In Conversation With Elizabeth Weymouth: Darden’s First Female Board Chair on Finding Opportunities Off the Beaten Path, a UVA Education and What’s Next
Elizabeth Weymouth (MBA ’94) is poised for a monumental year as she launches a Manhattan-based alternative investment company and concludes her action-packed, three-year tenure as the first female chair of the University of Virginia Darden School Foundation Board of Trustees.
Pushing boundaries is nothing new for Weymouth, who has leveraged her drive and intellect to become an influential force in private equity and asset management. Weymouth started her career in London as an oil and gas insurance broker for Willis Corroon, working primarily in Lloyd’s of London. After graduating from Darden in 1994, she joined J.P. Morgan and was soon running the largest investment business at the Private Bank, investing for the firm’s wealthiest clients and directing a team of 70 that managed more than $80 billion in client assets and generated $350 million in revenue. Prior to starting her own business, she was a partner at the energy-focused private equity firm Riverstone Holdings, where she helped build and grow the firm while securing $27 billion of capital from global sources.
At Darden, Weymouth has led the board of trustees as the School prepares for the fall public launch of a major fundraising initiative, in support of UVA’s $5 billion Honor the Future campaign to commemorate the University’s Bicentennial.
As Weymouth reflects on the past and future, she takes a mindful approach, having learned that life seems to unroll in 10-year chapters and that the best is always yet to come.
1. Darden develops purpose-driven leaders who put their why — their personal challenge, their mission — to work. What’s yours?
I am passionate about continuous innovation, the pursuit of excellence, contributing as a global citizen and embodying integrity in all areas of life. My current mission is to use my core strengths and experience to create a new private investment model that moves away from traditional investment funds and brings capital closer to the deal. While doing so, I intend to devote a great deal of energy toward another critical mission — advancing women in business. Women need to help other women, and I am determined to create my new company, Grafine Partners, as a platform that contributes to that goal.
2. Tell us about your decision to launch Grafine Partners. What’s your vision for the company?
I have spent the past 25 years of my career seizing entrepreneurial opportunities to build, grow and run investment platforms that provide extraordinary investment opportunities and returns for seasoned investors — from large family offices to institutions. As a result, I have developed a broad network of these global investors and a deep understanding of their needs. I am building Grafine Partners as an innovative investment platform that provides differentiated sources of alpha for sophisticated, patient and creative capital partners in a private equity landscape that is changing rapidly. Many investors today are looking for alternatives to traditional, blind pool private equity funds and that is where Grafine steps in. We offer our capital partners ways to invest directly in great companies and to be closer to the management teams. Grafine’s mission is to source, screen, structure and invest in direct opportunities for our clients. We also form strategic partnerships with proven veteran investors spinning out of larger firms to seed and build new investment firms and to secure deal flow for Grafine. Our goal is to return to the roots of private equity through distinctive, proprietary investments, which provide maximum risk-adjusted returns and true differentiation.
3. You are the first female chair of Darden’s board of trustees, and a pioneer in the field of finance, where there are few women at the top. What advice do you have for women based on your journey?
Define your passions. Recognize your strengths. Build a team of trusted partners with complementary skills. Don’t try to fit into someone else’s definition of success. Identify an area in which you can have far-reaching impact and opportunity for growth, and don’t be afraid to choose the unbeaten path. Be bold, think big and then go for it!
4. As you prepare to conclude a three-year term as Darden’s board chair, what stands out to you as you consider your tenure?
I am honored to have led the Darden School Foundation Board of Trustees for the last three years. In partnership with my exceptional fellow trustees, we are navigating the evolving landscape for graduate business education in the 21st century. Darden is fortunate to have an incredibly visionary dean at the helm, Scott Beardsley, who has taken an already very strong Darden to even greater heights. As a double ‘Hoo, I am delighted by our partnerships with other UVA schools to create joint degree programs, such as the Master of Science in Business Analytics with the McIntire School of Commerce and the MBA/Master of Science in Data Science dual degree with the Data Science Institute. I am also very proud of our rapid execution to build a Darden presence in the Washington, D.C., area, providing a beacon for UVA’s expansion in the region and establishing a first-mover advantage over other top business schools. I am excited by our substantial investment in Darden Executive Education and Lifelong Learning programs, which I believe will be a strong engine of growth in the future as lives and careers lengthen. Finally, I am thrilled that the enrolled percentage of women MBA candidates is at an all-time high, as I am particularly passionate about increasing women’s leadership in business and believe earning an MBA is a critical step for women.
5. You also attended UVA as an undergraduate and your oldest son is now a First Year. How would you define the value of a UVA education?
The University of Virginia provides a world-class education and offers a transformational experience for each student. It is remarkable to have the opportunity to attend one of the nation’s top public universities in extraordinarily beautiful surroundings, which also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is my experience that graduates of UVA generally are driven, intelligent, resourceful, hard-working and well-rounded. When building teams, I actively seek out University graduates as they tend to have the rare combination of high intellect and humility, while also being team players and fun to be around.
6. You are launching a company with offices in New York and London, raising three sons and giving generously of your time through nonprofit board leadership. How do you manage your energy, and what’s on your bucket list for 2019?
I am fortunate to have a very supportive family, starting with my husband, P.B. Weymouth (MBA ’93), whom I met at Darden. Throughout my career, I have integrated my family life with my professional life, often taking my three sons to the office to understand what I do, meet my team and see where I go when I’m not with them. I am intentional about how I want to spend my day and with whom, prioritizing initiatives where I can make a significant impact. I am the most productive when I have multiple things on my plate; I find it energizing. To manage my energy, I am disciplined about allocating time each day towards a healthy mix of commitments to work, family, exercise and spirituality. In 2019, I am focused on building Grafine while also creating memorable experiences with both family and friends.
7. Your life has always been international, as you grew up in New Orleans yet spent significant periods of time in your mother’s home country of Denmark. How did your Scandinavian roots impact you?
I learned from an early age what it means to be a global citizen, appreciating diverse cultures and perspectives. I thrive on the ability to relate effectively to business leaders around the world. My Scandinavian heritage has defined my pursuit of international business, from launching my career in London to building global investment platforms. This background has led me to form deep relationships with investors and business partners from all corners of the earth, which has had a significant impact on my life.
8. You are a champion of education and have served on the boards of several schools, including the Isidore Newman School, the day school you attended in New Orleans; the Darden School; and most recently Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, where your husband went to school and now two of your three sons. Why is education your cause?
Quite simply, I believe education is THE most significant game-changer in life. In a world of inequality, education is the biggest equalizer and opens the door to endless new opportunities. The power of education — broadly — is indisputable, and no one can take that away from you.
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D. and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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