Healthcare CIO Corner: In Conversation with Jenny Chan
Jenny Chan has made it through the pandemic’s toughest days by focusing on the long term. She discusses facing burnout head-on, knowing your purpose, searching for diverse talent and being cautiously optimistic about environmental, social and governance (ESG).
Q: Tell us about navigating the COVID-19 crisis an investor responsible for health care investment assets.
CHAN: The whole team deeply feels the responsibility we have in managing the endowment for CHOP. During a period of such uncertainty in the markets, our professional lives and our personal lives, being able to focus on long-term goals was stabilizing. That didn’t make it easy to make short-term decisions or to add risk to the portfolio, which we continued to do as part of our ongoing portfolio transition strategy. We were nowhere near the astronomical performance many of our peers put up, and big congratulations to all of them! That does hurt a little as I have a healthy sense of competition.
Q: What do you see as the greatest risks heading into year-end?
CHAN: Our success is directly related to our people. The world has changed. The competition to attract, develop and retain high-quality talent, is the strongest I’ve seen in my career. I’m encouraged, though, by the increasing number of talented people who are looking beyond a job and a paycheck to also support missions that align with their personal values.
Q: How have you approached diversity, equity and inclusion when it comes to developing talent development and your investment managers?
CHAN: It would feel disingenuous for me if we weren’t walking the talk. The team focusing on the processes—for internal talent and our manager partners—is the only way we have a chance of any level of success. And process evolves over time. We know we need to keep learning and doing better. We are highly aligned with CHOP’s enterprise-wide priorities. I’m proud of how thoughtful and thorough the team has been in searching for talent that aligns with our fundamentally shared belief that diversity of thought, experiences, backgrounds, perspectives and cultures will make us better in every way.
Q: How have you been thinking about ESG factors?
CHAN: I will always prioritize performance, but as the landscape continues to change, the notion that strong and competitive performance requires compromising on ESG considerations is becoming antiquated. ESG is a big priority for us over the next 12 to 18 months—trying to create a uniform framework around ESG and apply it consistently across the entire portfolio. As much as we’re eager to jump in with both feet, our approach to ESG will reflect our disciplined and measured approach to almost everything. No one model is right for everyone. While a lot of good work is being done, there are still real limitations when it comes to advanced skill sets, standardized metrics, the global adoption of reporting requirements and the regulatory support required to enforce transparency across all asset classes and markets.
I’m highly skeptical about and highly sensitized to greenwashing and the equivalent. But I’m comfortable putting in writing that I’m cautiously optimistic.
Q: What do you believe separates a good asset manager from a great asset manager?
CHAN: A lot of asset managers can produce good returns, even consistently over time. Exceptional managers understand the real responsibility that comes with managing assets for teachers, universities, hospitals (self-serving plug!) and other nonprofits. We share the same high level of commitment. It is easy to identify the managers who are paying attention to all the determinants of success: the quality of the people making investment decisions; being thoughtful about how they’re building their business for the long term; making the necessary investment in their infrastructure; really strong leadership.
Q: Who or what has had the most influence on your career?
CHAN: Too many people to name. But I’d call out all the women in the field who set the standard in many ways and then make themselves accountable for supporting others—taking the time to give back and pay it forward—and who lead with intention, humility and grace.
Q: What advice would you give aspiring CIOs?
CHAN: When I was starting out, I don’t know if I really believed I could be a CIO. The technical skills are critical, but many other, non-investment skills are necessary, and sometimes you won’t know what they are until you’re sitting in the seat, because organizations value them at varying levels. But everywhere, the competition among talented candidates is fierce. CIO roles often become available in waves and then become somewhat scarce.
Play to your strengths, but always make sure you’re developing your weaker areas to the extent possible. Be honest—with yourself, at least—about what those weaknesses are. The right timing and some luck can make a big difference, so be prepared when opportunity presents itself. Continue to build resilience when you’re being forced to be patient. Make sure you know what your values are and what your purpose is. They will help you keep on track when you feel you might be off course.
Q: What about your job motivates you every day?
CHAN: There have definitely been days, particularly in the last 18 months or so, when it’s been hard to get out of bed. There has been no shortage of challenges the team has faced--and, of course, the hospital at large. But the shared commitment to CHOP’s mission, and the vital work CHOP does to care for our patients, their families and our communities, always gets me through even the toughest days. My team members, who come together every day to support each other and do the hard work, motivate me when I feel like I’m running on empty.
Q: How do you manage your time and your resources?
CHAN: This is one of the top challenges in my career. We all have limitations, some self-imposed, that contribute to how well we manage our time and resources. Continuing to better understand the different factors at play, including my own self-awareness, has moved me in the right direction. I’m still in the early stages of setting boundaries and trying to stay within them. What’s also made a difference is better communicating with my team and others on the support I need to address burnout and be able to recharge, so I can show up in the way I want to.
Birthplace: Fuzhou, China, and I grew up on Long Island.
Education: New York University B.S., finance and accounting; Yale School of Management M.B.A., sustainability.
First job: My first W2 job was in high school, at the Body Shop in the Westfarms Mall (CT).
Hobbies: Figuring out how to be a better global citizen and to contribute to society; traveling and languages, including Mandarin (I speak the Fuzhou dialect), French and Spanish—but I haven’t made much progress in either of those in recent memory. I’ll also be volunteering at a local animal shelter again soon.
Favorite movies: I can watch on repeat Contact, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and The Chamber of Secrets, The Matrix (the first movie) and The Shawshank Redemption.
Last book that made a strong impression: I just finished listening to National Book Award winning author James McBride’s Deacon King Kong. I generally average a book a week, concentrated around the holidays and other days off, but I’m a little behind so far in 2021.