Beth Chartoff Spector
by Sue Tomchin
Beth Chartoff Spector has been known to start her day with a 7:30 a.m. conference call with investors in Beijing and end it with a 9:00 p.m. call with business associates in Tokyo.
As the senior managing director and head of investor relations and business development for GSO Capital, a division of Wall Street investment powerhouse Blackstone, Chartoff Spector, 49, is used to “conducting business in different jurisdictions, where there are not only language divides but cultural divides as well.” A 25-year Wall Street veteran, she often has been the sole woman in rooms where mergers, corporate debt refinancing packages, and institutional investment decisions are hammered out. Working “to address what is a pretty big gender divide in women coming into this field” has been one of her aims.
Chartoff Spector grew up in a close-knit family in Potomac, Md. Ballet was a girlhood passion and she believes that the discipline and performance skills she developed have helped her professionally. A career in business or finance “was on my radar pretty early,” she says, influenced by the example of her father, who left corporate law to start a business in finance. She majored in economics at Cornell, reckoning that the degree would provide a good career foundation.
Hired out of college by investment bank Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, Chartoff Spector discovered that women were a “rare breed” in her office. Though she made close friends among colleagues, a locker- room atmosphere often prevailed. Once, she recalls, when she wore a pantsuit to work, a senior staff member told her “pantsuits didn’t look professional and that I should go back to skirts.”
“Careers are long. Don’t think about 20 years from now. Your objective today is to land in a place where you can get exposure, experience and skills that are portable to many different opportunities.”
The work was challenging and the hours long, but she liked it. After two years, to enhance her skills, she went back for an MBA. Her graduating class at Wharton, she notes, was about 20% women at a time when medical and law school classes were at a 50-50 ratio.
Returning to the world of investment banking, first as an associate and later as a director, Chartoff worked on corporate transactions in the retail, consumer products and media sectors involving such companies as Mrs. Field’s, Ann Taylor and Sony. In 2005, a long-time colleague invited her to join him at GSO Capital, the firm he was founding. In the past 13 years, she has spearheaded the growth of GSO’s assets under management from $2 billion to over $100 billion.
GSO was acquired by Blackstone in 2008 and, four years ago, the company’s president asked Chartoff Spector to head its women’s initiative. She readily accepted and launched programs aimed at transforming recruitment, retention and advancement of women at Blackstone. One such program, the Blackstone Future Women Leaders Program, annually reaches out to 50 promising college sophomores at universities in the U.S. and Europe. The program offers early exposure to finance through informational and skills-building seminars, networking, mentorship and visits to Blackstone. Her efforts are working: The annual incoming class of analysts has gone from below 20% to nearly 50% women. To encourage retention, Chartoff has developed mentorship/sponsorship opportunities, pairing mid-career women at the firm with senior staff.
As the wife of a plastic surgeon and the mother of two teenage boys, the younger of whom just celebrated his Bar Mitzvah, Chartoff Spector knows that juggling career and family responsibilities is tough. “Every day I am managing my global team of 25 and handling a very busy schedule, and all the while thinking that my son’s tutor is running late, or that someone needs to get to baseball practice. And I’ve had plenty of ‘working mom’ moments, like when I sent my son to camp two days before camp started! It’s definitely challenging.”
Yet, it’s doable, Chartoff Spector emphasizes. Having a long-time nanny has been a big help. Also, she recognizes, “The important thing is to be “really thoughtful… To say, ‘I want to be there for my kids’ most important moments, that’s my first priority, so I’m going to work around my work schedule to make that happen.’” And, of course, having a partner who is supportive and also prioritizes family is critical. “My husband’s days consist of very long hours in the OR, and yet when something at home needs attention, he finds a way to be there.”
Having reached a point where she is able to make time for her own interests, Chartoff Spector serves on the Board of American Ballet Theater, co-chairing its development committee. She also serves on the President’s Council for Cornell Women, traveling to campus to speak to students, hosting groups for breakfast at Blackstone, and mentoring young women.
“Starting a career in finance opens so many avenues,” she advises young women. “Careers are long. Don’t think about 20 years from now. Your objective today is to land in a place where you can get exposure, experience and skills that are portable to many different opportunities. If you invest in your career early and learn a lot, that will afford you degrees of flexibility down the road when you really need it.”