This month, the OneHaas podcast is highlighting first-generation alumni like Carolina Picazo. She’s the Chief Administrative Officer and Chief Compliance Officer at Spectrum Equity – a private equity firm focused on growth capital for internet-enabled software and information services companies.
Before Spectrum Equity, Carolina spent 15 years at Deloitte working in tax services. Even as a child growing up in a Mexican immigrant family in San Francisco, she always had an affinity for numbers. That passion only grew in her accounting classes at Haas.
Carolina and host Sean Li discuss her parents’ immigration story from Mexico, why she initially hid her college applications from her father, and how she went from taxes to now holding a top executive job at Spectrum Equity.
*OneHaas Alumni Podcast is a production of Haas School of Business and is produced by University FM.*
On why she was drawn to a career in accounting
Math was a strong suit of mine. You know English was harder for people like me whose parents don’t speak fluent English or speak conversational fluent, but not super fluent, not a large vocabulary. So it’s a lot harder. So, you know, you tend to go towards what you feel you’re good at, right?
Her first impression of classes at Haas
My high school was crazy. It’s even crazy now. It’s a pressure cooker place. The whole time you feel like you’re not good enough. When I went to Berkeley and I took classes, I felt like I belonged. I felt like I was prepared, and it wasn’t a crazy pressure cooker situation.
How her mom views her career
What makes her happy is the fact that I am an independent, self-reliant woman who is financially successful.
I think that to her as a woman that grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, having a daughter who isn’t dependent on someone else is really important to her. The other thing she says she’s very proud of is the fact that I have three children who are successful. My youngest daughter is 19. But she’s successful. I mean, my mom views her as successful. And she’s like the continuation. She’s like, ‘You did your career and you did all that, but you were able to balance raising three daughters who in and of themselves can be independent and strong and successful women.’ She said, ‘That’s not easy. And that’s all you.
The advice she gives her daughters
It’s a very long life after you graduate, and you need to feel like you have the tools to do something that satisfies you. Reality is you can’t live without earning a paycheck, so find a way to earn a paycheck. And find a way to do it with something that makes you happy and makes you feel like you are intellectually satisfied.
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
[00:00] Sean: Thank you for tuning in to the One Haas Alumni Podcast. This month, we’re celebrating first-generation alumni. And we have the privilege of having Carolina Picazo with us today. She is the chief administrative officer and chief compliance officer at Spectrum Equity, a private equity focused on growth capital for internet-enabled software and information services companies. Of course, she’s a Berkeley Haas alumna from the Undergraduate Haas Program.
Welcome to the podcast.
[00:37] Carolina: Thanks for having me, Sean. I appreciate it.
[00:39] Sean: I was just telling Carolina before we started that I had to look up the definition for first-generation alumni or just first generation, because for the longest time, I thought I was first generation, but I’m actually not. I’m just an immigrant. I was born in China. Whereas, my brother is first generation. Is that just how it goes?
[01:02] Carolina: Yeah, first generation means you’re the first in your line to do something. So, first-generation born, first generation to go to college.
[01:11] Sean: That’s true. So, the other thing I did notice in the definition, I think I do qualify somewhat as first generation because it does say, if you’re the first generation to naturalize, which I actually am… my parents have not naturalized yet. So, that was pretty interesting. But anyway, this is about you. Tell us a little bit about your background — your family, your upbringing, your origin story, as we call it.
[01:35] Carolina: Great. Happy to share. So, I am first-generation born, youngest of five. My parents immigrated from Mexico. As single people, my father immigrated first to the United States from Mexico and settled in San Francisco in 1957. My mother followed him later on in 1960. When he proposed, they were already dating in Mexico. But my father immigrated. And once he settled and was ready to get married and, in his mind, support family, my mother, he asked my grandfather for her hand in marriage. My grandfather already lived in Fowler, California, which is in Central Valley. He then proceeded to apply for a green card for my mother. My mother immigrated to the U.S. in October of 1960. And my parents got married in December of 1960.
[02:22] Sean: Wow. Where do they live, initially?
[02:24] Carolina: So, my father just passed away in 2018, but my parents have always lived in San Francisco since they immigrated from Mexico. So, my mom still lives here.
[02:32] Sean: Do you know how your dad came to pick San Francisco?
[02:35] Carolina: He already had friends and cousins that immigrated and lived here in San Francisco. And for some of the people who are from the Bay Area in San Francisco, one of the places that a lot of immigrants from Mexico worked in San Francisco is the sanitation company, the garbage company. So, my father landed in San Francisco because one of his closest friends, which was also his cousin, lived here and worked for Sunset Scavenger at the time, which is now Recology. So, that’s why he landed here for a job.
[03:05] Sean: That’s amazing. I wonder if you have any stories from their time communicating back then. Because I was just thinking back to when I immigrated to the U.S., and this was early ’90s, phone calls were a couple dollars a minute, and mail took, I think, months to get across or back to China. What was it like communicating, I guess, for your dad to your mom in Mexico?
[03:33] Carolina: It was 100% letters, that were either mailed or delivered by somebody who was traveling back. I can tell you that, when I grew up, so I was born in 1968, the first time I went to Mexico to visit my grandmother, I was four years old. I vaguely remember that experience. But what I do remember is I went back when I was 11. And the town that my parents were from, telephone was a switchboard telephone still in 1978, 1979. It was still like that in the mid-’80s. Not everybody had a telephone. So, definitely, in the ’60s, there was no telephone. And if there was, it was centralized in a booth at whatever store was the phone company. And you would call. And I’m sure it was massively expensive. I’m absolutely sure my parents communicated via letters.
[04:21] Sean: And what town are they from?
[04:23] Carolina: So, the name of the town is Mezcala, which is a very small town that is north of Guadalajara in Central Mexico.
[04:30] Sean: That’s awesome. How were you brought up as the youngest of five?
[04:36] Carolina: Youngest of five. So, my parents had five kids in six and a half years, very Catholic family. I got to say that some of the things I talked to my brothers and sisters about of our experiences is the difference that they had compared to me is I was, when I started kindergarten, I spoke English. When my older brother started kindergarten, he spoke no English. So, my experience is similar but different. Like you said about your sibling, there’s some things that you’ve realized are different about. And because I was the youngest of five and at the time my mom was already working. When my brothers and sisters were born, she wasn’t working. She didn’t start working till I was two years old.
There was a lot of my raising that was done by my brothers and sisters. My parents both worked, shared the experience. My father got home early. And I share this with my brothers and sisters, that we had each other. And so, it really was a family experience. So, I grew up in San Francisco in the neighborhood that’s called Visitacion Valley. We lived there till I was five and a half, almost six. And then, we moved over the hill to the Portola, a microneighborhood, which comes in and out of being either the Bayview or the Mission or whatever.
Neighborhood schools was a concept, but I was bused everywhere. I lived in the southeastern part of the city, where if you had any inclination to academics, the thought was they’re going to bus you to a school that could challenge you. So, I was bused out of my neighborhood for my entire elementary school life. I think I went to seven elementary schools.
[06:05] Sean: Wow.
[06:06] Carolina: I remember there was one, I was in our neighborhood school when I was in first grade, but my brother and I were bused to Treasure Island, because at the time schools and government buildings were being retrofitted to be earthquake safe. And our neighborhood school was being retrofitted. So, we got bused to Treasure Island to go to elementary school.
And I remember that, while we were all close in age, I don’t remember overlapping a lot with my brother. There was times where we went to different schools, the one that’s closer in age to me. And then, middle school came and I went to my neighborhood middle school, which was different.
[06:37] Sean: So, I guess, what inspired you to go to Berkeley and go to business school, and ultimately accounting?
[06:45] Carolina: So, all my brothers and sisters, we were all academically inclined. My brothers played sports. We didn’t play sports because my father was very traditional. And he thought anything he can do to protect his daughters, and playing sports as a boy thing, not a girl thing. So, we had to spend our time somehow. So, I was pretty academically focused, reading all the time. And from middle school, I went to… and a lot of people know about this school, the Magnet High School, public high school in San Francisco, Lowell High School. And most kids that went to school, they were going to go to college. You don’t go there unless you want to go to college.
And my parents didn’t think college was affordable. So, when one of my sisters, my oldest sister, was there and she wanted to go to San Francisco State, my father told her he couldn’t afford it, which was at the time $150 a semester. And he could afford it. He just didn’t know he could afford it. So, all my siblings before me proceeded to start at City College and do City College first. Throughout my time at Lowell, I was like, “What do I want to do after I graduate? I’m going to go to college. What do I want to do as a career?”
Math was a strong suit of mine. English was harder for people like me whose parents don’t speak fluent English, or speak conversational fluent but not super fluent, not a large vocabulary. So, it’s a lot harder. So, you tend to go towards what you feel you’re good at? When I was in high school, I actually thought I wanted to do some marketing or advertising career. So, in order to do that, you got to major in business. Then, you proceed to figure out, like, what school around me? And I knew there was no way I was moving out of the Bay Area. So, what school around me? Could I major in business and get a job and do get a good career? Berkeley, being the premier undergraduate business school in California. Why not?
It seemed like a tall tale. Even then, the undergraduate program is going undeclared, and you take your shot, best shot, and you apply to the business school and get in, which is, again, also nerve-wracking, because what am I going to do if I don’t get in? So, once I was at Cal… well, going to Cal itself, I applied to school. My dad didn’t know I applied to college. I applied and I got into Berkeley. I applied to total of three schools, and I got onto all three. I applied to Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and University of San Francisco.
I did it strategically because I knew University of San Francisco was going to be really expensive. And even though it was in San Francisco, my father would say, definitely not there. Santa Cruz, too far to go. Berkeley’s the place, right? So, I get in. And I tell my dad, “Hey, I got into Berkeley. And I want to go.” And he’s like, “No, Berkeley’s like Stanford. There’s no way. There’s no way I can afford to send you there.” So, then I showed him the tuition. And at the time, undergraduate tuition at Berkeley was $550 a semester. My parents were middle class. They both worked. Then, he had this look on his face and he said, “So, if you would go to San Francisco State, how much does state college cost?” And I told him, he’s like, “Wow, I told your sister she couldn’t go, and I shouldn’t have done that.”
So, then, from then on he’s like, “Okay. No question, you’re going.” He’s like, “Tell me books on average, what it costs. But you’re not going to live there. You can’t live there. You got to live at home. You have to commute.”
So, I did, I took BART every day until I had a car. I took BART every day to Berkeley. So, my experience was very different than someone who goes and lives in the dorms and on campus. I had a commuter school experience, not a full four-year university experience.
[10:10] Sean: That’s really interesting. And I imagine the reason you couldn’t go to Santa Cruz. For example, you said it was too far, was because then you would have to stay there. And the cost would be…
[10:21] Carolina: So, I’d have to stay there, and I didn’t have a car. So, there’s no way to get there. Whereas, Berkeley, you can take public transportation.
[10:28] Sean: Some of the things that, I think, obviously, a lot of people take for granted for these days, but I’m sure there’s still a lot of people in those situations.
[10:37] Carolina: Absolutely. Where you make a choice, you can get into Harvard. But if you can’t get there, if your family situation is the fact that you can’t afford it, tuition in and of itself is expensive, but living there, or even your family situation where culturally someone just doesn’t want their child to leave their home, right?
[10:56] Sean: Right.
[10:56] Carolina: So, you make the choice of what’s easier. And I see that all the time. I was most recently involved in the alumni association at my high school. And some of the kids would get offers to go to UC San Diego, but, “No, I’m going to choose San Francisco State because it’s here,” as opposed to, “Let me choose the school that’s best for me as an individual and that gets me to where I want to be as an adult.” And that happens.
[11:21] Sean: I guess, the part of the story that gets me a little is that, you had to hide the fact that you’re applying to college.
[11:29] Carolina: Yeah. And I had the money because I had a job. I had a job. I didn’t qualify for waived of applications. My parents made too much money.
[11:36] Sean: The other thing that strikes me a little differently from a generational standpoint or just the times, nowadays, majority of kids go to school on student loans. Was it not available at that time?
[11:55] Carolina: I don’t think I filled out a FAFSA. So, being a parent now, and my kids, I have three daughters who two have graduated from college and the other one is in college, when I went to college, there was no requirement nor push nor anything that said you should apply for some sort of financial aid, even though you don’t think you qualify. Now, there is like, “Fill it out. You never know. You never know. If you don’t fill it out, you may not qualify even for some scholarships. I want you to fill out FAFSA.” So, back then, it was like you filled out FAFSA if you thought you needed assistance. If you didn’t think you needed assistance, then you didn’t fill it out. So, when I was applying to the schools I was applying to, I generally knew how much my parents, what my parents’ income was, and how much it cost. And I’m like, “A trip to the shopping cost, 550 bucks. Are you kidding me? You can afford to send me to college.”
[12:45] Sean: Well, not these days.
[12:48] Carolina: It’s much different these days. My oldest daughter is in medical school with no financial aid.
[12:53] Sean: But where’s she at, if you don’t mind me asking?
[12:55] Carolina: UCSF (University of California San Francisco).
[12:59] Sean: That’s awesome. So, you had an affinity towards math, like you mentioned.
[13:03] Carolina: I did.
[13:05] Sean: Is that ultimately what led you to an accounting career?
[13:07] Carolina: I think, yeah. And Berkeley, as all alumni know, one of the first classes you have to take when you’re applying to the undergrad is, the first, the very basic, accounting class. So, when I took that class, I’m like, “Wow, this is not even hard, not hard at all.” One of the things, one of my biggest impressions and memories that I have of starting at Cal my freshman year was how it felt less daunting than high school. My high school was crazy. It’s even crazy now. It’s a pressure cooker place. The whole time you were feeling like you’re not good enough. When I went to Berkeley and I took classes, I felt like I belonged. I felt like I was prepared. And it wasn’t crazy pressure cooker situation. And I tell people that now. I don’t think it’s that now. I know students who go there now. So, I did well in the class. And I was like, everything was intuitive. So, I’m like, “Yeah, This is something that makes sense.”
Once I got into the business school, and of course, as an undergraduate, you got to take a lot of accounting courses, all of the accounting courses I took were completely intuitive to me. But I hated my marketing courses, hated them. And not because they weren’t intuitive. It’s just I didn’t. It’s just there was some roadblocks that I’m like, “This is not going to be fun.” And all the finance classes, every finance classes, anything I took that involved the math side of business, I did well at.
[14:27] Sean: I couldn’t agree with you more. My undergrad was accounting and finance, and I actually started out in accounting. The only reason I switched out of accounting was because I realized, if I were to get a CPA title, I couldn’t keep it without continuing to practice. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue to practice. I was thinking, “Well, I’m not going to get the title and keep it, might as well do finance.” But I loved accounting. I think part of it was because it just makes sense. And it’s money, right? It can’t do calculus. It’s just addition, subtraction, multiplication, division sort of thing. To this day, I actually love doing my own books and figuring out our accounting for my companies, because it’s like solving a puzzle sometimes. And it requires a certain type of personality to also be OCD about the attention to detail portion, right?
[15:15] Carolina: Mm-hmm.
[15:16] Sean: Where it bothers me when, down to the cents, the cents don’t match up.
[15:21] Carolina: You are a real accountant.
[15:23] Sean: Right. And I’ve hired bookkeepers before who would just, they’re off by 43 cents at the end of the month. They’ll just create another ledger, general ledger to just write that off. I can’t do that. I have to go back and figure out.
[15:37] Carolina: Where did it go? Where did it go?
[15:40] Sean: Yeah.
[15:42] Carolina: So, I ended up emphasizing in accounting — not finance, in accounting — and marketing. And I think it was I just didn’t want to let go of the fact that that’s how I started off. And I’m not somebody that give up when I start something. So, like, “I’m going to finish this even if I hate it.”
[15:59] Sean: But I do have to ask you, what do your parents think? What do your dad think about you going into accounting?
[16:03] Carolina: I think he thought it was fine. One thing he said to me when I was going to Berkeley, and this sticks in my head, and I’ve shared this story with others before that, “Okay, you got in. I agree. You’re going to go there.” And he also said, “If I see you protesting on television, I’m going to pull you out of school and you’re never going back.”
He said, “You’re going to college to get a job. And what I expect you to do when you’re there is to study what’s going to give you a job, because you need to make money for the rest of your life and you can’t be unemployed.”
[16:35] Carolina: So, when I’m going into business, he’s like, “Yeah, that’s fine.”
[16:38] Sean: That’s funny. So, you came out. You spent 15 years at Deloitte. Tell us a little bit about that.
[16:47] Carolina: So, being the first in my family to go to college and my first in my family to go into a business degree, and I didn’t even know anybody that had gone to college and gotten a business degree that was close enough to me to ask a bunch of questions to. I liked accounting and I applied for a bunch of jobs through the Career Planning and Placement Center. And I also, I think, my second semester, junior year, joined Beta Alpha Psi, which is the accounting fraternity, to learn about, what are my opportunities? And I learned about these things called public accounting firms.
And I didn’t know what they were before. I thought you just went to a big company and it was in their accounting department. So, I learned what it was about. I did an internship, actually, between my junior and senior year with an organization called Inroads, which is an organization that helps underrepresented students get introduced to the business world and to big corporate America.
And my summer internship was with Quaker Oats. Quaker Oats, for many people that may not know, owns the company, Golden Grain, which is the pasta company that was a San Francisco pasta company, Rice-A-Roni. I interned there within their accounting department. And at the time, they had their financial statement audit going on, and I saw from a employee perspective what all the accountants at Golden Grain were doing to the auditors and hiding from them and all that.
So, while I decided I wanted to go work at Deloitte, I’m like, “I’m definitely not going into audit because no one’s going to be hiding from me.” It’s really embarrassing to have anybody not take you seriously. So, I went into tax, actually, at Deloitte. I did everything I needed to do to figure out what it was to do a job in tax. And I interviewed with all the big accounting firms for tax position. And I joined Deloitte & Touche the year after Deloitte merged with Touche Ross.
And I did well. I enjoyed it. I loved every aspect of my job. I loved every client I had. I even liked… the sales part was even okay. I guess that’s why I still did marketing. Selling my clients on new products or new services was okay. Billing, we had to bill our clients in public accounting. That was a pain. I hated it. that, I didn’t like.
But yeah, I progressed. I focused in tax, primarily focused on companies that were on the real estate side, asset managers that were real estate asset managers. The San Francisco office of Deloitte had a big real estate syndicator client. And I also worked on some big well-known buyout firm individuals, and did a lot of different things.
And as my career progressed, I also had some opportunities to do mergers and acquisition work on the tax side. And I did a couple of projects. And I was asked to do full-time M&A. And I’m didn’t want… at the time, you had to travel across the country to do diligence. And I’m like, “I don’t want a life of traveling. And that’s not why I joined an accounting firm.”
So, I didn’t. I didn’t do that. So, I stayed at Deloitte until I thought it made sense. I was promoted to, I think, the title right now is managing director, which is a non-equity partner. And I got married. I had kids and juggling everything. I think it just stopped working to be in a consulting business for me and having little kids, having three little girls, who needed my time.
So, I wasn’t looking for a job actively. Spectrum Equity was my client. And the founder, the San Francisco founder, was my client, the Bay Area founder. And at the time, the firm was going through a transition, and this decision was made if they needed a tax person in-house. And at the time the CFO had gone, had been looking for somebody and hadn’t been able to find someone. And he jokingly asked me, “Won’t you come work for me, will you?” And I said to him, “I also don’t know if you want someone like me with my experience, my number of years of experience and what I do to work there.”
And he said, “You know what? Let’s have a conversation.” He goes, “Maybe, I’m not finding somebody because I’m not looking for the right thing.” So, he and I had a conversation about what would be my ideal if I went in-house. And he told me what he needed. And it was a very unique opportunity for me to craft a position that I thought I’d be happy at.
So, I didn’t know a lot about the history of Spectrum Equity. I knew the client, right? You have your clients. You have your financial statements. You have the investments they make. You do see their returns. But it was generally, in 2005, it still was considered a young firm. The firm was founded in 1993. Had had some good funds during the dot-com bust in 2002. Bad things, everybody lost a bunch of money right then. So, it was still too early to tell how this firm was going to evolve. But I took a leap of faith and joined Spectrum as head of tax.
[21:17] Sean: So, if you don’t mind sharing, what did you mean by you didn’t feel like you would be a good fit based on the number of years you had, in terms of the tax experience?
[21:28] Carolina: At Spectrum?
[21:28] Sean: Yeah.
[21:29] Carolina: So, I had been at Deloitte for 15 years. I was a pretty senior person, right?
[21:35] Sean: Yeah.
[21:36] Carolina: I thought Spectrum was looking for somebody who was more of a manager level.
[21:38] Sean: Oh, I see what you mean.
[21:39] Carolina: So, I’d be too senior. Too senior, because then I’d be bored. I’d be like, if I would join Spectrum and I’d be taking 10 years off my career and going back to being a tax manager, that’s not what I was looking for. But also, in order to attract me to do that, they’d have to pay me a whole hell of a lot more money than they want to pay me. You have to pay me premium dollars to go back to that.
[22:04] Sean: So, how’d you work it all out?
[22:07] Carolina: Well, we talked about what somebody like me could bring to the table. And I’m not privy to their internal conversations, but I think what they saw was the opportunity to uplevel the tax expertise internally to not only make better strategic decisions for the firm itself, but also, when you do due diligence for investment, you do hire accounting firms to do due diligence on the tax side. And at Spectrum, they would have, at the time, it was Deloitte, Deloitte & Touche would do M&A due diligence for accounting and tax. The accounting mattered because it mattered how much purchase price you were paying and whether or not the company was valid on its reporting.
On the tax side, the focus is, is the company dodging taxes? Does the company have some unrecorded tax liability that I’m stepping into, unknown and unidentified tax obligations that I’m going to be stepping into if I buy this company?
At the time, we were doing that, but deal people are not tax people, right?
[23:14] Sean: Right.
[23:14] Carolina: They’ll see it and they’re like, “Oh, I can live with this.” They invest. You move on.
What happened when I joined Spectrum was I would read the report, it made sense to me. I knew exactly what they were talking about. And then, I had to sit down and talk to the deal people, the deal MD, and say, “These are the things that the CFO or the head of finance at this company needs to fix. Otherwise, when sell the company five, six years from now, the obligation is going to be way larger and it’s going to impact valuation.” So, like, “Can you be the liaison with the portfolio company to make sure they fix all this stuff?” So, I was the free resource to the company of, “Let me walk you through how you fix this. Yes, I’m not your accounting firm. You do have to still hire an accounting firm to execute all this stuff.” But I became like an advisor, a resource, somebody to bounce ideas off of.
[24:07] Sean: That’s amazing. .
[24:09] Carolina: When we talked about it, it was like all of that came to light from just a conversation of, how could you utilize somebody like me? This is something that typically happened even back then on the accounting side. You always have somebody on the financial side within a private equity firm that can speak the financial language. You usually don’t have a tax person. And that’s still rare today. It’s still rare today to have a tax person that’s interacting with your investment management teams.
[24:33] Sean: Really, for private equities?
[24:35] Carolina: Yeah, because you normally are telling them, “Go hire an advisor.”`
[24:38] Sean: That’s interesting. Early stage, obviously not as important, but for growth stage companies, much larger deals, probably a lot more tax implications for the companies.
[24:51] Carolina: Yeah. And because the numbers are so big, what you want is you really do want the big international accounting firms to be assisting the strategy. At that point, if you have a company of that size, you have an in-house tax director or an in-house VP of tax.
Our companies, they’re profitable but have lean management teams. So, you’ll have somebody in the finance department and accountants, but you will never have a tax person in-house.
[25:23] Sean: I just learned so much more. The tax side, who… I shouldn’t say who would’ve thought taxes, I think, are a huge deal in a lot of people in corporations’ lives, right?
[25:39] Carolina: Yeah.
[25:39] Sean: And the implications are pretty big. For one of my companies, we just hired a outsource CFO of sorts through the startup called Zeni and finally getting our own controller and whatnot. And it’ll be really good have that kind of help and also additional insights into how we operate. But yeah, that’s really fascinating, what you do. Has that evolved over time?
[26:04] Carolina: It has.
[26:05] Sean: Because it’s been 18 years, right?
[26:08] Carolina: Yeah, I’ve been here for 18 years. So, I started off as head of tax, so focus on everything tax, fund-related management company, and then portfolio. And then, in 2011, this thing called the Dodd-Frank Act passed, where not just certain private equity firms, but every private equity firm was going to be regulated by the SEC.
We’re a small team. We’re still a small team. And we’re small in the sense of the amount of money we invest. But the firm needed a chief compliance officer. And most firms like us were layering that onto their CFO. And our outside counsel told our senior leaders, it’s like, “Do not layer this onto your CFO. He already has way too much going on. You need another resource. If you don’t want to hire somebody, who do you have in house?” They had me. They figured I could read tax law. I must be able to read SEC’s stuff, too.
[26:57] Sean: Is that true?
[26:59] Carolina: I learned it, yes. The answer is Congress writes a lot of stuff similarly. Surprise, surprise. SEC doesn’t require a lot of math, though. Whereas tax law does. So, I was asked to be chief compliance officer, which meant that I needed to get the firm registered, put all our policies and procedures together, put our quarterly reporting stuff together internally. An investment advisor like us did not at the time report to the SEC, necessarily. We had to do a lot of internal reporting of ours and policing of ourselves. That used to be on a voluntary basis or a whistleblower basis. And then, it became like you actually need to provide your broker information to your employer.
So, I had to set all of that up. Had a lot of assistance from outside advisors. That’s one thing our firm is very supportive of. “If you can’t do it in-house, you really need help. We’ll get you the right help.” So, that got added to my responsibility. So, I became chief compliance officer and head of tax.
And then, in 2015, our CFO at the time who hired me decided to retire. So, the firm went out and looked for a new CFO who the focus was on finding somebody who had been a operating company CFO, somebody who could help be a peer to the companies that we invest in. And they decided to split up the responsibilities of the previous CFO. And in the interim, while I was helping out doing interim CFO stuff, once we hired Brian Regan, who’s our current CFO, we look at each other as partners in crime because he does all the internal financial responsibilities and I do all the admin, HR.
So, In 2020 after I had been doing it for a few years, because I always tell people this, “You’re not going to get promoted until you’re actually doing the work.” So, I was already doing the work. And so, I was promoted to chief administrative officer because I was already helping all our senior leaders with anything firm-related, firm-operations-related, HR.
And to be a good compliance person, you’re going to have to know how the firm operates. You have to know where your skeletons are buried. We have evolution from tax to somebody who helps run the firm.
[29:10] Sean: And did that ultimately make your parents happy?
[29:15] Carolina: My mom does not have any clue what I do.
[29:19] Sean: Did your immigrant parents ever understand what it is that you do?
[29:23] Carolina: My father understood. He understood. They understood the tax stuff, because everyone files a tax return. So, they did understand the tax stuff. So, I do my mom’s tax return. I’ve done their tax return since the day I graduated college, maybe even before when I was in college.
[29:36] Sean: To this day?
[29:38] Carolina: To this day.
[29:39] Sean: Wow.
[29:40] Carolina: So, they understood that. They understood you prepare tax returns. But I would always explain to them that, when I was at Deloitte, the tax returns I prepared were much larger. And I would say the individual returns that I prepared, these people are super, super wealthy and they have a lot of investments. It’s like a mini business being a high net worth individual. And when I was at Deloitte, one of my clients was the Gap. When you say my client’s the Gap, big multinational corporation.
[30:07] Sean: Small company.
[30:08] Carolina: So, they did. They understand that side of it. I don’t think my mother understands what I do today. She just knows I work too much, she says.
[30:18] Sean: But does that make them happy?
[30:20] Carolina: I think it makes… So, I’ve had this. What makes her happy is the fact that I am an independent self-reliant woman who is financially successful. I think that to her, as a woman that grew up in the 50s and 60s, having a daughter who isn’t dependent on someone else was really important to her.
The other thing she says she’s very proud of is the fact that I have three children who are successful.. She’s like, “You did had your career and you did all that, but you were able to balance raising three daughters who, in and of themselves, can be independent and strong and successful women.” And she said, “That’s not easy.” And she says, “That’s all you.”
[31:11] Sean: That’s amazing. I was partially joking and partially serious when I said, are they happy? Because as an immigrant myself, and I guess a first-generation family, it’s one of those things that I’ve come to find.
My parents… I think a lot of immigrant parents value hard work, work ethic, and discipline in these things. But I feel like there’s also been a little bit of realization that it’s not the most healthy lifestyle, sometimes, for my parents at least, where now I’m at a stage in my career where my parents wish I work less.
And it’s just very interesting how they’ve shifted, in terms of their expectations of, I don’t know, how they hoped to have raised their kids, I guess.
[32:01] Carolina: It is true that a lot of immigrants work really hard, right? And the whole thing is you come here to work to make a better life for yourself and your children. They work hard. That’s what you see your parents are doing, right?
[32:13] Sean: Yeah.
[32:14] Carolina: When my mom says, “Why do you work so hard?” And I’m like, “What did I see you guys doing?” My mom had a factory job. She had a job where she clocked it and clocked out. And if there was a production that needed to get done, they had to work overtime. So, at the beginning, she worked for a distributor type company, packing pack things up and ship them. But at the end of her working life, she worked for See’s Candies. And she worked in there. Sometimes, she worked in their kitchen. Sometimes, she’s making the chocolate. Sometimes, she worked packing the chocolate.
Yes, there was times, especially during the holidays, where they needed to produce a bunch of boxes of chocolate and get it out the door, so she’d work overtime. And there’s times where she didn’t, which she still, for some reason. I don’t understand this. She doesn’t understand the concept of not clocking out or having an exempt job where you go to an office and you work. And the time’s 5:30 or 6:00. Why aren’t you done? And why, when you go home, do you take work home? Why do you work at home at night? I don’t know. And I say, “Mom, it’s like this has to get done. And there’s no one to do it.” Or, I tell her, when I go on vacation, no one’s doing my job for me while I’m on vacation. It’s there when I come back.
[33:19] Sean: Yeah, that’s the irony and interesting thing about, I think, as people move up in responsibility, into more executive positions, that’s the irony of it. For example, I own my own companies. And this is the one thing I warn aspiring entrepreneurs. I tell them, “Yes, it’s glorious. I don’t have to clock in. But I never get to clock out.”
And it’s the same with executives, right? Because there’s so much more responsibility and ownership of your role, because there is nobody else above you to do that.
[33:54] Carolina: Right. There’s nobody else even lateral to you who’s going to do it for you, because these are roles that are singular, right?
[34:02] Sean: Yeah. Literally, the buck stops at you. That’s really fascinating. I was just really curious how your parents ultimately reacted to your career. It sounds like you made them proud.
[34:15] Carolina: I’m hoping.
[34:17] Sean: Not that we should live our lives to make our parents proud, but as immigrant kids.
[34:22] Carolina: You’re right. One thing that I wanted, it was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to make sure that my parents did not ever regret paying for me to go to college, because that’s the last thing you want, right?
[34:34] Sean: Right, right.
[34:34] Carolina: Even though, at the time, it may not have seemed like a lot of money to me, to them, it wasn’t about the money. It was about my daughters getting on a BART train, going across the bridge, and coming back late, going to a place that I don’t really know, even though it’s just across the water. It’s that letting my daughter be an adult and not knowing. Like, them not knowing, what is it like to go to college? What’s it like to do those things? When you tell me you have a group project, what does that mean? That you have a group project and you got to go hang out with people?
[35:01] Sean: Now that you have three girls, has anything changed? Was there anything passed on as a first-generation immigrants? Are there things that you’ve changed as a parent? I’m just curious.
[35:13] Carolina: Yeah. So, I will say that the thing that did continue in my head in the way I advise my daughters in selection of what you study, what you’re going to do after college, et cetera, is it’s a very long life after you graduate and you need to feel like you have the tools to do something that satisfies you. Reality is you can’t live without earning a paycheck. So, find a way to earn a paycheck. And find a way to do it with something that makes you happy and makes you feel like you are intellectually satisfied.
Believe me, my daughters tell me every day, “We do not want to be accountant. We do not want to be a business person. We do not want to be work for a private equity firm.” Even though I tell them there’s a lot of real jobs in accounting. The unemployment rate’s really, really low. It’s that thing that my parents… I articulated in a different way than my parents did. My father was ultimatum, “You better get a job.” Mine was, you have to be self-reliant and you have to find a way to do it. And you have to find a way to make yourself do that and be happy.
[36:19] Sean: I like that. I’m asking that question because I have two young kids, three and one, and my wife’s first generation as well. And it’s a question that we’ve been asking ourselves, what are some of the things that we want to pass on from our parents, in terms of wisdom and life advice? And what are some things that we want to change?
Because what’s ironic is our parents came here, they worked super hard, they want to work hard so that we would have a better life, however that’s defined, whatever that means. And obviously, as each generation goes on, we want to provide a better life for our kids as well, but we also have to balance it out with, well, we don’t want them to be spoiled. We want them to, to your point, be self-reliant, pass on, I think, the really important qualities that we learned from our parents of, in my opinion, hard work, discipline, curiosity, compassion, and self-reliance. These are some of the really good core traits that we want to make sure gets passed on. But also be happy. Enjoy life.
[37:27] Carolina: Be happy, yeah. I think about the choices you make when you’re in college. And plenty of people change their career direction and might go back to school, but you asked me, why did you pick accounting? It was a known thing. You mentioned about your internship at Citibank. I didn’t even know what investment banking was. I was at Berkeley in a business school. And Citibank was interviewing. Goldman Sachs was interviewing. I had no idea what those jobs were about. Zero idea. Why would I apply for a job that I had no idea what that job was about?
And we talk about access and private equity. And access is knowing that there’s what it’s about and what’s the opportunity. And had I known about private equity or venture capital back when I was at Cal, I probably would’ve been more interested to learn more about it to see if it made sense. So, maybe, I wouldn’t have gone into accounting. Maybe, I would’ve gone into investment banking. Maybe, I would’ve done something different. But because I didn’t know what it was about, I went to the known quantity because I needed a job.
[38:28] Sean: I guess, on that note, is there anything that you’re working on, side projects or anything that is providing more access or shedding more lights to careers?
[38:37] Carolina: So, I am in dialogue with Haas, just find a way to provide opportunity and pathways to people from underrepresented backgrounds into private equity and investing. I think kids are more savvy these days. The internet opened up a lot of things for people. I’m not going to assume that the same percentage of knowledge of what venture capital and investing is, or private equity is, that people don’t know it. I think more people know about it now.
The pathway of, is it for me, is important. Providing mentorship, providing access to information transparency, and helping students who are making a choice. They’re making a choice not to go to a school for a reason. A financial reason should not be the reason. So, I have funded an endowment for a scholarship focused on getting an interested student to Haas, somebody who you take away the financial burden to choose Cal.
[39:31] Sean: Thank you for that. That’s amazing. Well, I hope you had fun. That’s what it’s all about.
[39:38] Carolina: I did.
[39:38] Sean: It was a pleasure having you on the podcast, Carolina.
[39:40] Carolina: Oh, thank you.
[39:41] Sean: Thank you so much for taking the time.
[39:43] Carolina: Oh, and thank you for what you do. I think it’s really valuable to share information and tell stories so that we have that connectivity with each other, still, even though college was a long time ago.
[39:53] Sean: Absolutely. Absolutely.
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