Alumni Q&A: Zeisler '01 on Working at a Global Investment Management Firm
Ingrid Fuquen Zeisler, a 2001 graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, helps oversee legal and compliance issues at BlackRock Inc., a multinational investment management corporation based in New York City.
Zeisler recently spoke with UVA Law about her career path and how her time at the Law School prepared her for a career at the in the financial sector.
What is your job at BlackRock and what does it entail?
I am a director in the legal and compliance department at BlackRock Inc., focused on regulatory compliance for registered investment advisers and certain mutual fund and private fund platforms. BlackRock is one of the largest independent, global investment managers in the world with approximately $3.9 trillion in assets under management as of March 31. It employs over 10,000 people. My job is to help develop and implement the compliance program, keeping apace of business, legal and regulatory developments. Among other things, I interface with clients and regulators, I am a primary compliance contact for the financial markets advisory group, and I oversee several policies and procedures for registered advisers.
What is a typical day like for you?
A typical workday often stretches to cover a wide range of matters, but feels short given the dense scheduling of meetings and calls. On any given day I would expect to devote some time to: thinking strategically about how to address areas of risk, which may come out of regulatory reform or internal or external assessments of the compliance program; preparing for, or meeting with, an external client or a regulator; managing a recurring matter, such as reviews of policies and procedures; and troubleshooting a particular problem, such as a trading issue.
What are the best parts of your job? And what are the biggest challenges?
I like that my work requires problem-solving and risk assessment for complex issues, and that I get to work with some bright and aggressive people. That could be true of many places, but in my experience, BlackRock is distinctive. The company has grown fast in its 25-year existence, most recently by a series of significant acquisitions (including Merrill Lynch Investment Managers, Quellos and Barclays Global Investors). Being "in house" or part of the company has given me context for the issues I handle, an enhanced appreciation for legal solutions that work, and an opportunity to bring Legal and Compliance considerations into business decisions sooner. I like that BlackRock is an asset-management shop at its core (not a business unit of an investment bank), and that our leadership emphasizes fiduciary accountability and a culture of compliance. But on the flip side, being a large company poses some obvious organizational challenges for regulatory compliance, such as delivering clear compliance processes and policies to BlackRock's business groups and addressing compliance concerns consistently for products and clients around the world. That is a big challenge for us now.
Could you describe your career path after law school?
I worked first as a corporate associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in New York City. At one point, I agreed to work on a securities matter for a litigation partner, which introduced me to the investment management practice at the firm (and ironically, to BlackRock). I liked both the people and the work and made investment management my focus. In my fourth year as an associate, I left to join Merrill Lynch Investment Managers. Within three months of my arriving, they announced that BlackRock was buying the business. I've been fortunate to stay and to evolve with BlackRock. I first supported fund formation and fund investments for our private equity fund-of-funds platform. I then supported regulatory compliance for our portfolio management group until 2012, when I took on my current role.
Did you always want to work in the financial sector? Why or why not?
No, I could not claim such a singular focus! I am more of a generalist by nature. But looking back at my career, my opportunities and choices map pretty consistently to the financial sector.
In what ways did UVA Law help prepare you for your career?
UVA Law was a great training ground intellectually and interpersonally. The academics were rigorous, with strong law and economics offerings. Professors and peers were impressive. But studying law there also allowed me to see how important it is to hold one's own in a group of extremely intellectual and strong personalities while, at the same time, integrating into that group. At UVA, you train to be adversaries in the courtroom and you play as teammates on the field. The respect and collegiality that imparts has been as important in practice as the knowledge and skills that UVA taught.
What are some of your favorite memories from your time at UVA Law?
There are many. Some of my favorites are times spent with friends at the house I shared on Ivy Road, walking to the Lawn, hiking in the Charlottesville area, playing soccer, going to Halloween parties on Brown's Mountain (now defunct), and listening to live music.
Could you offer a few tips to UVA Law students who might be interested in pursuing a similar career?
When I started out, I had no idea what the right path was. Now, in hindsight, it is clear that — if you are interested in the financial sector specifically — you should seek out jobs at firms or companies in the cities that offer the financial services you think you might be interested in (be it New York, San Francisco, London or Hong Kong). That way you can avail yourself of as broad a set of experiences and mentors as possible. Also, I wouldn't limit myself. Take on challenging assignments and cultivate relationships with the people you work with at all levels. You never know who may mentor you or open a door that is unexpected.