Chelsea Clinton says she left her career on Wall Street three years ago to find more purpose.
“Intellectually, I loved my job, but I didn’t get any meaning from it,” says Clinton, 32, who worked from 2006 to 2009 as an associate at Avenue Capital Group LLC, a New York- based hedge fund firm. “I didn’t fundamentally become re- motivated every day in the way that I do now.”
Clinton has since earned a master’s degree in public health from Columbia University, where she teaches a course in cross-national health policy, and is working on a PhD in international relations from Oxford University. She’s on the boards of IAC/Interactive Corp, the School of the American Ballet and Weill Cornell Medical College, and is a special correspondent for Comcast Corp.’s NBC television network.
She spoke about her Wall Street job in an interview at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting last week, fresh from a discussion about the future of Haiti.
She still appreciates the finance business, she says. Her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, is the co-founder of the hedge fund Eaglevale Partners LP. Clinton says she believes in the industry’s ability to improve the lot of the world’s poorest citizens, by investing in their enterprises.
“They need people like those on Wall Street, who will be dispassionate about it and who will be gender-blind,” Clinton says. Increasingly, “the development world is moving toward an investment mindset.”
Financial institutions can help push it in that direction, she says. “The people I know on Wall Street are engaged and interested in our city and our country. I hope that people will just look out their proverbial back door.”
At the three-day CGI conference, Clinton joined her father, former President Bill Clinton, in cajoling bankers, executives, philanthropists and non-profit leaders to commit time and money to global quandaries, such as human trafficking, land rights for women and sustainable farming in Africa.
She watched her mother, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, talk about Libya. She hosted her own panel, called Optimism in the 21st Century, steering discussion among a teenaged cancer researcher, the president of the Ford Foundation and the finance minister of Nigeria.
“One of the things that CGI, as a platform, aims to do is to bring people together so at least conversations are happening in the same room and, hopefully over time, in the same language,” she says. “Academic-ese, Wall Street-ese and development-ese historically have all been rather distinct.”
Clinton knows the spotlight. She jokes that her birth, in 1980, was front page news – at least in Arkansas, where her father was governor. She spent her teen years in the White House, and first traveled to sub-Saharan Africa as a high school student in 1997.
Four years later, she graduated from Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., and saw no clear career path, she says. Her friends were typically choosing one of five pursuits: consulting, banking, law school, medical school, or “gap years to go find themselves, generally somewhere in Southeast Asia.”
Clinton chose McKinsey & Co., the management consulting firm, and moved to New York. Three years later, she joined Avenue, which was started in 1995 by Marc Lasry and his sister, Sonia Gardner, and has about $12.5 billion in assets. Lasry is close to the Clinton family and a long-time donor to Democrats.
“I wanted to understand how people thought about money who were in the business of making money,” Clinton says. She was one of about three women on a trading floor of roughly 50, and appreciated that her success was measured by the numbers.
“It was incredibly, fiercely meritocratic, and I loved that,” she says “Quite literally, there was a bottom line to my performance.”
“Ultimately,” she says, “that wasn’t the metric I wanted to judge my life by in a professional sense.”