Maria Chrin ’87 spells out the L-E-H-I-G-H way

For Maria Chrin ’87, Lehigh is more than just the university that launched her on her path to Wall Street. It encapsulates the approach she has employed to successfully manage billions of dollars in investment wealth through uncertain times.

In an hour-long talk punctuated by several rounds of enthusiastic applause from the packed Baker Hall crowd of students, faculty and staff, Chrin traced her life from growing up in Honduras to her current position as founder and managing partner of Circle Wealth Management, an SEC-registered independent advisory firm providing comprehensive wealth management solutions to a select group of ultra-high net worth families.

Chrin returned to her alma mater Tuesday to deliver this year’s address, titled “Investment Management: Expect the Unexpected,” in the Donald M. Gruhn ’49 Distinguished Finance Speaker Series. And she left the audience with the “decision-making framework”—embodied in the letters L-E-H-I-G-H—she used to steer clients through the turbulent seas of the recent financial crisis.

“This doesn’t just apply to the wealth management or investment management industry,” she added:

  • Listen. “It is much more important to listen than to talk. It’s very important to listen to what’s being said, but it’s just as important to listen to what is not being said.”
  • Explore. “Ask how, why, what if? … It’s your responsibility to know the opposite point of view.”
  • Human behavior. “What is the market behavior like at the time? In 2007, there was complacency. In different periods, there were also grief, fear, and panic. And we’ve seen all of the above in just the past two years.”
  • Intellectual curiosity. “Make sure you connect the dots and ask the question: What does this mean?”
  • Global perspective. “Don’t live in the trees. Step back, and look at the biggest forest. And the forest is not just the U.S. It’s the global forest. It’s what’s going on in Europe. It’s what’s going on in Asia and Latin America and Africa. We are all interconnected and a global perspective is a must for expecting the unexpected and managing any career that you choose to have.”
  • Historic context. “What does history teach us about the situation?” Chrin cited Robert Shiller’s book, Irrational Exuberance, which showed that the index of real housing prices ranged between 60 and 120 in real terms over 150 years. But from 2000 to 2006, the index rose dramatically from 100 to 200. “No one believed that was a problem,” Chrin said. “(Shiller) pointed it out, but didn’t expect the consequences of that. And yet, the historic context was very important.”

Gruhn, noting that this year marks the 40th anniversary of undergraduate women at Lehigh, said Chrin was an ideal choice to deliver this year’s lecture. During the question-and-answer segment following her remarks, Chrin was asked about what adversities she faced as a woman in the investment management industry.

“One of the things I did not do well when I was at Goldman Sachs was advocating for myself,” Chrin responded. “I had opportunities to do many things and I was questioning myself every time ... The biggest thing we can do as women is self-advocate.

“Be true to your values and trust yourself because you can achieve success being a woman, but you just have to be clear on trusting yourself and really advocating for yourself in a humble way, but a forceful way.”

Chrin worked at Goldman-Sachs for 15 years, rising to vice president in private wealth management, after earning her M.B.A. from Columbia University. In 2004, she co-founded Circle Financial Group, and two years later, founded Circle Wealth Management.

She has been a Lehigh trustee since 2005 and is the first woman to chair the investment subcommittee, which oversees Lehigh’s endowment. She also co-chairs the global affairs subcommittee.

She is married to former J.P. Morgan executive John Chrin ’85, who—as Gruhn noted in his introduction—was a Gryphon at Brodhead House when Maria first arrived on campus. John Chrin is currently the Global Financial Services Executive-in-Residence in Lehigh’s Perella Department of Finance.

Photos by Christa Neu