Whitney Wright is a unicorn — her journey alone is a testament to her otherworldly brilliance. She has worked as an engineer, a consultant, a chef, a journalist and at tech startups. She now serves as Director at Cook & Bynum Capital Management, an investment fund, and she co-founded Athena Collective, a coalition of men and women advocates for gender equality in economic growth. We are delighted to introduce Whitney Wright as today’s FACE of Birmingham.
Where did you grow up, and what brought you to Birmingham?
I grew up outside of Chicago. I moved to Birmingham seven years ago. Officially, the move was for a job, but it was really to escape Manhattan. I love New York, but part of what makes that city wonderful is its fast pace and barrage of options. I admire people who live there forever, but I couldn’t do it. I was ready for the simplicity and steadiness of Birmingham.
Your career path has woven throughout so many disparate industries. Tell us about your unique professional journey.
I don’t have a logical explanation for my career path. It’s the result of curiosity and enthusiasm, and being young and slightly reckless and getting lucky. It’s been fun, but often lonely as I have constantly been the outsider in a new industry.
The best part about working across so many industries is the range of people I’ve worked for and alongside. I’ve met my best friends in places I had no reason to poke my nose. I’ve learned so much from different kinds of people working very different jobs. It’s inspiring to see how people make their own unique mark on the world.
Tell us about Athena Collective. How did it come about and what is its purpose?
Athena Collective was born out of frustrations my co-founder Nicole Carpenter and I had when we were on the job hunt in Birmingham. There were few structures in place for businesswomen to access established networks of businessmen, capital, information, and each other.
We launched with a plan to raise a fund that would invest in women founders. But after studying the market and talking to people in the community, we morphed into a grassroots coalition of women and men who advocate for gender equality in Alabama, particularly in the realm of economic development. We identify advocacy opportunities, host educational events and encourage dialogue throughout the community about the challenges and benefits of gender equality.
Describe your typical day.
I don’t have a typical day! I’m on the road quite a bit for work. If I’m not traveling, I’m up around 4 a.m., when I spend the first 15 minutes of the day debating whether to workout or not. Most of the time I do, but if not, I get out my laptop and work until my 4-year-old daughter, Vivian, wakes up. I’m most productive before the rest of the world wakes up, which is quite inconvenient.
After Vivian is dressed, we do our breakfast ritual. We set the table, sit down, chat and eat — either scrambled eggs or pancakes or avocado toast or Lucky Charms. I don’t think she treasures the time as much as I do, but it’s my favorite part of the day.
After getting her to school, I head to work and read for a couple of hours at my desk. It’s one of the things I love most about working in the investment world — good investors are continuous learners and voracious readers. I’ll read the news, notes written by our research team, and various websites and blogs ranging from The LT3000 Blog to This is Glamorous. A big part of my job entails talking to people about our portfolio, so I spend my afternoons doing analyses or talking with investors.
On the best nights, I pick Vivian up around 5 p.m., and we head home to make dinner. I still love to cook, and working in professional kitchens equipped me well for weeknight dinners on-the-fly.
We often spend the rest of the evening walking or riding bikes through Railroad Park or swimming at the rooftop pool. Then we read books — we’re currently on a Roald Dahl kick — and go to bed.
What is most challenging about your roles with Athena Collective and Cook & Bynum?
Athena Collective’s work is hard because it is about changing a well-established culture. My job at Cook & Bynum is hard because it’s my first stint in the investing world. I have so much to learn, and because even industry veterans are constantly learning, I always feel behind.
The most rewarding part of Athena Collective is that when we make progress, even the smallest steps, I feel like I’ve done something that will one day make life better for my daughter and her peers.
Cook & Bynum is rewarding because the relationship people have with money is very personal, so I get to intimately learn from people about what makes them tick.
What is your favorite thing about Birmingham?
The complexity of our history means the future of the city must be shaped by nuanced, highly innovative ideas and solutions. The path to Birmingham’s future will surely inspire and inform others, and it’s exciting to be here and have an opportunity to help pave it.
Favorite Birmingham eateries?
Do you have a mentor or role model, and if so, what have they taught you?
Ruth Reichl, the author and former restaurant critic for The New York Times, was a wonderful boss, and she still inspires me every day. The way she writes is honest, precise and delightful to read. She taught me the importance of being a good steward of language.
If you could go back 10 years, what advice would you give yourself?
Accept, ASAP, that control is an illusion.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
Getting co-parenting with my ex-husband right. Raising a kid is hard enough, so I was terrified at the idea of doing it in separate households. Our daughter is a happy kid and has decent manners, two measures I use to gauge our success. The struggle to cultivate manners in a 4-year-old is real.
What is your best piece of advice?
People unwittingly give bad advice all the time. The only way to know what works for your life is to come by it honestly; live it and learn it.
Besides faith, family and friends, name three things you can’t live without.
Glide Dental Floss: I’m obsessed with flossing, and anything else is like rope between your teeth.
Biafine cream: I use this the way that the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding uses Windex. It’s great for sunburns or scars, but I use it every day as lotion. At pharmacies in Europe, it’s half the price (if not less) than in the U.S.
Maldon Sea Salt Flakes: I put it on everything, especially ice cream.
Thank you, Whitney. And thanks to Eric & Jamie Photography for the gorgeous photos.
Meet more amazing Birmingham women in our FACES archives. Click HERE and prepare to be inspired!