Tamar Schamroth Liptz grew up with an impressive role model: Her mother. At a time when South African women were discouraged from entering the medical field, her mother distinguished herself as a top student in medical school and went on to become the first female physician in private practice in her hometown of Johannesburg. “My mother was an indomitable spirit,” says Schamroth Liptz, who herself recently became a mother.
“She did phenomenal things in her career. But she wasn’t just at the top of her game professionally. She also was at the top of her game as a mother. I’m very fortunate to have that role model.”
Schamroth Liptz, an avid hiker and traveler, arrived in Palo Alto after six years as an asset manager and partner with the Oppenheimer family office in Johannesburg. She and her team focused on a wide range of investments she hopes will energize capital markets across the African continent. With her husband, she also helped found a business, RIMAR Capital, aimed at giving smaller investors better access to information and investment opportunities. At Stanford she blazed a trail by becoming the first mother in her class, giving birth during exam week of her first year.
You helped found a business intended to make investing accessible to South Africa’s middle class. Tell us more about that and why that endeavor was meaningful to you.
When you work in investing and wealth management, unfortunately, a lot of that is about making the rich richer. Because who has access to the best talent? There’s a huge barrier to the teacher or nurse on a pension to be able to access quality returns at affordable prices. That’s the problem we were trying to solve — how to create an accessible path for everyone else.
You’re a quick learner when it comes to new industries and new markets. Which of those on the horizon excite you most?
I look at the asset management industry and how access to all of the different pillars of asset management is becoming more democratized. You’re taking what was previously very exclusive and breaking it down into something that’s becoming much more accessible. That potentially changes the power in the entire ecosystem. Previously the power was concentrated in a few individuals, a few families, a few institutions. But the power dynamics are definitely shifting.
You spent more than six years working for the Oppenheimer family office, investing in pan-African equities. What during that period are you most proud of?
The team I was working on invested in public companies across Africa. I can’t speak to specific investments, but capital markets in Africa are lagging many parts of the world in terms of capital formation and access to capital. Although our main mission was to generate good returns, by investing into Africa, there was an indirect consequence of money flowing into the markets where it really makes a difference.
You were one of the few women working in South African investment funds at the time you were hired. What challenges did that pose?
I was the first woman hired for the Oppenheimer investment team. The people I worked with were exceptional individuals. There was no explicit bias, no explicit sexism. But I think working as a woman in a male-dominated field, there are nuanced challenges.
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg spoke to my experiences. You go to an investor meeting that has a Q&A session, and the men would take every single opportunity to stand up and ask questions — regardless of whether it was their turn. The women were sitting there with their hands up, waiting to be called on. It’s nuances like that, learning how to put yourself out there to be able to have the same standing. It’s learning to be yourself in a male-dominated environment, to maintain your heightened sensitivity to other individuals, to behave in a professional manner and hold your weight while remaining yourself and feminine. You have a different experience than others, and that is not always perceived and not always valued. You just have to learn to play with the heavyweights.
What value do you feel a Stanford MBA can add to the business toolkit you already possess?
Stanford has an amazing focus on people and people management. Unfortunately, for many organizations in the financial services industry, that isn’t a big focus in terms of giving people those skills. At Stanford I’ve been exposed to the most incredible minds about how to manage growing organizations, how to deal with conflict, how to deal with negotiations, how to show more empathy and build the best teams. I also came for exposure to different industries: tech, healthcare, venture capital, and private equity to name a few. It makes you a more well-rounded individual because it gives you many more things to ponder, and it helps you become a better leader in an organization. Lastly, Stanford just opens doors. That’s something that was never tangible until I was here and felt the magic of how Stanford gives you access. It’s something you’ll always be able to carry with you.
What have been your most influential experiences at Stanford GSB?
My favorite course so far was called Acting with Power. It’s about being cognizant of how you want to show up in different situations. Sometimes you want to dial back your power and give someone else the credit. In some situations, you want to be on equal footing. And in others you may want to show a bit of dominance. It’s really about being aware that you can make minor changes to body language, to the way that you speak, to your tone, that will help you reach your objective, whatever that objective may be.
At Stanford, you’re in this amazing ecosystem where everyone is coming with different perspectives and experiences. That allows you to see so many facets and angles of any single industry or problem or solution. It gives you all these tools to go forward and say there isn’t one solution to all these problems, but I can get perspectives that will help me solve the problem in the way that I need to.
Outside the classroom, it’s the people you meet. You learn something new from every person. And the type of personality that’s attracted to Stanford is also the type that is about getting the best out of themselves, but also helping others to achieve their potential. The willingness of peers, classmates, even the people in our housing complex, to help has been incredible. And of course I had the transformational experience of becoming a mother while doing my MBA.
What has it been like being a mother while at Stanford GSB?
Being a mother and a student has been exhilarating and exhausting. It has meant that I have had to balance many more demands on my time and that my priorities have been different from my classmates. The school has been supportive, understanding when I needed more flexibility (on occasion I brought my son to class) and my classmates have been wonderful — throwing me a baby shower and offering free babysitting.
However, the parent-student community is mostly represented by fathers, which can make being a mother in the class lonely at times. I wish there were more mothers in the class and that more mothers would apply to business school. This would bring more perspectives to class discussions and would add to the richness of the diverse ecosystem of Stanford GSB. Although motherhood and pursuing an MBA is challenging, it is doable and has been a very rewarding experience.
What would you like your son to most understand about how the world works?
I just had the class Managing Growing Enterprises and the thing that stuck with me is that people won’t remember how clever you are; they’ll remember how kind you are. I want my son to understand that people are innately good, despite what you see around you and despite what we hear in the media. You can become bogged down by a lot of negativity. But the world and people in the world are innately good. I hope he remembers that.
Photos by Kiefer Hickman