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Penn State Alumni Achievement Award honoree Kate Whalen says balance key to success

March 28, 2018

Kate Whalen with students
Alumni Achievement Award honoree Kate Whalen met with Smeal students during her visit to the Business Building in advance of her being honored on Friday night.
As important as the financial and management skills that 31-year-old Kate Whalen (’08 finance) learned in her time at Smeal, maybe even more crucial were lessons in balance.

Whalen was honored Friday night by the Penn State Alumni Association with the Alumni Achievement Award, which recognizes prominent alumni 35 years old and younger. 

Whalen is a director and chief operating officer for European credit within BlackRock’s alternative investments group in London. She is responsible for investment structuring, foreign exchange hedging, management of fund leverage facilities, and day-to-day business management activities. Whalen also leads investor negotiations and operational due diligence for the firm’s European middle market private debt strategy. 

More than balancing risk and reward when evaluating investment opportunities, Whalen said Penn State and Smeal taught her the importance of work-life balance. 

“I think being at Penn State and Smeal really taught me how to balance and juggle things. It’s not all about academics; it’s about the whole picture. I brought that to my workplace. It’s not all about your work. It’s about the people you work with, it’s about being a good person, it’s about having time for your family,” she said. 

“All of that makes you happy. The happier you are in your life outside of work, the happier you’re going to be at work. Maintaining that balance and being at a firm that encourages having that balance is very helpful and has allowed me to excel.” 

In 2017, she helped launch BlackRock’s first direct lending strategy, which to date has raised more than $1 billion from investor commitments. 

In 2012, Whalen joined BlackRock’s London office as vice president within its Alternative Investments executive team, where she focused on strategic projects, investment governance, and product development across the alternative investment businesses in both New York and London. 

Following graduation from Penn State in 2008, Whalen joined BlackRock as an analyst within the U.S. Wealth Advisory team. She started in sales and then moved into a role on the executive team where she supported the head of U.S. retail and COO with key business initiatives, product development, and sales strategy. 

Whalen is a member of 100 Women in Finance (100WiF), a global network of professional women across the finance and alternative investment industries. 100WiF focuses on empowering women in their careers in the world of finance. Additionally, Whalen chairs BlackRock’s EMEA committee, which focuses on business in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. 

Whalen managed health care and retail, or consumer discretionary, as an undergraduate member of Smeal’s Nittany Lion Fund, the nearly $9 million investor-owned, student-managed hedge fund, run exclusively by undergraduate students. She said her return to campus revealed to her a much more robust female population in the Business Building. 

“Many more, which is a huge thing. Now, more so than when I was a student, there’s a lot of exposure to diversity and inclusion and making sure women are a larger part of the workforce going forward,” she said. 

“We’re representing more seats on boards, more seats on executive teams, giving them the opportunity to obtain senior positions. Having more people on campus like Women in Business is an important thing for Penn State. I’m glad it’s happening here.” 

The Alumni Achievement Award began in 2005, and since then has honored 140 outstanding alumni, including this year’s class. Honorees are nominated by an academic college or campus and invited by the president of the University to return to Penn State to share their expertise with students and the University community. 

Smeal’s Alumni Achievement Award winners include:

  • 2018: Kate Whalen, ’08 Finance
  • 2017: Melissa Schipke, ’09 Marketing
  • 2016: James P. Brandau, ’03 Finance; Krishna C. Nadella, ’04 MBA
  • 2015: Ryan J. Healy, ’06 Accounting
  • 2014: Erin K. Antosh, ’06 Management
  • 2012: Christopher M. Thomas, ’03 Management, ’08 MBA; Daniel W. Veltri, ’07 Finance
  • 2011: Ryan L. Newman, ‘01Economics
  • 2010: Farnoosh Torabi, ’02 Finance
  • 2008: Alan Majewski, ’02 MBA
  • 2007: Heath A. Mitts, ’96 MBA
  • 2006: Menassie M. Taddese, ’97 MBA
  • 2005: Sherri A. Lombra, ’90 Accounting
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