Aris R. Hatch: Making a Difference in Private Equity’s Diversity from a Road Less Travelled

Top 10 Most Inspiring Women Redefining Business in 2023

Aris R. Hatch, Managing Director at GCM Grosvenor, believes everything happens for a reason. “That is my mantra. When you let go of what you believe is supposed to happen and throw out all the playbooks, you create space for possibilities. You will inspire others to embrace the unconventional, too. That is the crossroad where inspiration and change meet, and there we begin to unleash the power diversity holds.”

A Passion for Culture and The Performing Arts

About thirty miles north of Boston, Massachusetts on the banks of the Merrimack River sits the old New England mill town of Lowell. Ghosts of the Industrial Revolution from a heyday long past still haunt the city in forms of tall brick stacks, vacant loom mills and well-worn cobblestone streets. Today Lowell is a tapestry of cultures woven of the many flavors, music and languages brought by waves of immigrants arriving to the United States through this gateway city. Amongst the ever-changing faces of a broadly diverse population in search of opportunity, Aris and her brother were raised surrounded by family, faith and community.  “Diversity wasn’t a thing to strive for because everyone was diverse in our hometown. I strongly believe my earliest years not only inform how I work today but also what I value and with whom I choose to invest my attention and energy.”

The daughter of two lifelong educators, Aris attended the Lowell public school system in which her parents taught. Her father was also a Greek Orthodox priest and beloved faith leader in their community. Both of her parents set a high bar of academic excellence. Her father put himself through college, graduated Holy Cross Seminary and went on to achieve his Ph.D. in religious education. Her mother shared her love of the arts including dance, opera and musical theater as well as the finer art of Greek home cooking for a houseful of family and friends.  “I was extremely fortunate to grow up valuing differences and having a deeply secure sense of belonging—with family, community and a cultural identity that touched all aspects of my life. I appreciate the template of love and compassion my parents gave me and the value to treasure family above all.” A hallmark of her childhood that Aris and her husband still uphold is to pause the hectic days of two fulltime working parents with four children and dozens of activities to share a homecooked meal and conversation as a family around the table free of screens or judgment.

“Because my childhood through young adulthood was entirely comprised of a magical trifecta of dance, reading, and writing, I never had an interest in finance. I certainly never thought I would pursue a career in it! I never so much as even took a finance class over the course of my education. Little did I know how valuable following my passion would prove to be for a career in private equity.”

Having studied many forms of dance from a young age, the stage always felt like home to Aris. Lyrical and classical ballet en pointe became her solace and center for over twenty years. To make her dream of becoming a dancer real, her parents insisted that academics had to come first.  With a full load of advanced courses and working to help pay for school, Aris had no choice but to learn to manage her time and energy with efficiency from an early age. Her self-proclaimed “uber-Type-A” personality and tireless work ethic were amplified over years of striving for precision, control and perfection that come with mastering ballet technique.

“The late nights in the studios, bloodied toes, blistered bunions, and mercilessly demanding choreographers fostered very thick skin. The work, the time, the pain has all always been worth it to me. Ballet taught me early on that mentality shapes reality. When we feel we have reached a physical limit, we are capable of so much more than we think. Everything is about finding your balance, your breath, and tapping into your flow. When you find it, it is a place where time and limits do not exist. I have never experienced anything else like it.”

Finding Mental Fortitude and Greater Meaning

Growing up on stage taught Aris to have respect for an audience rather than to fear it. As a result, public speaking and responding under pressure come natural to her. Aris credits that calm confidence to her early indoctrination to performing arts, which included high-pressure auditions and performances with the professionals of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. “There comes a point when you lose the fear of failure and what others will think of you.  I have come to appreciate that there are two ways to look at the world — with the fear that everyone is out to judge and defeat you, or with trust that people are fundamentally good and compassionate.” she reflects. “Optimism in humanity is something we can draw strength from during times we feel disillusionment and doubt creeping in.”

“I always thought I would be a writer when the short-lived career of a ballet dancer had paid its physical toll,” she says. But an unexpected turn of events and injury shattered her dreams and with it came a crippling fear of the unknown. “Where does one start to reimagine a future that no longer includes your true passion? I had no choice but to embrace how fragile and small we all are despite our big dreams. I had to learn to let go of the rigidity of my thinking and tap into mental agility.  It was an exercise in finding mental fortitude, reframing my future for greater meaning, and physically rebuilding myself.”

Following in the Footsteps of Distinguished Women Leaders

Before her career in private equity, Aris chose to spend her college years studying what she loves — English literature, specifically literary theory and 17th-century literature. Following that passion was a journey that played out over four years at Wellesley College.

“I never thought I would go to an all-women college. From the moment I set foot on campus and looked around, I knew I was home.”  Nestled in a storybook New England setting dotted with gothic towers tucked around Lake Waban and steeped in decades of tradition, Wellesley was the ideal environment for Aris to learn to develop some serious literary muscle. From Blake to Donne, the academic rigor refined her critical thinking, honed her research skills, and awakened a deeper passion for writing. “My liberal arts degree from Wellesley armed me with differentiated skills and a sisterhood of all-star-amazing women,”

“A legacy of women leaders walked the worn granite steps I climbed to classes each day. You could not help but remember on those dark cold winter mornings that, as you clutch your tea in mittened hands, you’re walking in the very same steps climbed by Madeline Albright, Nora Ephron, Diane Sawyer, and Ophelia Dahl just to name a few.  It is a privilege for any Wellesley woman to uphold such traditions of being a driver of change and living out the motto of four Latin words that capture the College’s dedication to service and cultivating leadership: Non-Ministrari, sed Ministari (not to be ministered unto, but to minister). Something about that culture deeply resonates with my core values. Experiencing education through a gender lens illuminated an undeniable need to help lift other women on their journeys. I was empowered by a community that celebrated shared ambition as much as individual success. I strive to carry forward that culture in how I conduct business for myself and with my colleagues.”

As a First Year at Wellesley Aris was in an incredibly unique honors program called INCIPIT.  “That experience changed everything for me. It was an experimental interdisciplinary curriculum that incorporated virtually all subjects offered on campus. We were challenged to find connections between the incompatible and unrelatable. I had to write about how Caliban’s behaviour in The Tempest was entropic and personified the second law of thermodynamics. Another time I had to consider how Schrödinger’s cat is a lesson in letting go of western cultural norms that ascribe meaning to the outcome of situations entirely beyond one’s control. That course work unlocked my power of network thinking, a skill that has served very well in my role building bespoke solutions for investors paired with the best fund strategies and managers. Coupled with my obsessive attention to detail, I developed the ability to rapidly index people, places and experiences and make connections. It is an uncommon trait that has set me apart from peers steeped in the lock-step linear thought patterns that come with a more traditional finance education. I have experienced and lived the value of diversity of thought.”

The Journey from Serendipity to Success

Although she’s been frequently asked by young women, she mentors how she ended up in the role she has today, Aris believes there is no linear path to success. “Success is 100% relative and situational. It is a living concept that shifts and changes with where we are at that moment,” she explains. “Ten years ago, success to me was becoming a Partner by making hundreds of cold calls and tirelessly globetrotting for the better part of a decade to raise an average of about $750 million of institutional capital per year for private equity funds I represented. Seven years ago, it was welcoming my second daughter to the world. Three years ago, it was keeping my aging mother healthy in the chaos of COVID’s scariest early days while still in shock from tragically losing my father in a car accident. Last week success was helping a young analyst see an unconscious bias.”

Aris describes herself as a poster child for taking an unconventional “road less travelled” to her career in private equity. “I do not have an MBA. I was not an investment banker nor a trader on Wall Street. I strive to keep a curious mind and I take pride in an unwavering work ethic. It also is in my nature to weave unexpected connections between seemingly disparate people, places and ideas to solve problems or spark something entirely new. Connecting the dots can sometimes be the key to unlocking the success and happiness of others. Being part of that is a privilege.”

Her path was not always so clear. Out of undergrad Aris was recruited by Ernst & Young.  Freshly out of college and in new employee orientation, she was offered an extra ticket to EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year Awards banquet that night. Hours later she found herself seated next to a gentleman and enjoyed a evening of conversation spanning topics from literary classics to affordable housing. She was quite surprised to see her tablemate rise as the featured honouree of the night. Not long after, she was invited to interview at his global private equity firm for a coveted associate position for which she had previously applied. There she found the aperture of opportunity expand wider than she ever imagined, and there she found her most trusted mentors. “Right place, right time? Yes, and also simply being authentic and curious, listening, and connecting with the person who happened to be next to me. That one conversation put me on a path to an incredible journey that includes meeting some of the most inspiring investors and exceptional fund managers around the world. It allowed me to make of it what I would, and I did not squander the opportunity,” she recalls.

Embracing The Importance of Empathy in The Workplace

Aris notes that more than ever in a post-pandemic world, finance is embracing the importance of empathy in the workplace as a necessary qualification for a well-rounded team. Many studies correlate empathy with increased sales and greater performance as much as those demonstrating better performance from teams that embrace the diversity of thought, gender, and ethnicity.

“I’ve come to appreciate how my literature degree is one of the most versatile of all academic foundations on which to have built my career. It afforded me the opportunity to cultivate a better understanding of self and to redefine where my narrative fits in the context of stories far larger than my own,” she asserts.

Such multifaceted individuals were an exception to the private equity associate stereotype twenty-four years ago when Aris began her career in the industry. Her uncommon educational background and solidly middle-class upbringing have historically been uncharacteristic of those able to access the exclusivity of private equity. Over her career she has been the only woman in the board room, the youngest woman at the table, the only pregnant woman on stage presenting (twice), and the only female partner to challenge a then still non-existent maternity leave policy.  She’s been asked to fetch more tea and handed more coats from clients and colleagues that could not consider a woman in any other role than cheerful receptionist. There have been the male colleagues who earned twice as much for working half as long, the beer and box seat ball game nights to which she was never invited, and the fight for leadership opportunities. “It felt like culture shock after four years at Wellesley.”  In stark contrast, the gender and cultural biases she experienced were not something she could accept, ignore or normalize. She refuses to let fear and doubt define her path for her.

Aris notes that with an over-focus climbing up the ladder to Partner a lot can pass you by. There came a moment, Aris reflects, when she felt that she had given her work everything, where she had launched a successful and highly profitable new line of business and was promoted. She felt like the dog that was daringly and instinctively chasing a car, but when she caught it, she really was not sure what to do with it, or why she was even chasing it so hard in the first place. After successfully building a new line of private equity business and team from concept to multi-billion-dollar category killer, she knew it was time for a new challenge. “I’m not one to stay still when I do not feel the work I am doing is adding value or meaning anymore,” she maintains.  She began having more conversation with investors focusing on successful relationships above successful transactions. It became clear to her that when the focus is shifted to the success of others, personal success naturally follows.

Advancing Exceptional Women & Ethnically Diverse Managers

In another unexpected turn of events, Aris was offered the opportunity to join GCM Grosvenor, a $75 billion[1] global alternative assets manager, as a Managing Director in business development. Her real calling came into focus however two years later after partnering with the diverse manager private equity investment team. She was part of the team effort to launch one of the industry’s first private equity commingled offerings dedicated exclusively to investing in exceptional women and ethnically diverse fund managers. This was an opportunity to be part of a quantifiable solution for a universe of investment talent most frequently overlooked and undercapitalized by an industry historically comprised of mostly white men.  Timing could not be better for a platform with a legacy of committing and investing approximately $12 billion with diverse managers firm wide.[2] But the wave of racial violence and unprecedented socio-political unrest had not yet hit the nation and a global pandemic lockdown was still something of a science fiction story.

Then the Knight Foundation authored the ground-breaking research[3] reporting nearly 99% of the investment industry’s $82 trillion in assets under management (“AUM”) remains in the hands of white, male-led firms. Taking a longer view, not much has changed over the past decade. There has been only a 0.1% increase in AUM entrusted to women and minority-owned asset management firms since 2011.

“The imbalance in allocated AUM is unconscionable. The mounting research demonstrating the enhanced returns diverse managers and teams can generate has not been enough to tip the scales. The investment performance of firms owned by women and people of colour is empirically indistinguishable from majority white, male-owned or -led firms. Exceptional women and minority investment professionals remain staggeringly overlooked and underfunded though 76.5%[4] of vintage years studied showed diverse private equity managers producing higher net IRRs than the industry’s median quartile Burgiss benchmark,” she notes.  The investable universe of proven talent is growing and remains largely untapped.

Today Aris is a senior member of GCM Grosvenor’s diverse private equity investment team—a practice with over two decades of successfully identifying, backing and mentoring some of the industry’s most talented women and minority fund managers. She focuses exclusively on product strategy, expanding the platform, elevating awareness in the marketplace for value diversity brings to investing, and educating investors on how to be part of the solution. “It is much easier to be happy and sustain optimism when we’re motivated to make the world better in tangible ways,” she says with brilliant smile.

Work With Purpose, Reward & Results

For Aris, there is no typical day other than knowing all activities support the effort of being a catalyst for opportunity and supporting a more equitable industry. She works with a diverse team the likes of which is rarely seen in her industry. From their investible universe tracking over 1,200 diverse managers[5], their objective is to source and invest with the best on behalf of their clients. She meets with investors who want help finding diverse talent to add to their portfolios and do not know where to start. She meets many inspiring women, LatinX, Asian, Black, and brown managers that have been exceptional over their entire careers simply because they have had to be to get where they are.

“It’s work with purpose, reward, and demonstrable results. It is being a part of something meaningful. This is not philanthropy, of course. The work is important, and we are a fiduciary first and foremost. Delivering top performance to investors is table stakes, and GCM’s cycle-tested track record is no exception. Personally, I most cherish the opportunity be a role model for my daughters. They are the source of such love and wonder in my life! Being a mother is the most important responsibility I will ever have. If I am half as successful as my parents, I count myself extraordinarily blessed. I want my girls to know that money is not everything, but not being compensated adequately for the work you do because of your gender, race, beliefs, or sexual orientation is demoralizing and unacceptable. Standing by and watching others endure the same inequality is unconscionable. I want them to respect and value themselves first, to truly be grounded and empowered to embrace their highest purpose when it finds them,” Aris remarks.

Cultivate a Calibrated Life

Advice Aris offers young women looking to excel in a career in finance or any male-dominated industry is three-fold: “First, follow your bliss. Do and study what you love and what has a purpose that speaks to your soul. The money will come. Chasing money will not fuel creativity and inspire you, it will exhaust you, and eventually you will feel like the dog chasing cars that caught a tire. Now what do you do with that?

Second, as you pursue and explore your passions, be intentional and precise with your words. Your words matter, as do those of others. Listen closely and really pay attention to what someone is taking the time to express to you. I’ve always appreciated the power of words, written and spoken, and the unique energy they hold. Intentional communication takes active listening, curiosity, empathy, and creativity. It takes time. Be a lifelong learner and reader to expand your mind, inspire original work, and cultivate distinctive verbal capabilities with precision. My love of words took root from as early as I can remember with my father reading to me every night. Our ritual grew from Good Night Moon and Aesop’s Fables to debating Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and Buber’s timeless Between Man and Man. Martin Buber—scholar, theologian, and philosopher—believed that the deepest reality of human life lies in the relationship between one being and another. There is power in reassessing how we choose to encounter the world that surrounds us and the narrative we use to frame that experience for ourselves and others.”

Aris spends her workday when she’s in the office literally surrounded by her most treasured words. In a world where video meetings are daily routine, she laughs explaining she is frequently asked if her background really is not virtual, and if she has truly read all the books in her floor-to-ceiling library. “The answer is yes to both — it is real and I’ve read them all but for a few of my husband’s psychology reference books from his private practice. When asked how I manage it all, I remind people that I literally married a psychologist!” she quips. “We cannot accomplish all we are meant to alone and should not expect it of ourselves. I know how unequivocally blessed I am.”

Finally, she notes to be focused on your career and unabashedly driven with purpose, but mindful not to lose your values along the way. “Someone once shared with me a simple truth to remember: At the end of the day, your job will not love you back. It will not reach for your hand to steady you when you’re off center. It will not embrace you at the end of a seven-cities-one-week roadshow nor thrill to your successes. It will not leave you a hot cup of coffee by your bedside table with a love note wishing you a good day. It will not care what cooking secrets your grandmother hopes you remember to pass on to your children, nor share in holiday traditions, or celebrate the biggest milestones of littlest ones who yet have no words. Your career will fill you up, drain you out, and may overflow your coffers. However, it will not give you a lasting sense of self. Cultivate a life that shares love that you can celebrate with your own ‘village’.  When you keep your moral compass calibrated to your True North, no matter how unexpectedly your path turns you will be able to trust that you already know where to go next. Every day I stive to find my center, find my breath and, as Robert Frost wrote, ‘…that has made all of the difference.’”