When Linda Pei was born in a village in China in 1944, the villagers asked her mother what good she was. Pei was her third daughter.
A few years later, after she’d gained a little brother and the whole family was preparing to move to Japan as the Communists took over the country, she was almost left behind.
“It made the most sense,” said Pei. “I was essentially dispensable. All the time I was growing up, I tried very hard to be a good student … [because] I didn’t want them to regret taking me.”
Those stories, told to her when she was 8 years old, made her feel passionately about the discrimination still faced by women. So after she and her husband Jim Morris adopted two children in Hong Kong, she decided to do something to improve the world they’d enter.
Today, she is the co-founder and president of FEMMX Financial, a company set up to launch the Women’s Equity Fund (FEMMX), a socially responsible, large-blend mutual fund. The fund, with five-year annualized returns of 6.36 percent and 10-year returns of 8.81 percent, compares well long-term with other socially responsible large blend funds, though it has had lower returns lately, according to data from SocialFunds.com. Actively managed, socially responsible funds could return a lower yield than funds that do not place any restrictions on the companies in which they invest.
The fund only invests in companies that have women on the board and in senior management, provide both genders the same pay for the same work, use women-owned companies as vendors and meet other criteria designed to promote the status of women worldwide, Pei said. The fund is a domestic fund, but does invest in some international companies. Established in 2003, it now has $37.5 million in assets and invests in some 70 firms. For more information, see www.womens-equity.com.
Initially, Pei said, the fund invested primarily in financial companies and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), though it has since expanded to technology, retail and other corporate investment. After 10 years, investment started to grow in a J-curve, she said.
“It’s all individuals through word-of-mouth,” Pei said. “Together, we can make things happen.”
In addition to individual investors, the fund also recently began offering institutional-class shares, which will allow foundations and universities to invest in it, and allow employers to add it to employee 401k plan options.
Pei has also been involved in microfinance loans to women in impoverished countries, and has several ideas for increasing investment in that field.
New project: Other funds focused on women, international fund/venture fund to support women-startup companies in China.
Number of emails a day: 50-plus
Number of voice mail a day: 5 to 10
Essential Web site: nytimes.com; Socialfunds.com; AOL’s finance Web site to check daily economic news
Best perk: Flexible work time, able to be a mother
Gadgets: My MacBook Pro
Last conference: SRI in the Rockies
Next conference: Women in Leadership Summit, Boston
First job: Tutor when 13; tutored math to a little girl over one summer
Original aspiration: Violinist
Career objective: Continue to use business model to solve social problems; help a microfinance institute in China to become profitable and self-sufficient.
Hometown: I was born in Chengdu, China, but I grew up in Tokyo
Sports: Skiing, golf, tennis
Transportation: Subaru Forester.
Favorite restaurant: Slanted Door in S.F., Frontorio in Mill Valley
Computer: MacBook Pro
Vacation spot: Whistler, Canada, for skiing
Favorite clothier: None; haven’t bought any for years
Role model: My mother who has always worked outside the home; now, other women friends in business
Motivation: This world can be so much better. We need to work for a cleaner environment, to alleviate poverty, solve international conflict, etc. Together we can work for a better world. Women can play an important role in solving these problemsand business is an efficient tool to make the change.