April: Finance and Philanthropy
“I think about the word justice a lot as opposed to charity or giving because any one of us could have been born to any circumstance in the world. It is just and fair for us to share what we have with others.”
April Tam Smith has been in the finance industry for the last 13 years and is currently a Managing Director on an equity derivatives team at a leading global financial services firm based in New York. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from MIT and her MBA at Columbia Business School.
What makes April different is that her genuine love for helping people in underserved communities is not just a "once a week" event. It is embedded in her everyday life. Her initial experiences helping orphanages in South Africa and Haiti planted a deep seed in her to be a voice for the poor and for marginalized groups, both domestically and abroad. In 2017, April launched P.S. Kitchen, a restaurant in Midtown Manhattan with a double bottom line. P.S. Kitchen is a social enterprise that uses 100% of its net profits to fund justice work they do through the non-profit foundation arm of the social business.
We had the opportunity of speaking to April and learning about her two worlds colliding, finance and philanthropy, and how she manages both successfully on a day-to-day basis.
Q: WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE YOUR CAREER IN FINANCE?
It was literally a complete accident. Someone suggested that I try sales and trading and my response was, “what are we selling and what are we trading?” I literally didn't know anything about finance as an engineering major. I was a sophomore trying to find an internship and I applied for a position at a small hedge fund. Thankfully at the interview, they only asked me math questions, none about finance. I ended up getting the position where I would be working for an options specialist doing equity derivatives on a trading floor. It ended up being so much fun and a great fit for my personality. It’s the exact same thing I’ve been doing for the last thirteen years!
Q: WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST REWARDING ASPECT OF YOUR JOB, AND CONVERSELY THE MOST CHALLENGING?
That trip allowed me to see how incredibly blessed I was to have the life I had in New York and left me with a strong desire to give back and pay it forward. I think often many of us feel blessed but it's turning that energy to something even bigger than ourselves that I think is the turning point of feeling a huge sense of purpose. I realized that as a woman in my mid-twenties with a decent (yet modest) salary, I could do so much good with what I have. It really fueled the start of my journey of service.
Q: TELL US ABOUT YOUR WORK IN HAITI.
The opportunity kind of fell in my lap. I have wanted to commit to a place a bit more near by so that I can make frequent trips and have it be a bigger part of my life and that I can serve the local staff better by building a strong relationship. At first I also started out at an orphanage in the remote part of Haiti. Then as I made more trips and got to know the dynamics better, I realize that I needed a more sustainable way of helping and lifting people up. That's when I came across Sharehope. They're committed to creating living wages jobs to the locals (mostly women) in the garment sector, then give back 100% of their profits back to that community including free breast & cervical cancer screening, high school completion classes at night, sign language and hearing aids for the hard of hearing community, etc. On my most recent and 13th trip to Haiti a few months ago, I got to spend some time in the classrooms and shared how much I admire their tenacity for attending classes at night after a hard day of factory work, and heard about one of our graduates from last year has gone to finishing her first year of law school!
Q: WHAT WAS THE RECEPTION TO YOUR INITIAL FUNDRAISING E-MAIL TO COLLEAGUES?
I was pleasantly surprised by the amazing support of my colleagues! As more people in the firm began to know me as someone who was passionate about giving and community service, it made it a tiny bit easier to send out those emails asking for help. Asking for anything is always hard but I've learned that people appreciate the openness and seeing you as more than just a colleague. Senior managers have told me that they’re really proud of what I’m doing during my promotional meetings or even my annual compensation meetings which was something I never expected.
Another surprising benefit of being more open about my philanthropy is that it brought me closer to my clients and helped me create a really special bond with them. I’ve had clients join me at different volunteer events and ask me how they can help. There’s a special trust and connection I’ve been able to build and it’s made my job that much more rewarding.
Q: TELL US HOW P.S. KITCHEN CAME TO LIFE.
It started as a joke and ended up being one of the hardest things (yet most rewarding thing) I’ve ever done in my life! After one of my trips to Haiti, a friend reached out to me and asked me how much I typically raise from the emails I send out to my network. When I responded, he said I should be dreaming bigger! He asked if I would be interested in creating a business where 100% of the profits goes straight to charity. The idea of having a consistent source of funding for these organizations was really intriguing to me. We found the perfect location next door to my office and realized we had to take it and make this dream a reality!
The initial conversation with my partner happened around April 2014 and we opened the restaurant in the fall of 2017 after many months of construction and preparation. It was absolutely crazy and, to be honest, terrifying to be signing a 15 year lease at the age of 30 in Times Square but I had to go for it!
[about 90% of the restaurant was funded by my partner and I and 10% was funded by other people who asked to be involved. It’s been such an amazing way to bring together generous people from different communities who share the same mission and desire to give 100% of their profits to charity.]
Q: WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE WHO TEND TO FOCUS EXCLUSIVELY ON THEIR CAREER BECAUSE THEY AREN’T SURE HOW TO GET INVOLVED IN COMMUNITY SERVICE?
Generosity is contagious and I am passionate about encouraging others that there’s no step that’s too small to take. Giving back is a muscle just like integrity and character that takes small daily practices to become second nature. Dream about who you want to become one day as we climb the corporate ladder, one truth I hang onto is that you rarely ever meet an unhappy generous person. It can be something as simple as a fundraising email or mentoring after work. Philanthropy doesn’t have to be financial, it’s also about donating your time, your knowledge, and your resources. We all have much more to give than we realize.
Q: HOW DO YOU BALANCE A FULL-TIME JOB IN FINANCE, RUNNING A RESTAURANT, AND YOUR PERSONAL LIFE ALL AT ONCE?
When I did my executive MBA at night while working, it taught me that I can probably handle a lot more than I think I can. I am still learning how to juggle everything and it’s an ongoing process. P.S. Kitchen is in its infancy so I know it needs more of my time now and will eventually be less demanding. I do carve out time for important priorities but I know there are times that it won’t be perfect! Sometimes as women we can get pretty tough on ourselves and the standard, learning how to give myself grace when things aren't done perfectly is a good way to start. There's quote from a christian philosopher that says "anything that's worth doing, is worth doing badly." While is not an excuse for poor efforts, it's the idea of exchanging perfectionism with joy and passion. Practically I really do try to everything as quickly and efficiently as I can as I don't have a whole lot of time to waste!
To learn more about April, check out a podcast she did with Columbia Business School. To learn more about April's restaurant, P.S. Kitchen, please visit her site or swing by the restaurant for your next date night or girls night out - do good while dining!
And while you're at it - check out her work in Haiti and purchase some high quality "Made in Haiti" yoga pants that go back to fund meaningful life-giving work and programs for women workers!