[00:00:01] Speaker A: Greetings scholars, and welcome to following the Gong, a podcast at the Shrier Honors College at Penn State.
Following the Gong takes you inside conversations with our Scholar alumni to hear their story so you can gain career and life advice and expand your professional network. You can hear the true breadth of how Scholar alumni have gone on to shape the old after they rind the Gong and graduate with honors and learn from their experiences so you can use their insights in your own journey. This show is proudly sponsored by the Scholar Alumni Society, a constituent group of the Penn State Alumni Association. I'm your host, Sean Doheen, class of 2011 and college staff member. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. If you're a regular listener, welcome back you our guest.
[00:00:56] Speaker B: Today is, uma patarkini, class of 2014. Uma is the Global ESG Lead and Investment Strategy Senior Analyst at Center Square, where she leads their environmental, social and governance, or ESG, strategy to incorporate this into investment decision making and management of listed and direct investments. Their research demonstrates embedding ESG considerations into their investment process provides opportunities to create value, reduce risk, and generate superior investment returns in their real estate holdings. Uma graduated from Penn State with interdisciplinary honors in high distinction, earning a BS in Finance with a minor in International Business, a BS in Accounting, and a Master of Accountancy in 2014, all from the Penn State Smeel College of Business. She is a CFA charter holder and member of the CFA Institute. She serves as the Sustainability Committee co chair for NAREIM and sits on the Smeel Sustainability Advisory board. Personally, she's an artist, aspiring impact investor and fascinated by the ability of innovation and disruptive thinking to create big changes.
In our chat today, you'll hear from Uma about crafting an academic schedule to fit your interests in a four year span. The value of being involved in leadership opportunities as a student, even if it's not directly tied to your major. The origin of student council's Thawn team. Finding your why and defining a personal mission statement. Deciding on career paths in finance and accounting leaning into your personal curiosity in the thesis process. Using your home college's resources in addition to the honors colleges and the job search. Finding unique opportunities by looking past a company's primary product. Working as an institutional investor on the buy side the broad array of options for business majors. All things ESG as it emerges in the investment industry building a business unit or club from scratch and why Uma joined center square and working in finance strategy. She also talks about jumping in opportunities like sharing your knowledge on TV with little notice, getting involved in your professional community beyond your job and ESG and sustainability in real estate, the built environment, and even in other industries and disciplines. She wraps up by talking about finding your purpose, the importance of continual lifelong learning and special outs for the college's staff and how and why you should connect with them and leaves off with the power of the Penn State network. So let's jump right into our conversation with, uma, following the Gong.
[00:03:22] Speaker C: Uma, thank you so much for joining us here today on following the Gong. Really looking forward to a great conversation on the finance industry, on real estate, on sustainability. But first, I want to start at the beginning and ask, how did you come to Penn State and the Shrier Honors College to begin with?
[00:03:41] Speaker D: Hey, Sean, thanks for having me.
Yeah, that's a great question. So where I went to high school, Penn State was like, grade 13, and I knew that I was going to be really comfortable coming to Penn State as a school in general. But what I was really looking for out of my college experience was having kind of that big state school, the football school, that experience. But the reputation of the Honors College, the close knit community, was something that I found to be really special in the context of that really large atmosphere.
And so I would say that's what kind of brought me to Happy Valley.
[00:04:24] Speaker C: Great. I think you summed up the Honors College very well. I want to dive into academics first, and then we'll talk about your outside of the classroom experiences. So you have two bachelor's. You have a degree in Finance and in Accounting, and you also got your Mac, which is a Master's of Accounting. Can you talk through what drew you to those disciplines specifically and how you handled presumably doing an Iug, or the very least, getting a graduate degree on top of your two bachelor's?
[00:04:56] Speaker D: So, you know, I came into Penn State definitely knowing I wanted to pursue finance, and I took one accounting class and realized that I wasn't going to be really good at finance unless I really understood accounting.
And in the business school, the only way for you to get that dual degree in finance and accounting is actually through the Mac program. And so that's how I kind of added that on.
And I was actually thankfully able to come into Penn State with a good number of AP credits. And so that took care of most of my gen eds. And so what I was able to focus on during my four years at Penn State was really just kind of knocking out the degree requirements for those degrees.
But it was great because I was able to kind of leverage the fact that I was in the Honors College to work with Smeel, to say, hey, I can manage to take this on and get it done in four years and do it well. And they had the confidence in me being able to do that because I was in the Honors College. So I think I was able to kind of finagle my schedule around just enough that I was able to get through that within four years.
And it was actually not too intensive in the sense that I think I maybe had one semester where I had 18 credits, but aside from that, I was taking like twelve to 15 credits each semester. And so it still allowed me to do a lot of things outside of academics during my time at Penn State, even though I was able to get through in four years with the Masters and two bachelor's as well.
[00:06:33] Speaker C: There's an opportunity in the Honors College to open a lot of doors. Not everything is possible. I think that's a common misconception. But when you have Trier Scholar next to your name like you did, as you said, it allowed you to work with the staff at this Mill College of Business to craft your schedule and be able to accomplish really good things on time in four years. So something for you as a listener to take into consideration there. Now, you just mentioned that you were involved in other things on campus, and I know you shared your list of these with me in advance, but I'd love to hear about your leadership roles that you held on campus, and most importantly, how those helped prepare you for your career ahead after college.
[00:07:18] Speaker D: Yeah, so actually, something that I forgot to tell you is to my path to Penn State, part of that actually was also the number of times I visited Penn State to attend Thawn. So my high school did a mini Thawn, and as part of that, I frequently attended Thon on campus. And so I knew when I came to Penn State, that was something that I wanted to continue doing.
At the time, the Honors College didn't actually have a Thon group. There were several special interest organizations that had their foundations within the Honors College, like Atlas and Springfield, but there wasn't an actual Shriya Honors College Thon group.
So I started that my freshman year, and that was kind of part of the student council and served as Thon chair for that group. My four years at Penn State also participated in Thon as a committee member on Morale, which I think is dancer relations these days, and I was a finance captain as well.
And then aside from Thon, I was part of the homecoming organization, served on the executive committee my senior year as merchandise director. And I would say in terms of just my student leadership experience at Penn State, it taught me a lot of soft skills in terms of setting targets and managing other people to achieve those targets. And I think most importantly, what that really kind of ingrained in me was this desire and ability to create an impact, and whether that was an impact within an organization, whether that was an impact more externally across the community or within Thawn. We were paired with two Thon kids, two Four Diamonds families, and said, what was the impact that you were having on the lives of other people. And that desire and the ability to create an impact is something that really drives a lot of what I'm doing today and something that actually pulled me into this role that I'm in now versus where I kind of initially thought I was going to be when I started out in my career. So I would say that kind of like, desire to create an impact is something that was really instilled in me during my time at Penn State through those leadership roles and something that I kind of carry on today.
[00:09:44] Speaker C: I think that speaks to the importance of the C in the mission statement and creating opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. This is the place where you as a scholar can really hone, as you called them, uma, the soft skills, the leadership, the communications, the organization, these other things that you can take into any role regardless of industry.
Now, obviously you were doing great things on campus. You mentioned Thawn. You mentioned Homecoming, obviously. Penn State staples. But I'd be curious, did you have any pre professional opportunities outside of campus? Perhaps any internships or co ops that helped prepare you for your career?
[00:10:21] Speaker D: Yeah, so it's interesting that you point out the fact that all of my kind of extracurriculars on campus were not related to what I do professionally.
And I do kind of go back and think about, okay, was like, if I were part of the Knitley Line fund or things like that, that were much more directly related to what I do today, how would that have changed my overall kind of just, like, career trajectory or whatever it may be?
But I think in terms of what I was able to actually do on campus, again, it kind of really instilled in me, this sense of purpose, which, I don't know, I would have necessarily gotten the same level of exposure to that specific aspect of who I am as a person if I were doing something only very career oriented on campus.
But like you mentioned, I was able to obviously do that through kind of internships and that type of stuff, and so I would say from that perspective. So I interned at Deloitte in New York City the summer before I graduated doing financial advisory.
And that was something that I had actually gotten into through Smeel. I think Smeel does a really fantastic job in terms of just exposing students to different opportunities across different careers.
But something that I also found was that typically, if you're in accounting, you get exposed to a ton of Big Four accounting firms. Like, you're going to be a CPA if you're an accountant or if you're in finance, you kind of get pushed into a lot of exposures to consulting firms or investment banking. Those are kind of the avenues that you go to if you're in finance. And so kind of that financial advisory through a consulting type of a firm was something that fit more between that balance of accounting and finance for me.
But I also realized that that was not what I wanted to do. So it was a great experience, got a ton of great networks I think, out of that process, but ultimately ended up going a slightly different route. When I started my job after Penn.
[00:12:32] Speaker C: State, before we go into what that first job was, what did you do for your thesis?
[00:12:37] Speaker D: So for my thesis, I had to kind of combine accounting and finance in a way so I could kind of get that honors and interdisciplinary across both degrees.
And so what I did was actually looked at the impact of earnings manipulation and the ability for that to predict stock returns.
That earnings manipulation was kind of the accounting aspect of my thesis and it pulled up factors from financial statements and you're looking at receivables and things like that and then kind of translating that into stock returns and understanding the market dynamics from that perspective was kind of the finance aspect.
And so I effectively used a factor that measures earnings manipulation across a couple of different relationships that are pulled up out of financial statements, added that to the pharma French three factor model and found that it actually did increase the predictability of that model in terms of understanding stock returns in the market. So that was my thesis, focus that specifically on kind of the.com era in the early two thousand s and use that to kind of understand how earnings manipulation factors in a lot of these companies that eventually did go bust, how that went into actually predicting their market performance.
[00:13:57] Speaker C: Fascinating stuff, especially with I immediately thought of Enron and some of those other companies from that era, I'm sure you looked at them.
But obviously if you take any accounting class that's like case study number one in what not to do, I'd be curious as kind of a follow up, the takeaways, whether the process or the skills or even the direct results, are you still using the thesis experience in your current role?
[00:14:26] Speaker D: Kind of. So a lot of what I did during that thesis was a ton of just kind of data collection, regression models, back testing, things like that.
And I do use that in some capacity today in the role that I have.
But something I think that was really interesting and helpful during the process was really using your own kind of, I would say thought process and your own curiosity to completely drive this whole project that you're working on. Right. So everything else that you did at Penn State was kind of predetermined. It was like, oh, you're going to take this class and in this class you're going to learn about X, Y and Z. And this was an opportunity to say, okay, well, here's kind of what I'm really interested in, and this is what really gets my gears going. And you were able to find the faculty and kind of the resources to help you really pursue that, I would say kind of like, very unique thing that you find to be most interesting and not something that others find to be interesting. So I think that just kind of like that creativity that's required and thinking about things a little bit differently and going after things a little bit differently, that's something I use a lot of today.
[00:15:53] Speaker C: Now, earlier you mentioned that you had an internship and you decided that that space was not what you wanted to do, which is obviously a great takeaway to learn that. Can you walk us through on top of writing your thesis, you're also job searching. Can you walk us through that process and tell us how you ended up in your first role out of college?
[00:16:17] Speaker D: Yeah, so I had an offer to return to Deloitte after I graduated, and I was kind of just exploring other options out there and through the career services site for Smeel. Again, looking at all these different opportunities out there, it was interesting because again, like I mentioned, a lot of kind of the networking that happened through Smeel. If you were in finance, you went to kind of consulting or banking, or if you were in accounting, you went to the Big Four. And I was looking for something a little bit different and stumbled upon an opportunity to work at Exxon. And this opportunity was interesting mainly because A, for my internship, I knew what I didn't want to do, but I had yet to kind of find what it is that I did want to do. And this opportunity at Exxon was this very broad scope within the world of finance. You went in and they had this rotational program and it covered everything from their Treasury Department to investor relations to internal audit and everything in between. And so I thought that was an interesting opportunity, mainly because it would allow me to kind of dip my toe in the water in a bunch of different aspects of the world of finance and kind of maybe figure out what it is that I did want to do. It was also based in Houston. I'd never lived in Texas, and so know, why not? Sounds like a fun adventure.
And so that's what I kind of ended up pursuing. And when I got there, I actually was not even really working for Exxon, this big oil and gas company. I was working for their global technology company, which felt kind of like they had picked up the Silicon Valley tech company and put it in the middle of Houston, Texas, and it was now creating really cool tech solutions for a large corporation.
And so that's kind of what I ended up doing. And it was this great exposure to kind of, again, that creative thought process, right? Because in this world of technology, the whole premise was, okay, what are certain pain points that we see in the business, and how can we actually either solve them or completely flip them on their heads and turn this into a really cool opportunity for how we work and live in this kind of global world. And so that kind of creative thought process that I got to really pursue within that organization was really, really cool.
[00:18:57] Speaker C: I'm curious, so you mentioned the technology. Did you pick up anything about the energy industry overall while you were at Exxon?
[00:19:04] Speaker D: So the things that I picked up about the energy industry while I was at Exxon were really through these mandated incoming class, like here's, Energy 101 and things like that. Everybody that got hired into Exxon had to go through certain numbers of trainings during your first couple of years. And that was the extent, I would say, of my exposure to the oil and gas energy industry. The bulk of what I did was really focused on technology.
[00:19:37] Speaker C: Obviously, if you're listening to this, you saw the title, you read the description, and so we know that you no longer work at T Mobile, but you work at a company called Center Square, and you made a pivot from the tech and the energy sector at some mobile to real estate. Can you talk about what drew you to transition to the real estate side of finance?
[00:20:01] Speaker D: Yeah, so to kind of just kind of lay the ground here, center Square is a real estate focused investment manager. We have about 15 billion assets under management that we are managing on behalf of some of the most well known institutional investors out there. And so when I say institutional investors, think pension funds, 401, things like that, we're not necessarily investing on behalf of individuals. We're investing on behalf of pensions for school teachers and firefighters and police officers and things like that.
What I learned also during my time at Exxon was that I was an investor at heart. I was at Exxon making some investment decisions from an internal perspective of how you wanted to spend capital to fund these technology projects that were going to change the way that Exxon did business 1015 years down the road.
But really what I was super fascinated with was this world of just like the capital markets.
I wanted to be an investor, and I wanted to be on the buy side. And the opportunity at Center Square kind of opened up also at the time when I was looking to move back from Texas back to Pennsylvania or into the Northeast in general, to be closer to home and all that good.
So it was kind of just like this perfect storm that came together, and I had this opportunity that opened up at a buyside firm, and it happened to be in real estate. I wouldn't say that was specifically what I was seeking out. I was seeking out an investment role in the Northeast, and I found this company that was much smaller and so exxon at the time that I was, there was like 70,000 people globally. Center Square, when I joined them, was like 70 people across five different offices. Right? And so it was like a very dramatic change in the type of business that I would be working with. And that was super exciting for me, because if we go back to the initial conversation about me wanting to make an impact, when I was at Exxon, I was one of 70,000 people and I could literally just not show up for three weeks. And I think they would be fine at Center Square. I feel like a much bigger part of the equation, things that I do have a much bigger impact.
Like I said, we're managing about $15 billion. And our investment teams, if our entire company is now we're at closer to like, 100 people.
The investment team that's actually making decisions on how we are allocating that capital and investing that capital is much smaller. I sit on an investment team for our listed real estate business, and I'm one of, what, 15 people managing close to eight $9 billion of capital. And so decisions that I make, things that I do have a much bigger impact on that process. And that was really interesting to me. So that's kind of what drew me to Center Square. It was the culture, it was the ability to have an impact within the organization. It was the fact that I wanted to do something on the investment side of things. And it was an opportunity that opened up close to home at the same time that I was looking for that change. And so all the stars aligned. It just happened to be something within the real estate realm.
[00:23:39] Speaker C: Gotcha. I think that was really enlightening. I know I just learned a lot as the host here. So for you listening, I hope that you were able to take away something and, uma, correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like in finance, if you have the skills, the finance, the accounting understanding, you can easily, with some work, of course, translate them from one industry to another. Is that accurate?
[00:24:01] Speaker D: Yeah. And I think in terms of the breadth of opportunities that are out there, if you do have a degree in business, very broad. Right? And so you can be internal within a company, and if you're internal within that company, you can be doing anything, again, from investor relations and raising capital and treasury management and kind of managing your cash exposure or doing corporate reporting, if that's what you want to do, or internal audit. There are so many different aspects if you're internally serving a specific company, if you want to be in consulting when you're externally kind of servicing many other companies, that can be through a consulting role and that can be through a big four accounting role and you're doing audits and assurance work for other companies. Or if you're in investment banking, you can do that if you want to be more so kind of on the direct investment side of things. Again, so many different opportunities. And you can join a fund that's a generalist and you would be able to invest in a whole slew of different industries. Or you could join an investment fund like Center Square that is very much so specialized in the real estate.
Yeah, I mean I think that the world of finance in general is so broad as much as it is a positive. It can also just mean that it takes a little while for you to really figure out where you fit in, which is fine right today. If you would have asked me maybe like five years ago like, oh, what do you think you'll be doing in five years? This is never in a million years what I would have been like, yeah, I'm going to be doing green building investment. That's not what I thought I would be doing at all.
So it takes a little while, I think, to really figure out what you want to do. If you have this broader desire to do something in finance but don't necessarily know what it is. The plus side is that the world is your oyster.
The downside in some situations can be that it just means that it takes a little while to figure out where you really fit in.
[00:26:19] Speaker C: I think that is really helpful for students to hear and some really good insight. Now you mentioned the green buildings and I want to get into the meat of what you are currently doing at Center Square in the prep materials. You said you helped stand up an ESG group. Can you talk us through both what ESG is and also the process of standing up an entirely new unit within a bigger business? I think that's a very entrepreneurial thing that maybe doesn't get as much attention or as many stories and I'd love to hear about your experience and what students can take from what you learned in that process.
[00:27:01] Speaker D: Yeah. So ESG stands for environmental, social and governance. It is a new but extremely, I would say snowballing type of a phenomenon within the investment world.
Basically the premise of this is that way back in the day people used to only invest for the purpose of returns. I'm not saying this is entirely what the entire investment world was, but your goal was to produce alpha for your clients.
And when I say alpha, I mean excess returns.
More recently, and this is something that I think has been very prevalent within Europe and is now more so becoming a larger part of the universe in the US. Is, okay, how do we actually think about investing but in a much more holistic fashion and the world of kind of impact investing has become more and impact investing or investing in general has this kind of spectrum, right? And so on one side is philanthropy where you are effectively just giving money to a cause and expecting effectively no return. And on the other side is just like your traditional investment process where impact was not necessarily part of the consideration. And then somewhere in between is this concept of ESG investing and what ESG investing truly is, is a value based proposition. And so when I say it's a value based proposition, it just means that you are looking at your investment decisions from not only a financial perspective in terms of understanding the financial risks and opportunities associated with your investment, but you are also looking at the environmental and social and governance risks and opportunities associated with your investment. And so it is a much more holistic and therefore a value based proposition because it makes you a smarter investor. And so that would be kind of different from impact investing which is a values based proposition where you are investing for a very specific impact or purpose. And so that for example, could be something like an endowment that has been created, penn State for example, right, like the foundations and endowments of this world that have been created with a very specific purpose that would kind of fall more so into that impact investing process.
But within this ESG world, as a real estate investor, I think sometimes some of these things can be a little bit like conceptual and up in the air. So when I say I think about real estate investing from an environmental lens, for example, Hurricane IDA that just swept through literally drowned like half of the Northeast, right? So how do you think about real estate investments? And so much of the most valuable real estate in the US is in areas like Manhattan, areas like Boston, both areas that are being impacted by climate change, rising sea levels and the impact of more severe weather events happening like Hurricane IDA. And so how do you think about the risks and opportunities of investing in a real estate asset that is located in one of those markets that is exposed to environmental concerns like that? Environmental due diligence of an investment might not necessarily be part of the traditional investment process but when you invest from an ESG lens you do pick up that risk and you're able to then make sure that you're investing your capital in that asset in the context of what environmental risks could come up. So that's kind of just like what ESG investing is. Does that make sense?
[00:31:20] Speaker C: Yes, that is the best explanation I've heard or read to date. So I appreciate that. I'm sure also appreciate that. Thank you for clarifying the difference between the values and value based investing. I think that is really helpful.
[00:31:35] Speaker D: Yeah, and that kind of brings me to how I stood up this ESG capability within of it was again this perfect storm. We had a client. That was looking for a real estate investment manager with this ESG capability.
I am the daughter of an environmental engineer, so sustainability has been like part of my lifeblood since day one, something that I am super passionate about. And it was just an interesting way of looking at investing in real estate that we weren't doing internally, but something that had value from a business standpoint. Again, like I mentioned, ESG investing is a value based proposition. And when you can demonstrate the fact that you can add value, that's really powerful. And so that was kind of what was needed to kind of stand up. This whole new capability that we had at Center Square was the fact that we had clients and capital that wanted to come to us looking for this kind of a solution. It was something that I was super passionate about and willing to spend time on building up. And it was also something that just made good business sense because it was going to be profitable in the long run. So all of that kind of put together meant that I had the support of the management team to kind of run with it.
It was just a matter of getting started. It took a lot of time. I was doing this in addition to the job I already had, which already was like wearing five, six different hats. And so it was kind of effectively just having the passion for it, having the business viewpoint of, okay, this is actually something that's going to help us in the long run and it's something that's going to create value for our company and improving that out. And so once you did that, it was kind of the world is your oyster in terms of building up this capability.
[00:33:42] Speaker C: And I have to imagine you may have drawn on your student council experience building up the Thawn Group, trying to translate to building up this new business unit. Is that a fair assumption?
[00:33:52] Speaker D: Yeah, absolutely. And I think part of it is the fact that you have to have some sort of a vision. You have to have some sort of kind of, I would say like an elevator pitch, right, to kind of bring other people on board and share in your vision to give you that support that you need within the student council. That was okay. We as a college, an honors college at the time, we were like the only academic college that didn't have its own Thon group, EMS had its own Thon group and Sneel had its own thing, and every other academic college had its own Thon group. And I was like, where's the Honors college representation? Because we do have so many really passionate people and we have this organization that was already kind of pre built in the student council and would be really easy to kind of translate that into here's kind of where we create a brand for the Honors College within the thought community. And that was kind of the sell to the Honors College, which is great, and it was something that I was passionate about. So all that kind of came together very beautifully.
Similarly, here the real estate investment space, especially with enlisted real estate, there was really not a single competitor out there that was trying to build from an ESG perspective what I was trying to create at Center Square. And it was something that we could create a brand for ourselves as kind of the leaders within the industry in assessing ESG aspects of every investment. And it was something that would bring in capital. We're running a billion dollars today for an ESG mandate, which is awesome.
When you have the ability to kind of prove out the business case and have this mission and bring other people into your vision of what you want to create, that's pretty much what it is, right? Like, you have this vision. You just have to sell that vision to other people and bring them on board. So, yeah, I would definitely say that kind of parallels to what I experienced with the Honors College when it came to building out that Thon Group.
[00:36:09] Speaker C: And you'll be pleased to hear that the student council's, Thon Group is still going strong. They have dancers.
So your legacy there is running strong, and I think your legacy that you're building at Center Square hopefully will continue at that same level in the pre materials you shared, that you get to go on TV quite a bit as a consultant for different programs, presumably like CNBC and others.
Can you talk a little bit about what that is like and how students if down the road they get asked to be interviewed by say the daily Collegiate or onward state or other media outlets down the road in their career. How do you approach?
[00:36:50] Speaker D: Yeah. So I'll kind of back up a little bit to tell you what I do at Center Square, which is what got me into that opportunity.
So when I came into Center Square, I actually came in because of my strategy experience at Exxon, where at Exxon I was sitting in rooms with the VP running the entire global technology company and his executive team, and we would have these really interesting strategic conversations about where to take the business in the future. And that was kind of the environment that I was used to. At the time that I joined Center Square, the company was getting ready for a management buyout. And so it was at the time a subsidiary of BNY Mellon, and we wanted to be an independent asset manager. And once we became independent through that process of a management buyout, it meant that kind of we had the ability to do whatever it was that we wanted to do to grow the company. All shackles were off, and we were ready to be as entrepreneurial, to grow the company any which way and that kind of strategy perspective is what I was brought on to do. So I was hired by the chief investment strategist there to kind of help grow the company across various different kinds of aspects. And so I came in with this investment strategy role and part of that also meant new product development, it meant thought leadership. And how do we at Center Square where we have investment platforms in listed real estate. So we're investing in the stock market globally. We invest in private equity real estate where we're physically buying and running individual real estate assets. We have a private debt platform where we're lending on real estate. And so we get to see the real estate market through a couple of different lenses which effectively cover the entirety of the capital stack of investing in real estate. And so part of this investment strategy role is to also think okay, how do we invest in real estate in the most smart, intelligent, informed way across our entire capital stack? At Center Square we're able to get a lot of real time information from the stock markets globally. We're able to get some really great information from the ground across our debt and equity platforms and how we put that together to create a holistic and well informed investment strategy around real estate. And so that and kind of combined with the thought leadership which is where I'm writing white papers for the firm, I'm doing a lot of publications so I would say like real estate investment publications that go out on a quarterly basis. We're writing pieces for that or articles for that pretty regularly and so that kind of role that I have is what lends itself to doing broadcast as well. That was something that I started more recently and it's a little bit surreal mainly just because I used to be sitting in the Spiel building and looking at the news. He'd be like oh my gosh, these people are so cool and they know all this stuff about finance and I'm doing it. And the interesting thing is that within that conversation I am the expert on real estate investing. That's what I do all day every day.
And so we work with a really great PR team and they were able to kind of get a couple of clips that we've done, a couple of webinars and things like that at Center Square internally and they were like hey, you're really good at talking to people.
And previously it was just a chief investment strategist to my boss that was doing all these broadcast interviews and they were like he's getting busy and we want to have a wider berth of people that can do this.
You're good at talking to people. Do you mind if we get you trained up for this? And I was like, me. Yeah, that would be so cool. So we did a couple of trainings and stuff like that it's a really interesting opportunity.
Something that definitely comes a little bit easier if you are just naturally good at public speaking or that's kind of like a skill set that you have built up and work on.
But part of it was to the fact that I had a champion for me within the firm that believed in my ability to do so and it was something that the firm needed, something that I was willing to do.
And it takes time, it takes practice. I would definitely say the first one that I did, funny enough, I was actually on vacation that day in central Pennsylvania looking for wedding venues and I got a call from my boss being like, hey, I know you're off today, but you're going to be on TV in 2 hours. And I was like, I'm like in the car in the middle of country, like on my way to go look at this wedding venue.
So I had to run home to my parents'house, they live outside Harrisburg and all I had with me were gym clothes. Like I was not in any work attire in any way, shape or form.
Had to steal my mom's clothes, had to steal her makeup, was like in my dad's office, hadn't showered yet. So really shocked that I actually looked presentable. But yeah, we get on and at least right now all this stuff is happening virtually, right? So I'm just on a zoom call with the correspondent and it's easier because it's just like I'm having a conversation with you or anybody else and that's fine. I'm curious to see how this translates when we're back in person and I'm in a studio setting or something. But yeah, effectively at the end of the day, once I got over the fact that this was a really cool thing and got over my nerves, it was just like having a conversation with anybody else and understanding that in that situation specifically, I was a subject matter expert in what we were talking about.
[00:43:18] Speaker C: So naturally this is pretty normal for you then, doing this podcast. So I appreciate that you were able to bring that to the table today and good advice for our students if they were able to take advantage of an opportunity like that. But also a nugget in there that you shared was you had an advocate in your firm who helped push you for this. So try and find those faults no matter what industry you're in. So I want to make sure you can take that out of that piece as well. Now I have one more specific to real estate question for you and it could also translate to really any industry, but you're very active in your industry space outside of your specific job and outside of being that thought leader and these press pieces. Can you tell us about both the why and the how of these other areas that you're involved in on different boards, whether at Penn State or elsewhere. What drew you to those and how you go about actually getting involved beyond just your core job?
[00:44:16] Speaker D: Yeah, so I think part of it is really the fact that within Center Square I am the only person, or not only person, but like lead our ESG efforts. Right. And so when I am trying to learn about real estate investing, I am surrounded by brilliant real estate investors. At Center Square, when I want to learn about real estate sustainability, I have to go outside the firm because nobody else in the firm has that very specific expertise.
And so to kind of learn more about the green building space, I had to go outside the firm to build that skill set.
And so in that regard, I'm lead certified and part of the US. Green Building Council's Philadelphia chapter, which is Green Building United, and I sit on their policy and advocacy committee where we are really trying to understand the policies surrounding kind of the built environment that are either happening currently or in the pipeline. Like right now, we're looking at providing some input for the Philadelphia city that's looking at putting together some new electrification requirements for buildings, like, what does that mean for the built environment and how that plays into kind of our long term goal of reducing carbon emissions and getting to kind of this world of net zero. The reason real estate is very crucial in that path is because globally, real estate accounts for about 40% of greenhouse gas emissions, which is massive. Right? And so as we think about this long term target, which exists across Europe, slowly we're starting to see that come through in the Biden administration. This goal of achieving net zero is impossible to do without having some sort of an impact on real estate and reducing the carbon load and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with buildings and the built environment. So learning about that, learning how to design retrofit buildings from this kind of sustainability lens, how to understand the implications from a financial perspective associated with achieving those targets, and how to incorporate that into how we think about investing in real estate is super important. Something that I need to be an expert on within Center Square and something that I have found networks to help me understand. And so my green building network includes architects and energy engineers and urban planners and all of these people with different kind of very specific niche skill sets that are helping me learn how to understand the sustainability of the built environment and then translate that into my role at Center Square.
It's something, again, like I said, I'm super, super passionate about. So I'm also trying to push the industry more broadly in that way. And so know the co chair of the Sustainability Committee for Narem, which is a real estate investment management organization in the US. And because I think sustainability and looking at finance through an ESG lens is so critical.
I'm also on the Sustainability Advisory Board first meal and so looking at how do we incorporate this concept of sustainability across every kind of aspect of how we do business. Because today ESG is like the standalone thing. Sustainability is something that a lot of companies will have targets for and it's not just like within any one industry. Like the oil and gas industry is currently completely getting decimated by activist investors like engine number one that are coming in and taking like four board seats and saying here's how the oil and gas industry needs to get ready for the future which is not going to be run on fossil fuels or in the transportation industry like aviation, things like that. How do you find more sustainable, more efficient ways of actually transporting goods and people?
You're seeing consulting companies come up with energy efficiency targets. You're seeing the concept of reducing our impact on the environment.
Or even in the last 18 months I think there has been this massive focus on diversity, equity and inclusion because of the Black Lives Matter movement. How do companies think about the impact they're having within their workforce, within their communities? That's kind of that social aspect of ESG that I focus on.
So from that environmental, that social perspective it's kind of creeping into every business and it's creeping into every part of every business, right? And so when you think about Smeel and the majors you can have from a finance perspective, how are you investing your capital in the best way to achieve certain goals? From a supply chain perspective, how are you actually transporting goods in the most efficient way? From a marketing perspective, how are you conveying your purpose and your mission and your messaging around these issues? Super important. So like every aspect of how we do business is being impacted by ESG and sustainability. And so being part of the advisory board for Smeel, it's like how do we integrate that thought process into the curriculum so that students graduate and enter the workforce with this deep understanding and pre built knowledge on how their actions and their specific skill sets within a company can help further these types of issues. And it's not something that a lot of business schools out there really focus on. And so it's a great way for Smeel to create a brand and say like hey, we are incorporating ESG and sustainability into every aspect of how we are actually grooming these students to come into the real world where these things matter today and it's only going to grow in importance. So super excited about that but yeah, in terms of the things that I do outside of work, again, very much so. Either helping me learn things that I don't know or helping kind of further that impact and that mission that I want to have more broadly in the finance and business world of pushing us in kind of that purpose driven way.
[00:51:10] Speaker C: That is incredible. And I really appreciate that you're doing that work here at Penn State and in this Mill College of Business. I expect nothing less from a scholar alumna like yourself. You've done all of this in only a few years out of school and so obviously you don't have the longest career to think back on. But I'd be curious on what you would say is your biggest success so far and also what's the biggest mistake that you made and what you learned from both of those things.
[00:51:36] Speaker D: Yes, I would say in terms of biggest success is figuring out what it is that makes me tick and it is this very cool intersection of purpose and impact and investing that's where I find something that is so fulfilling from a work perspective that it really drives me to do the best that I can.
And so being able to kind of bring that into Center Square and build this ESG capability that we didn't have that's like far and above, I think my proudest biggest accomplishment from a mistake perspective, the actual act is going to sound a little bit silly, but I think the learning from it is really important.
It was actually my very first job at Exxon.
I replied all to an email that went to my entire department and it was like a funny thing that was meant for one person who would have found it hilarious, but it went out to the entire department with no context. And so I was mortified of what was going to happen and I was this new girl that had just joined the team fresh out of college and this girl can't even send emails.
But the learning I would say from that is just this very aggressive attention to detail is so important and it's like the little things that you do or you don't do that help build trust within your workplace and with the relationships that you have. And if you don't have that trust, it's difficult to really do big things and be able to do them on your own.
And I say that in the sense that if I didn't have the attention to detail in terms of the work that I do at Center Square, the people that have given me free rein to kind of run with my ESG world would not have trusted me to do so. And so I would just say that attention to detail, being aware of the little things that are required to really build trust within an organization are so, so important.
[00:53:57] Speaker C: Great advice buried in all of that and throughout this entire conversation, uma, I'd be curious, is there any last pieces of advice that you wanted to share that just organically have not come up yet in our conversation?
[00:54:10] Speaker D: Constantly learning is really can I can say this from the world of finance that I sit in where I am on the investment committee for a real asset listed asset kind of world, where we're investing in a global stock market that is radically changing all day, every day. I lived through, as we lived through, collectively, the chaos of the last kind of 18 months of the impact of the pandemic on the capital markets and what that meant and how do you kind of get through that and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But it was this chaotic time. But again, you're constantly learning, right? So if you don't know what's happening with Evergrande and China and the housing market there, you don't understand how to kind of translate that into what's happening with the stock market here or in Europe. And you have to be aware of what's going on with Brexit and you have to be aware of this and that and this and that. So this constant learning of everything that's happening around you. And it's so important to kind of be able to look at things from new and different perspectives, which, again, requires you to be open to the information that's out there.
So I would just say kind of being open and being constantly learning and being this sponge of information is like a very powerful skill set to have just because it makes you just so much more informed. I think it's very applicable specifically to what I do because it impacts my job.
But even outside of that, I think being able to talk to a lot of the different types of things that are happening around the world and learning from them and being better for it, I think is really important in the grand schreyer of things.
[00:56:10] Speaker C: I think that speaks to the building a global perspective tenet of the college's mission statements. So being aware of everything that's going on around you and continually learning. Is there anybody from your scholar days that you'd like to give a quick shout out to? Maybe a thesis advisor or friends from student council or anything like that?
[00:56:28] Speaker D: I would actually point to the fantastic staff within the Honors College. I think they were super helpful in terms of being this fantastic support system to feed into everything that I wanted to do as a student leader and be there for like lisa's been great from the career perspective, and Donna's been great from building the essay like the Son group. And I just think they're always there. So I would definitely say I think they've been a big part of me being able to kind of do what I wanted to do during my time at Penn State.
[00:57:09] Speaker C: For the record, I did not ask you to shout them out, but I wholeheartedly agree with that. Lisa Krasinski, Donna Meyer. Fantastic colleagues of mine. Great resource for students. If you haven't met them yet, highly recommend getting in touch with them and with some of our other staff here in the college that are here to help. There's a link in the description on how you can book an appointment with some of them, but definitely agree with you there. Uma, they're fantastic. If a student wants to continue this conversation with you and learn more about sustainability, about real estate, about finance, about ESG, how can they connect with you?
[00:57:42] Speaker D: You can reach out to me on LinkedIn. You can follow me on Twitter.
Yeah. Open to being here as a resource for students that want to get into the wonderful and growing world of ESG investing.
[00:57:58] Speaker C: Excellent. As is tradition here on following the Gone. Our final question. If you were a flavor of Berkeley creamery ice cream, which would you be? And most importantly, as a scholar, why that flavor?
[00:58:10] Speaker D: I think alumni swirl first and foremost. It's my favorite. It's absolutely delicious.
But also, it's just like, I am so proud to be an alum of this fantastic, brilliant university.
The alumni network itself, I think, is super powerful. It's something that a lot of people talk about. It's something that I have personally experienced. When I moved down to houston, I knew like three other people. And I made all of these friends and this massive network of people because they were all Penn State alum that were down in Houston and wanted to be family with every Penn Stater that they ever saw, even from. A career perspective have been able to leverage that alumni network to reach out to again. Like to learn more about impact investing or green building or whatever it may be.
And I have never once had a bad experience. Like, if I reach out to a Penn State alum and say, hey, I graduated from Penn State, I am trying to learn about this, or I'm trying to do this or whatever, their doors have always been open. And I think that's such a cool thing to have just in terms of a support system that is constantly there and wants to see you succeed even if they don't know you. You have this commonality of being a Penn Stater and it stays with you for life. And I think that's super cool.
[00:59:38] Speaker C: That is a great reason to pick a great flavor that we are spirit just goes wherever you go as a Penn Stater. Uma, thank you so much for joining me today. I learned a lot. I hope you listening, learned a lot. Really appreciate you taking the time to share all of your great insights and advice. So thank you.
[00:59:57] Speaker D: Yeah, thanks for having me. This was really funny.
[01:00:06] Speaker A: Thank you, scholars, for listening and learning with us today. We hope you will take something with you that will contribute to how you shape the world. This show proudly supports the Shrier Honors College Emergency Fund benefiting scholars experiencing unexpected financial hardship. You can make a difference at raise, psu.edu, forward slash Schreyer. Please be sure to hit the relevant subscribe like or Follow button on whichever platform you are engaging with us on today. You can follow the college on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to stay up to date on news, events and deadlines. If you have questions about the show or a scholar alum who'd like to join us as a guest here on following the Gone, please connect with me at scholar alumni at psu.edu. Until next time, please stay well and we car.