A Career Built on Connectivity

Alumni4 MIN READ

The lessons about teamwork that Jennifer Ancker Whelen ’95 learned on the rugby field have served her well in the financial services industry

Jennifer Ancker Whelen '95 at her home in New Canaan, Conn. Whelen has volunteered to fundraise and set up scholarship for students at Colby. "I'm a cheerleader. I'm a connector," she said.
By Kayla Voigt '14 Photography by Yehyun Kim
March 7, 2022

In his seminal 2000 book, The Tipping Point, social psychologist Malcolm Gladwell outlines three types of people that help spread ideas and information that create change: Connectors (social linchpins), Mavens (information specialists), and Salespeople (charismatic persuaders).

Jennifer Ancker Whelen ’95 is undoubtedly a Connector. Or, in Gladwell’s words, “people with a special gift for bringing the world together.”

As the chief client officer at Graham Capital Management, Whelen spends her days analyzing market trends and strategizing investment decisions. But what that really looks like is translating deep institutional knowledge into building relationships. “Most people don’t think about the finance industry as the most altruistic space,” she said. “But my hope is that the person on the other side can be a little better off, and have a better life many years down the line, because of how we contributed to their overall portfolio.”

Finding Threads of Connectivity

Whelen has had a front-row seat to some of the most momentous changes in the financial industry, spending the last 15 fifteen years—including weathering the 2008 financial crisis and the pandemic crash—rising from managing director to the C-suite.

“It’s fascinating how much has changed,” she said. “It’s so much harder today to be a startup or start a firm. And there’s so much more information you have to synthesize to be successful. I’m not just selling funds, but interpreting the entire global macroeconomic landscape.”

She cites her Colby education as the foundation for approaching client work with a broad-based perspective despite navigating so much change. “Having a broad curriculum at Colby, where you can study a lot of different things in different disciplines and find what you care about and are passionate about, changes everything,” she said. “One of my best friends from Colby and I had completely different majors, and we met while filling our English requirement. There’s no way our paths would have crossed elsewhere, but Colby builds these threads of connectivity with other disciplines and other people that open your eyes in ways you could never imagine.”

She continues to approach every challenge with that same mindset. “When I started, I was hired to do front-end business development, and that’s still what I do, which is about building relationships with new clients,” she said. “But over time, my responsibilities have expanded, cultivating relationships over many, many years and evolving into a more of a leader.”

Cultivating Community

To her, leadership is all about building connections and persevering—something she learned as a member of one of Colby women’s rugby’s legendary undefeated teams. Said Whelen, “People classify leaders in so many different ways, and I think of myself as a player-coach. I want to be out there getting dirty in the sandbox with everybody else.”

Part of her leadership style involves bringing up the next generation of women in finance as co-chair of Graham Capital’s women’s network, as well as supporting the nonprofit Help for Children and the 100 Women in Finance group.

“It’s all about cultivating education and empowerment. People say they want a ‘seat at the table,’ but what does that mean? It means they want to be in the room for major decisions and be part of a bigger conversation. But if you’re at that meeting and you don’t say anything, it doesn’t matter if you have a seat. It matters if you find your voice. And that’s what I want to help my team with.”

Jennifer Ancker Whelen ’95

Building a more diverse financial services industry—one with a culture that supports and lifts up each other’s voices—starts one-on-one. “From my perspective, I want engagement with the whole firm. It’s not about putting one group in a room and talking amongst ourselves. There’s a much larger conversation about diversity of thought, diversity of background, and diversity of education that needs to happen in this industry, and that starts with connecting to each other on a personal level.”

When she looks back on her time at Colby, it’s easy to draw that line from young economics major to powerhouse executive and all the connections she’s made. But as a student or junior employee, the path forward isn’t always clear.

“You don’t necessarily know what you want to do when you grow up when you’re 17. I couldn’t tell you when I was a student what I was going to do with my economics degree,” said Whelen. “But I look back, and the path is so clear to me. Colby gave me such a great foundation to explore different things and find what really excited me, which I think is the whole point. It’s amazing how if you follow the things you love and the things you love to learn about, how useful they become even after all these years.”