by Sara Araghi, CFA, Franklin Templeton Investments
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
A: I was born in the United States, and grew up in Los Angeles until age 12, when my parents decided to move back to their country of origin: Iran. We lived there until I completed high school. Those were my formative years. While there, I was exposed to a different culture, society and system of government. Everything was so different than what I had experienced up until then. After high school I moved back to the United States for my undergraduate education and attended the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. Then I joined Franklin Templeton out of undergrad and have never left! The San Francisco Bay area has been my home for over 20 years. Most of my close relatives live here. I married, and had two amazing children, a boy now ten, and a girl who just turned six.
As an American teenager in Iran, I was a witness to institutionalised gender inequality, and its impact on individual women, and society as a whole. I believe this experience has shaped me into the person I have become, both as an investor and an advocate for diversity and change.
Q: What attracted you to a career in finance?
A: When I arrived at UC Berkeley, I didn’t have a particular intention to enter the world of finance. Earlier in life I had considered a career in medicine; however, the world of business was more fascinating to me. I was excited about the technology companies being created in the Bay area and was impressed by their people. In my senior year of college, I considered typical post-business education options such as banking, consulting, and large company training programs. I also wondered if I should go to law school next. Franklin Templeton recruited me. I was impressed by the people I met during the recruiting process in the Franklin Equity Group, by the training program, the breadth of investments, and the scale of the company. It wasn’t clear to me then how long I would stay at the company, or even in finance. But one thing was clear—Franklin seemed like a great place to start a career. That was over 18 years ago.
Franklin Templeton gave me the opportunity over many years to learn from mentors in multiple areas: various types of equity funds including growth and income, small/mid/large-capitalisation companies, specialisation in the consumer and entertainment sectors, private client accounts, crossover/venture investments, and leadership. I was challenged to learn something new at every turn. That continues to this day. Not a day goes by without the opportunity to learn something new from someone amazing. The exposure, the trust and the support give me so much energy to go farther, and to do more. Over the years, I’ve come to love investments, and in particular the areas I focus on.
Q: What challenges do you face in your role, and what is the most rewarding?
A: I wear multiple hats in terms of leading Franklin Equity Group’s consumer analyst team, sharing portfolio management responsibilities for US equity funds and investing in private companies. The synergies I’m able to find between these three areas really allow me to operate at higher level in each.
It is very fulfilling to be the person who identifies an investment opportunity, builds the case with colleagues and watches our investment fund a successful business. More and more of these are with female and diverse founders; we also are helping to bring more diversity to corporate board rooms.
Only 2% of venture capital dollars are going to women—there is obviously a lot of progress to be made. At Franklin Templeton, and with the support of our Chief Executive Officer Jenny Johnson who is a champion for diversity, we are increasing our attention to founders of diverse backgrounds. By identifying, funding and supporting these founders, we are working to move the dial and make meaningful improvements in this area. It is incredibly rewarding to be a leader in this effort.
One of the most rewarding aspects of my role is the relationships I’ve built. My ability to make connections and nurture strong relationships has driven my success and that of my team.
Q: What progress have you seen on gender equality in, and outside of your work?
A: Jenny and her involvement with me and our Chief Diversity Officer Regina Curry is huge for our company and ultimately as allocators of capital. We are investing in female-founded companies with my involvement and understanding of the challenges they have had in raising capital.
There have been a growing number of opportunities for young women and girls to get into the field of finance and asset management. Our firm partners with organisations like “Rock The Street, Wall Street” to educate starting in high school, and “Girls Who Invest” to bring young women in for internship opportunities. I have worked with them and shown them the ropes.
Q: You’re a director of Franklin Venture Partners in addition to managing multiple portfolios—how do these roles complement each other? Why is it important to invest “upstream” in female-founded and led companies?
A: My long history of investment research focused on the consumer sector gives me insight into the patterns of consumers. I know what questions to ask to identify a business that has potential, and many female founders and management teams appreciate seeing a woman in one of the seats at the table making investment decisions—it sets a different tone.
Being a woman, and the target audience for some of the business ideas that we have ended up investing in, I’ve been able to understand firsthand when someone has a great business idea, whether it be fashion rentals by mail (Rent the Runway) or the desire for hospital scrubs to be more tailored to women’s sizing (FIGS).
Women control a lot of spending power, so customising business ventures with their needs as a starting point can put a firm ahead—and women are often best positioned to identify those needs.
Q: Can you share an empowering moment in your life you are particularly proud of?
A: I think it’s the “Rent the Runway (RTR)” story. The company offers rental of designer clothing for special events as well as everyday use. In its early years, the founders had challenges raising capital because some investors didn’t understand why women would be attracted to an expanded closet like RTR offered. I was impressed by the unique concept disrupting the fashion category but also wanted to invest behind the impressive founders and management team. As an institutional investor, I was able to get a seat on the board of directors to help the company with its next leg of its development. That has given me great insight into how companies are run in general, especially through various cycles, and has resulted in some great knowledge, relationships and networking opportunities. I am seeing more and more opportunities like this to help these female founders break through and seeing them succeed in the public markets. These are incredible founders that have created strong businesses but have had a much harder time raising capital for various reasons. The RTR founders opened my eyes to this problem, and I am extremely proud that I am now able to be a part of the solution.
Q: If you could speak to your younger self at the beginning of your career, what would you tell her?
A: Ask for help. Build relationships. Sometimes you won’t know what you will really love to do right away, and that is ok. But be curious and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Try to find the right mentors as well.
Q: What are you most passionate about in your life and career?
A: Having two young children keeps me extremely busy and fulfilled! So, I dedicate my time outside of work to them and their happiness, involving myself in school activities and boards. I am so happy that my job is empowering me to mentor female and male leaders on what it takes to be a public company and how to talk to investors as a public company—how to pitch. That’s something I’m really passionate about. I am starting to do informal trainings for female founders in particular; they have started coming to me for help and advice, and it’s extremely fulfilling to help them along their journey.
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