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#WCW Tahlia Ifada: Gain Competence to Develop Confidence in Your Career and Life

Interested in being featured as a Boss Lady? In our #WCW Interview Series, we ask our community about their career paths, how they found their passions and for any advice they would give to aspiring boss ladies. This interview features Tahlia Ifada who is a VEAZEY scholarship recipient and fund manager in the UBC Sauder Portfolio Management Foundation (PMF) Program where she actively helps manage a $10 million portfolio to support the school. Tahlia hopes to build a meaningful business that promotes equality in the future.

Can you start off by sharing your story with us? How did you first get introduced to business and finance?

I developed an interest in business through a high school program called Junior Achievement British Columbia (JABC). It's a program that runs for high school and middle school students and encourages them to start businesses by providing mentorship and structure. From Grade 10 to Grade 12, I started three different businesses in that time through JABC. The business spends three or four months in operation before the program ends. So that was my introduction to business and JABC has various awards that they give out as well that I applied for. I just got to understand business, meet some professionals and eventually developed an interest in pursuing that over sciences, which was the trajectory I was kind of leaning towards before. 

After that I went to and still attend the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. In first year, I was kind of just introduced into business and still didn't really know what I was doing. But then in second year, I got into a program called the Portfolio Management Foundation (PMF), where a group of 21 students help manage a $10 million fund. That was an incredibly intense intro to finance which is now where I largely spend most of my time. Through that program, I landed an internship in Toronto last year. Subsequently, I have continued to learn more about investing from my classes at school, managing the portfolio, and from my second internship which I completed virtually this summer.

How did you land your current role and where do you want to be in the next 3, 5, and 10 years?

I landed my role through the PMF largely. I'm working at a hedge fund out of New York, which has experience with PMF students, so I interviewed through that connection and was selected for an internship. Three to five years from now, I probably see myself still in New York in some kind of finance hedge fund environment. In 10 or 20 years down the line, I definitely want to be focused on something more impactful in terms of building businesses from the ground up that are beneficial for the future or that I believe are promoting equality in any form. So, whatever that looks like, but honestly at this point I'm still 20 years old, trying to go with the flow and learn as much as possible in the short run.

“Honestly at this point, I'm still 20 years old, trying to go with the flow and learn as much as possible in the short run.”

When you initially started your path in finance, what barriers did you face and how did you overcome them?

I was lucky to be selected into the PMF program which largely has a prebuilt network over 30 years, tons of professional experience that we had access to which gave me many learning opportunities.

I would say I had ample support both in the finance community with plenty of mentors along the way. I have supportive friends and family. Since I had such a strong base, I focused on honoring those people's investments in me and working hard. What I can speak to is what I've seen in other people, and the biggest problem is the finance industry is very much like a tight-knit club. Not so much of a boys club as it was before, but it still kind of is. 

People just need a chance. They need one job and for one person to push them, to believe in them, and give them an internship for them to build on. The thing is, those opportunities are quite hard to come by. And I've seen plenty of my peers who have equal passion, if not more passion, struggle to get their foot in the door into such a closed-off environment that largely just hires out of Harvard, Stanford, like all these Ivy League schools. The financial knowledge base of the students at Ivey schools isn't necessarily higher than my peers, in fact since we study business at the undergrad level. However, there is a strong bias in finance to filter and select students based on the names of their schools. It’s really hard to fight against that kind of system. I didn't have to worry about that too much, but that's pretty much universally the biggest problem I've seen across friends and people who are also in my program, trying to get their foot in the door.

We know that you’re very busy balancing your multiple commitments. What habits have you developed that help you stay on track?

I'm still working on this to be honest. I respond very well to deadlines, so I will usually make deadlines the most important thing, and those usually pop up in PMF or in school. Those two things usually get prioritized and school isn't as intensive as it used to be. I was able to manage my deadlines by getting more productive with my time, by writing in the business language faster and processing group activities easier by dividing up the work initially instead of trying to work with people the whole way through. 

I definitely think that it's hard to balance friendships, like my biggest learning curve with being in such an intensive program while trying to go to school and being a commuter was managing relationships. The friendships that you have, which largely actually make you who you are, because they don't have deadlines attached to them didn't get as prioritized as they should have been for me personally. I have a Google Calendar I use religiously and I've started to put in friendship blocks in there as well. If I was to share one piece of advice to somebody, it is that they definitely have to have a calendar or an agenda, something electronic or on hand so the moment somebody has a commitment or an issue you just put that in. Also, giving yourself more time than you think it's going to take to do a task, because at least in my experience, most assignments will 100% take longer than you think. I found that after first year, you kind of get used to the demands of university and the rest is just adjusting your friendships and extracurriculars. 

“If I was to share one piece of advice to somebody, it is that they definitely have to have a calendar or an agenda, something electronic or on hand so the moment somebody has a commitment or an issue you just put that in.”

What is the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?

I asked somebody, how did they know they like what they're doing in finance? I asked this because at times, there are parts to finance that can be mundane. No one thoroughly enjoys inputting numbers for hours and in those moments, which are largely the beginning of a financial career, I wanted to know how he evaluated his enjoyment.

So I asked him, how do you know you like what you're doing when sometimes you can spend days doing things that I think are generally mundane? His response was probably the best piece of advice I've had so far, which is that it takes a while to get competent at something. And that you can measure if you like something after you get competent at it and that can take a few years. Once you get really good at investing, or generating ideas, or understanding how different businesses work together. If you have a fundamental understanding of whatever you’re doing but you are still waking up in the mornings not wanting to be there or not caring, then that's a sign you probably don't like it and should stop doing it.

Once you have some sort of understanding, if it's getting exciting to you and now puzzle pieces are clicking and you're able to, you know, put two and two together, that's exciting too. That's how you know you like it. In general. that's kind of a good rule. Once you reach a certain level of competency, understand the flow and how it all works, then your mind can start thinking about things. Like in karate, once I got fairly good at all the various different kicks and punches then the sport itself became more fun. Or it doesn't. There's plenty of sports that I played that I understood how to throw, catch and kick and I still didn't care if I won or lost. So, that advice can be used, not just in your job, but in general. Give yourself a shot. Give yourself the ability to kind of understand what's going on. If you understand and still won't care, that's a sign that you probably shouldn't be doing it.

You might just hate it because it's hard work in the beginning, but once you get good you don't need to do the busy work anymore. Or it turns out you do hate it, which is just fine. Since we're all trying new things and we're doing it for like two or three months in an internship, that's almost certainly not enough time to build competency, which can make it very difficult to assess whether you like it or not.

“Give yourself a shot. Give yourself the ability to kind of understand what's going on. If you understand and still won't care, that's a sign that you probably shouldn't be doing it.”

Is there anything you would do differently during your degree?

I really wanted to do an exchange, which was just not possible due to my commitments, but I think everyone should do it 100% if you can financially afford it. A lot of the things that I wish I had done I did, I made a conscious decision to do once I realized its importance to me. l wish I lived closer and because I had the financial means to do it, I moved out. I also wish I could have studied more subjects in vast areas but in my fourth year I'm going to be doing that. I wish I could have it in person but you can't have it all! I think it is always better to make more friends, talk to and meet more people outside of my circle.

What is the most staple piece in your wardrobe? Which BLC outfit is your favourite / you could see yourself wearing?

The black and white dress with the puff sleeves! I love fitted pieces that are tight, especially longer bodycons because I'm trying to be conservative, but I also want to look like I have a body. I would automatically gravitate to any version of the bodycon when I’m shopping, but the dress I saw on the BLC site with the white top and black skirt is beautiful. I want that dress.

Our key takeaways from this conversation are:

1. Make time for the friendships and relationships that make you who you are, even if that means scheduling it into your calendar like an appointment.

2. Work on developing competency in the areas you're interested in before deciding if you like it or not.

3. Make the most out of the opportunities and resources you have access to (for example, the perks of being a student!)

We hope you enjoyed getting to know another Boss Lady this week. Please let us know if there is someone that you would like to read about on our upcoming #WCW blog posts.


Stay connected with Tahlia on LinkedIn!

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