Participants on the public equity panel including William Blair’s Sharon Zackfia (center).
William Blair’s Sharon Zackfia (center) was among the panelists discussing public equity at the University of Notre Dame Institute for Global Investing Summit.

William Blair was thrilled to support and participate in the 2023 University of Notre Dame Institute for Global Investing Summit held on the school’s South Bend, Indiana, campus, featuring top women executives in the financial services industry. 

The summit, now in its fifth year, spotlights female thought leaders to encourage more women to pursue careers in finance, an industry that traditionally has been male dominated.

Among the featured speakers was William Blair’s Sharon Zackfia, CFA, partner, and group head of the firm’s equity research consumer team. Zackfia, with more than 25 years of experience covering consumer companies, focused her remarks on how she analyzes companies, her favorite stock pick, and career advice for those looking to become finance professionals.

Key to stock-picking and becoming a top analyst is a curiosity to learn, deductive reasoning, and good communication skills, both oral and written, Zackfia told the crowd of students attending the summit on February 24.

One of her favorite stocks over the years has been Starbucks, a Seattle-based company that envisioned itself as a global player, offered an affordable luxury product, and developed an innovative licensing program that helped expand its footprint.

“My top stock pick 20 years ago is my top stock pick today, a little consumer brand—Starbucks,” Zackfia said. “We picked it up when they had 2,000 stores, and it now has 36,000 globally.”

William Blair’s investment philosophy is seeking companies that grow faster than the broader market. While the driver of value is growth in sales, earnings, and cash flow, also important is determining the potential successes of a company over the long haul. That encompasses taking a big-picture view by analyzing whether a company has a durable business model, its growth potential, macroeconomic trends, and market themes.  

In the case of Starbucks, by the early 2000s, teenagers were gathering at Starbucks shops to meet for coffee and socialize, a sign that its business model would prove to have a cross-generational appeal, Zackfia said.

“Up until 2004, coffee consumption per capita had been declining,” she added. “Starbucks single-handedly turned that around. It’s a great success story and continues to be a great success story.”

Equally important to working on Wall Street is being agile, Zackfia said. Every day can be different, so learning to roll with change and juggling multiple tasks at once are valued talents. It’s also being present at the moment, gaining as much experience as you can from the current job, which can help form your next decision.

“Don’t be so worried about the 10-year plan, because I guarantee the next 10 years will not be what you thought they would be,” she said.