Darden Capital Management’s First Female CEO on Opening Doors and Leading Through a Pandemic

By Dave Hendrick

Regarded by many finance-minded students at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business as one of the School’s best-kept secrets, the student-run Darden Capital Management has helped generations of alumni graduate with hands-on experience managing significant assets.

The club, which now manages roughly $22 million of the School’s endowment through five funds, has the added distinction in the 2020–21 academic year of having the first female CEO in the club’s history: Rachel Gibson (Class of 2021).

Profiled recently in Poets & Quants, Gibson notes the women who served as mentors in her pre-Darden Career at Cambridge Associates, and hopes her own position encourages others to consider careers in financial services. She details her experience taking the lead at the group — whose current membership is nearly half women — just as COVID-19 began to reshape the landscape.

After Covid, they implemented hedging strategies in the Jefferson Fund, including reallocating capital previously invested in equities into fixed-income. In the global Monticello Fund, they had to adjust adroitly as the pandemic worsened in some places and improved in others. The Cavalier Fund, consisting of consumer staples and online retailers, saw a boost to share price performance benefiting from increased demand; the Darden Fund underwent a spring of turmoil as members examined the entire portfolio in the wake of Covid; and the Rotunda Fund, an Environmental, Social, and Governance fund, had an equally uncertain time as DCM managers worked to assess how companies that prioritize ESG initiatives would hold up during the market downturn.

All in all, a challenging time to be in charge.

“I knew how important it was to set the tone of my leadership style for the next year, so I focused on trying to stay positive and not make decisions based on anything short-term,” Gibson says.

Gibson, who will take a position with JP Morgan after graduating from Darden, suggests women interested in the space connect with each other to build a network.

“Gain confidence by speaking to others in the industry,” she says. “Align your interests and passions with roles and places where you can grow, and find work that doesn’t feel like work. Vocalize your interest in being involved, speak up when you have opinions, and follow your gut.”

She particularly stresses the importance of overcoming self-doubt and stepping outside of your comfort zone.

“Each time I had an informational call with another woman in the industry, it helped me learn what would make me happy and what I’m motivated by,” she says. “Sometimes, you’ll get advice when you weren’t looking for it, leading to opportunities that you may not even know exist.”

Read the full piece on Poets & Quants and check out a Q&A with Gibson on the Discover Darden blog.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. 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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