Leaning… forward

Zevenbergen

Nancy Zevenbergen, Leslie Tubbs and Brooke de Boutray lead a proudly perceptive, fiercely aggressive Seattle investment firm

Nancy Zevenbergen (BA 1981) recalls a childhood visit to her uncle George Zoffel’s (BA 1956) credit reporting firm where she found him and his business partner at the front desk reading the Wall Street Journal while a legion of ladies typed credit reports in the back. The image made an impression.

“I thought, if I never learn to type, maybe I’ll get to sit up front and read the Journal someday,” she recalls with a laugh.

That little girl with big ideas is now president and chief investment officer of Zevenbergen Capital Investments, a finance firm of her own making. She and partners Leslie Tubbs (BA 1982) and Brooke de Boutray (BA 1977) manage $3 billion in assets, boldly invested in companies on the uphill slope of significant and sustainable growth.

And they are good, consistently—and sometimes spectacularly—beating the benchmark Russell 3000 Growth Index.

The hard way

Each of these Foster finance alumnae forged her own path via banking—Zevenbergen at Rainier National, Tubbs at Key, and de Boutray at First Interstate—to the men’s club of investing. “In our first jobs,” Zevenbergen recalls, “the glass ceiling was thick.”

So she created her own job. After six years in trust investment, Zevenbergen launched ZCI headlong into the market crash of 1987.

“It was a terrible year,” she says. “But a perfect year to start the firm, because it was the equalizer that decimated everyone. People realized that their money was no safer in a 100-year-old investment firm than it was with an independent asset manager like me.”

Zevenbergen started level, but quickly demonstrated her advantage. And ZCI grew rapidly. In 1992 she hired de Boutray, whom she had met while both studied for their CFAs. She convinced Tubbs, a sorority sister at the UW, to join in 1994.

Cut loose from the strictures of Big Finance, the team was free to invest on its own terms.

Game changers

Zevenbergen says it feels strange reflecting back on a firm that’s perpetually looking forward. ZCI is the aggressive piece of clients’ investment portfolios. Growth is their game.

“Investing is both an art and a science,” says de Boutray. “Because we are growth managers, we open our minds to what can be as opposed to what happened in the past. This approach has served us well.”

This means relying less on historical analysis and more on assessing opportunity. “We’re not venture capitalists,” Zevenbergen adds. “But we share their focus on the people, the concept and the addressable market when we’re consider investing in a company.”

“We look for game changers.”

Among them, Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, Apple, Tesla, Netflix, Facebook, Zillow, Google, Chipotle, LinkedIn, Qualcomm— each bought early and held until the waning of growth.

Aside from impeccable timing, the secret to ZCI’s success may be its powers of perception. The women of Zevenbergen Capital are proud of their success in the testosterone world of growth investing. They both accept and embrace their difference from other firms. “It’s Venus and Mars,” Tubbs says.

While men in finance tend to be more analytical, more driven by ego, she says, “we collaborate, listen, observe. These are clichés, but they are also our competitive advantage.”

Where are the women?

Having blazed a considerable trail in finance—especially in the Northwest— Zevenbergen, Tubbs and de Boutray have lately been wondering why they don’t see more young women entering their industry or other male bastions of computer science, engineering and mathematics.

They’ve decided to stop asking and start acting. ZCI has created a number of ARCS Fellowships to promote science-related careers at the UW. They’re also offering internships to Foster students and recently endowed a scholarship fund to support undergraduate women studying finance.

“We believe that funding education brings a richness to our community,” Zevenbergen says. “Instead of just asking where are the women, we want to do something about it.”