Dorothy Walter is a renaissance woman. She studied both economics and art history at Vassar; she’s lived in the U.S., Russia, and throughout Asia; she’s worked as a private equity investor, an operator on Apple’s finance team—and now, an operator in the investing world as Alpine’s CFO. Below, the Stanford MBA explains the global journey that brought her to the firm, reflects on challenges she and her team have tackled, and shares what she’s excited to do and see as Alpine continues to grow.
First, tell me about your background.
I spent my early years in Asia—Taiwan, Singapore, and Beijing. My parents are from the U.S. but went overseas and built their careers there. I came to the U.S. for boarding school when I was 14. Growing up in China and then living here, I was very interested in the influence of capitalism and other economic systems on people’s lives, so I studied economics in college. I studied art history, too, and was obsessed with the art and culture of Russia in particular; I even lived in St. Petersburg for a while.
Through an internship, I met a Columbia Business School professor who was starting a real estate private equity firm, and I joined as an associate after graduation. I was there for six years, and it was such a valuable experience. The 2008 crisis occurred during my first year, so I was 22 years old, building an entire database from scratch. My job was to map out our risk exposure, highlight red flags to proactively address, and share with investors. After the crisis, I had the opportunity to accompany the CEO on a series of due diligence trips to grow our business in Asia. We covered China, Singapore, Japan, and Taiwan—and I ended up leading investments in Asia, Brazil, and the east coast U.S. markets for the next couple of years. I worked crazy hours but absolutely loved it.
In 2013, the firm was acquired by Carlyle, and I felt like I was ready for the next phase, so I applied to business school. Because of the crisis, a lot of my peers had already explored multiple fields, and I’d been in the same job. I wanted a gut check on whether I was heading in the right direction, and what else might be out there for me. I thought I’d go back to investing, but then I did stints at a venture capital firm and Apple over the summers and started to really see value in the operational side.
Tell me more about that shift toward operations. What did you learn?
Initially I thought of operating experience as something I’d take back with me to investing. I’m a big believer in practical, hands-on experience, rather than theoretical discussion—I once got in an argument with a business school professor because they taught us to value real estate using the weighted average cost of capital, and because I’d worked in the field, I knew that was wrong. I thought, “If I’m going to get operational experience, why not go to the best company in the world?” I loved Apple and in my role as a finance operations manager I got to work closely with Angela Ahrendts, who had been CEO of Burberry and joined Apple to lead their retail group. She’s an inspiration to me—she’s compassionate and empathetic, but she speaks her mind.
One of the main lessons I learned at Apple was how much my success depended on other people. That was frustrating at first. As an investor, if you identify an opportunity and convince others to agree with you, you can just make things happen. At Apple, I had to learn to build the right incentive structures and give people the right context, so that even when they didn’t report to me and weren’t in any way beholden to me, we could still tackle large projects together and be set up for success.
Why did you decide to join Alpine?
Ben Passafuime, Alpine’s head of talent acquisition at the time, sent me a few messages. Honestly, I ignored them at first; I wasn’t looking for a job, and I didn’t know what Alpine was—I’d graduated from GSB before Graham started teaching. Luckily, though, Ben was persistent, and once we talked, I was interested. I’d been thinking I would return to an investing role eventually; working in private equity in an operational role hadn’t crossed my mind. And the more people I met, the more Alpine appealed to me. It’s the best of both worlds—the security of the private equity business model, but with a startup’s growth mentality and very active, involved partners.
Plus, this role is fun. I get to work on pretty much everything beyond the actual deals, from fundraising and investor relations to legal, compliance, and people management. Alpine’s investors need us to have a water-tight back office—they need to see quarterly reports, audited financial statements, tax estimates, and information on the team and who’s getting promoted so they know we’re running the organization well and fairly. I touch all of that, and I love getting to see so many aspects of the business.
What motivates your team?
I think these roles attract people with a strong sense of commitment and integrity. We want to do what we say we’re going to do, and we want to do it right—every time. There’s also a lot of ownership; you might be a subject-matter expert in legal and compliance, or IT and cybersecurity. But everyone on my team also brings something extra to the table—they’re excited to do more, and that’s part of the reason they work here. At most funds, for instance, the accounting team runs numbers and produces reports. Here, accountants train the deal teams on various aspects of our fund terms and lead our Valuation Committee meetings. Our Director of Compliance, Stephen Bianca, is another good example. In addition to his compliance responsibilities, he leads our ESG investing efforts and checks in with companies every year on any environmental and social governance opportunities we identified, making sure we help them become better places to work. And now, he’s working with the partners to highlight those “impact investing” aspects of our approach for future fundraises.
I think these roles attract people with a strong sense of commitment and integrity. We want to do what we say we’re going to do, and we want to do it right—every time.
Tell me about the challenges you’ve tackled in this role.
I always try to challenge myself to see around corners. That can be difficult when an organization is moving as quickly as we do—you really have to think a couple of years ahead to what the team is going to need. For Fund VII, for example, the main innovation our team drove was moving to the DealCloud platform, which has allowed us to track the progress of deals—and their performance after they close—much more efficiently across the firm. Now, we’re working on building out an Operations Group that will house all of our programs that serve portfolio companies, including PeopleFirst Leadership and our Executive Recruiting team. Having all of that under one umbrella will be much easier for us to manage, and I think it will ultimately be very strategic for Alpine. Those are the kinds of things that I get really excited about—opportunities to transform the way we do business.
I believe that even a seemingly insurmountable goal is completely achievable if you have the right team around you, and that’s truly how I feel about Alpine.
What else are you excited about right now?
One thing we’re talking a lot about across the organization is growing the team and bringing on additional support as Alpine scales. That’s exciting for me because I know my team members have been working really hard. I’m excited for myself, too! It always feels worthwhile to me to keep pushing here, because the results are so motivating. But it can take a toll, and I don’t want anyone burning out. I’m looking forward to seeing our team members move into the next phase and be able to think more strategically.
It’s funny, Graham asked me recently why I stay so calm when the you-know-what hits the fan, and I’d really never realized that’s the impression I’ve made. But it reminded me of a fable we learned growing up in China, about an old man who wants to move a mountain. He starts digging, and some people say he’s a fool, but others start to help. He says if that continues for generations, eventually, the mountain will be moved. I believe that even a seemingly insurmountable goal is completely achievable if you have the right team around you, and that’s truly how I feel about Alpine.