackstone on another remarkable day: 24 February 2022.

“It was the day Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” Alice says. “I’m always going to remember both those days for their geopolitical and historical value.”

Four months into her new job, Alice is enjoying the readjustment. “At Blackstone or Goldman, you’re in these large, hyper-structured American and multinational corporations,” she says. “Processes have been in place for 10, 20 years. You sit in your cubicle and report to someone who reports to someone who reports to someone else. Here, it’s the opposite – SEP is a very entrepreneurial place, and I am more often at the forefront of deal discussions and negotiations. One of the company’s investment hypotheses is around the Portuguese and specifically the Lisbon residential market, so my task is to go there and source opportunities. And I have full responsibility and support to do that. It’s really exciting.”

An international career

Alice was born in northern Italy, in a small village between Verona and Venice with just 8,000 inhabitants – a place where women don’t tend to go on to high-profile jobs. She credits her parents for pushing her to work hard. Early on, she discovered that the subjects she liked, and was good at, were maths and English. She soon decided she wanted an international career, “in something to do with numbers,” she says.

She got accepted by Bocconi University in Milan, studying international economics and finance. During her degree, she had her first taste of living and working in London, through summer internships with Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs. Finance, she realised, was exactly where she wanted to be.

“It’s one of those rare sectors at an intersection with everything,” she says. “You combine your qualitative skills, your personal skills, your understanding of economics and business. Even as a junior, you get to be part of very large transactions.”

Discover fresh perspectives and research insights from LBS

"The MFA is one of the best programmes out there"

Alice also became President and Chairwoman of Bocconi Students’ Women in Finance club.

“I started off as a mentee, as I needed help navigating internship interviews – learning how to present my story and say where my motivation came from. You start small, holding public-speaking presentations in front of the Finance club, then you go to interviews and apply those skills. It was my springboard. Then I became the club’s President – it was my time to give back.”

‘The best year of my life’

It was through her internship mentors, both LBS alumni, that Alice first heard about the high calibre of LBS and its tight-knit community. After graduating from Bocconi with top marks, she applied to the School and was awarded the LBS 50th Anniversary Scholarship.

“The MFA is one of the best programmes out there,” she says. “As well as technical skills through classes in investment fundamentals and private equity, you learn a lot of soft skills. You’re really active in student clubs. You’re really asked to speak up in class, do a lot of presentations and group work. The confidence I built gave me the courage to leave a job in the middle of a pandemic. A large part of my current job involves putting together Excel models, analyses and PowerPoint presentations – we had workshops designed specifically for that.”

She also enjoyed the socialising side, especially the Thursday-evening Sundowners: “That’s drinks for everyone on campus, which was beautiful and a lot of fun. I’m still close to my LBS classmates. I’m so glad I went there. It was honestly the best year of my life.”

"Work-life balance is the solution. Learning how to say no, how to manage your time, prioritising what's important"

Personal challenges

Away from work, cycling is central to Alice’s lifestyle. It also brought her closer to her father. After her mother passed away last year, they organised a 540km fundraiser for cancer research.

“It took eight days to cycle 540km, between 24-31 December; it was really cold. We did 60-90km a day – not bad. We raised over €24,000, which was remarkable.”

She also loves hiking (“Munich is the perfect city for this - you’re out in the Alps within an hour”); and this year she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with her boyfriend, who she met at LBS. She is still an active member of Bocconi’s Women in Finance club. Reading-wise, she likes everything from finance books, such as The Intelligent Investor, to biographies and classics, like Barbarians at the Gate, and self-improvement and health books.

“Losing my mother was really tough,” she says. “It puts everything into perspective. I wouldn’t say I work nine-to-five, but I can cut myself free time to go cycling and have weekends off. Work-life balance is the solution. Learning how to say no, learning how to manage your time, prioritising what’s important and what’s not…”

Fake it till you make it

At Alice’s current job, the investment team is almost entirely female. Things are very different to how they were 10, 20 years ago, she says, but there’s still room for change.

"I hope younger students will be able to follow my path, or follow whoever succeeds me, and get there"

“When I started my career, my analyst class was 50:50 men and women, but there aren’t many female principals, or managing directors, which makes you ask: what happens along the way? Is there some sort of friction that drives women out of the workforce?

“In the organisations I’ve worked for, a lot of men “fake it till they make it” – speaking up even if they don’t know much about the subject. What I found is, by listening a lot, I could also speak up. And as a junior person on a deal team, you often know more than anyone else!

“It would be naive to think there are no barriers, but if women can start doing more mentorships and support each other, there will eventually be more female MDs and partners. I hope I’ll be one! I hope younger students will be able to follow my path, or follow whoever succeeds me, and get there.”

Tips for success

Alice is currently learning how to invest across different asset classes (“perfect for learning the ropes”), but her ultimate goal is to set up her own fund, investing her own money, as an investment manager or in a family office. What advice does she have for women starting out in finance?

“There’s no substitute for hard work,” she says. “The harder you work, the luckier you’ll get. I have noticed there tends to be a difference between male and female interns – the men find it much easier to speak up, the women want all the data and notes written down. But often there’s no need for that. Women should speak up, be more commanding, and be heard.

“And be yourself. People should genuinely like you and want to push you further and higher in your career. Don’t be afraid to take risks. There’ll always be highs and lows, but you’ll learn from every experience.

“Women who decide early on to go into finance are part of a self-selected process. It’s girls who know what it takes, girls who have done well in school, girls who are smart.”