Women’s History Month Series: Amy Marsh & Jinx Walton

Issue Date: 
March 19, 2007

Investing Pitt’s Endowment All in a Day’s Work for Amy Marsh

By Sharon S. Blake

Amy Krueger Marsh well remembers grappling with new-math techniques as an 8-year-old student at Starr Elementary School in Oregon, Ohio. Her father sat her down and told her—in no uncertain terms, she says—that she would learn them!

And learn them she did.

Marsh went on to conquer honors math in junior high and senior high school. She then majored in math and business at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, graduating cum laude. She later earned an M.B.A. degree with specializations in finance, economics, and accounting at Northwestern University’s J. L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

Today, as Pitt’s treasurer and chief investment officer (CIO), Marsh is responsible for the safekeeping of Pitt’s financial assets, including the University’s endowment, which has grown from $855 million to more than $2 billion under her seven-year watch.

“Investing an endowment is probably the pinnacle of investing,” says Marsh, who came to Pitt in 1999 from Mellon Financial Corp., where she was first vice president. “Because you’re dealing with the longest-term investments you can possibly consider, you’re able to do things with an endowment portfolio that you can’t with other kinds of portfolios. And that’s what makes the job so exciting, so dynamic, and so rewarding.”

A large part of her job involves investing Pitt’s money in alternative markets—from hedge funds to private equity, including venture capital, real estate, timber, and oil and gas partnerships.

Marsh’s office is located on the Cathedral of Learning’s 24th floor, where a sometimes steady stream of fund managers come to make presentations to Marsh and her team, seeking Pitt as an investor. Marsh’s boss, Vice Chancellor for Budget and Controller Arthur Ramicone, says these fund managers appear full of confidence, with impeccable résumés and degrees from multiple institutions.

But Marsh isn’t convinced by office-based presentations, Ramicone says. She visits fund managers’ workplaces to observe the office dynamics, looking for potential tensions or problems. She also wants to see the back office and the accounting operation, and she asks Pitt’s Office of the General Counsel  to pore over the private placement memoranda and limited partnership agreements.

“She wants to go through it from A to Z,” Ramicone explains. “She has a kind of mental toughness. If she’s not fully prepared to put the University’s money at risk, she’s not going to do it.”

While it’s not unusual for a woman to head an endowment or foundation, Ramicone says, the people Marsh deals with usually are men.

“When she goes out into the field—out to the timberlands or down to meet with the good ol’ boys at the New Orleans gas drills—she’s working in very male-dominated cultures,” he points out.

Yet Marsh says she doesn’t feel like a trailblazer for women’s rights. That pioneering work was performed a long time ago, she maintains. And she doesn’t think potential business partners view her first as a woman.

“I think the beauty of being in investing is that people are looking for intellect, insights, and ideas,” Marsh says. “I find that it cuts across gender, socioeconomic background, race, ethnic diversity, and all the rest of it. Actually, I find that investing, in many respects, is as you would like to see all the world—where there is real respect for what people bring to the table.”

Accomplished CIOs like Marsh are in great demand, Ramicone points out: Having already “raided” Wall Street for investment personnel, people who run hedge funds have in recent years been hiring away CIOs who manage university endowments.

“There was one point where, among the colleges and universities with endowments of $1 billion dollars or more, about a dozen CIO jobs were open,” the vice chancellor says.

On a recent day, Marsh was tying up loose ends before flying to London to meet with prospective and existing fund managers. That’s not unusual: Typically, Marsh spends half of each academic year on the road.

Whether serving as a role model for her two daughters or for other younger women, Marsh believes the best way for her to set a good example is to excel at her work.

Noting that women today are presented with an unprecedented range of personal and professional choices, Marsh said that for her, “the greatest measure of success is being passionate about the path you have chosen.”

Jinx Walton Has Information Technology on the Move at Pitt

By John Fedele

Last month, Jinx Walton—director of Pitt’s Computing Services and Systems Development (CSSD)—was named Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the Year in the Nonprofit category by the Pittsburgh Technology Council and the Greater Pittsburgh CIO group.

The award cited Walton’s leadership in implementing “the technology underlying University’s virtual classrooms, enabling both students and professors secure remote access to the University’s IT [information technology] infrastructure around-the-clock. She transformed a group of five disparate IT-related departments into a well-oiled team that consistently produces world-class results.”

CSSD is the unit that provides computing support, development and telecommunications services, and information infrastructure to support the educational, research, and administrative activities of Pitt students, faculty, and staff. More specifically:

  • More than $600 million worth of Pitt research projects annually depend on CSSD-provided computing hardware, software, and technology support;
  • More than 33,000 students and 12,000 faculty and staff members rely on a CSSD-run IT infrastructure that processes more than 24 million e-mail messages per month; and
  • CSSD oversees a University phone system with three exchanges and nearly 25,000 handsets.

In considering those numbers, keep in mind that Pitt’s IT system is regularly threatened by hackers, worms, and viruses, but has never suffered a major security breach.

Walton proudly cites those and other facts and figures about her department. What she hesitates doing is talking about her own contributions to CSSD’s success.

“My goal is to get you to forget about writing a profile about me,” a smiling Walton tells the Pitt Chronicle writer, politely but firmly. “I’d prefer to draw attention to the accomplishments of our department.”

Those accomplishments have won national recognition in recent years. In 2006, the Computerworld Honors Program selected five Pitt projects, all of which were conducted by CSSD and led by Walton, for its annual honors. The year before, the Computerworld program honored seven Pitt projects, six of them conducted by CSSD and led by Walton. InfoWorld magazine recognized Pitt’s Web portal—my.pitt.edu—in 2006 as one of the top 100 projects demonstrating creative use of cutting-edge technology.

In recommending Walton for her recent CIO of the Year award, Pitt Provost James V. Maher wrote: “The celebrated instructional and research successes achieved at the University in recent years have been made possible in part through her forward-thinking leadership and oversight of our information systems and technical infrastructure. Her notable achievements in this area include a world-class network for high-speed research computing, a new student administration system, attention to critical reliability and stability, robust security, and the development of a comprehensive directory, a new network operations center that is serving as a model now for other institutions, and a support system that serves more than 40,000 authenticated users.”

Even in talking about her CIO award, Walton prefers to spread the credit among her staff of 220 full-time and 150 part-time employees.

“One of the things about the CIO award is that it recognizes what the organization has accomplished,” she points out. “There are so many talented, creative people working here [in CSSD] who understand the mission and goals of the University.The provost has a clear vision of the University’s goals and aspirations, and we help work toward them.”

As chair of the University Senate’s Computer Usage Committee (SCUC) John Close has worked with Walton for the last 10 years. “Jinx has always closely cooperated with the faculty groups associated with academic computing at Pitt,” says Close, a Pitt assistant professor of dental medicine. “She has always been very open with the SCUC about Pitt computing matters and often seeks our advice or approval for policy changes or initiatives her office is planning. In addition, Jinx is a pleasure to work with.  She doesn’t hesitate to inject her good sense of humor into a discussion when appropriate.”

Walton took charge of CSSD in 2000, the year that Pitt implemented its first long-range technology plan. Implementation of that plan has strengthened centralized computing capabilities on campus, increased the system’s speed and power and provided critical redundancies, instituted the CourseInfo/Blackboard online course management system, upgraded the campus computing labs, and added more than 100 e-mail kiosks around campus, among other improvements.

The plan also set the groundwork for the current project of providing wireless access throughout the Pittsburgh campus, a project that is ahead of schedule, according to Walton.

Central to the University’s recent technology initiatives was the creation of the Network Operations Center (NOC), which monitors the health of the University’s computing and networking system 24/7.

NOC, located in O’Hara Township, is reminiscent of NASA’s mission control: A dozen professionals seated at terminals oversee large-screen monitors. When problems arise, CSSD staff can address them immediately.

Keeping up with the latest in technology can be expensive, and Walton works with researchers and administrators to find the best solutions to their problems within budget. Walton says that Pitt’s size and reputation work in its favor many times, as vendors are willing to give Pitt better deals as a means of proving their capabilities to other customers.

In addition, electronic billing, instituted in fall 2005, saves the University more than $100,000 per year in paper, printing, and postage.

While Walton prefers to deflect questions about her personal life and her career before joining Pitt, she does allow that she was born and raised in nearby Sheraden, Pa.; that she earned her B.A. degree in English at Pitt in 1976; and that she’s spent nearly her entire professional career at the University.

And then there’s the question that no profile of Walton could fail to address: How did she get the name Jinx?

The answer: Her father was a fan of Jinx Falkenburg, an actress and television talk-show hostess whose career spanned the 1930s through the 1950s. Falkenburg is honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Though she hated the name as a girl, it obviously hasn’t brought bad fortune to Walton—or CSSD.