Five Questions For … Houston Angel Network Chief Juliana Garaizar

Houston—Juliana Garaizar, managing director of the Houston Angel Network, is used to dealing with big egos and strong personalities in both the investing and tech worlds.

“If it’s up to me, I try to work as little as possible with them and be very careful with them,” she says. “If it’s not up to me, I try to make sure the relationship is very fact-based. I try to prevent things from turning into a problem of personalities, rather than a business problem by sticking to the facts.”

Garaizar has worked and lived in Europe and Asia, working in a variety of financial sector jobs, including for the financial services firm Citigroup (NYSE: C). But her strategy for dealing with difficult personalities comes in part, from experience reconciling a charismatic, globe-trotting father whose self-absorption imploded her childhood family.

“He found what he was looking for: a less independent women, someone who thought he was everything and would demonstrate that to him every day,” she says.

For our latest “Five Questions For … ,” we speak to Garaizar about the importance of humility, a piece of advice she’d offer Marie Curie, and valuing passion more than money. Here is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

Xconomy: What did you want to be when you were a kid?

Juliana Garaizar: When I was a kid, I had two ideas. One was a banker because my grandfather was the first director of the BBVA stock exchange. I was born in Bilbao, Spain, and this was when it was only BB, Bank of Bilbao. He was in the main building; it was iconic, and had an office on the top floor. I would go up there and think I want to be like granddad when I grow up.

I also wanted to be an explorer and travel the world, like on safaris. That comes from my father. Every year, he would take a month to backpack around the world. He would bring back amazing pictures. I knew all these places by heart before I ever traveled to them: Machu Picchu, India. They made me dream.

X: Where do you think your drive comes from?

JG: It comes from my mom. I have a family with very, very strong women. I’m from the Basque region of Spain; women there are normally what we call a matriarchal society because many of the men fish and are sailors so they are outside for many months at a time. The women in the family not only have to be in charge of everything in the house but [also] need to take care of the budget. My mom took care of us most of the time, so much so that my dad could go out on trips for a month without seeing us. My mom was always there; she was extremely resourceful and very resilient.

One of the things I learned from here was humility. In my family, we are pretty intellectual. My dad is an architect and lawyer; my mom is a professor. She speaks seven languages as a Latin and Greek professor. But I think my mom has always tried to keep us grounded.

There were many occasions where my dad would say, ‘You don’t appreciate my achievements enough.’ My mom would say, ‘We all have achieved so much; it’s great.’ My dad told me that he needed fans, that we didn’t believe he was special. That’s one of the reasons my father left. When I was 30 years old, he remarried, and has a daughter around 2 years old. He married his secretary; it’s pretty cliché.

My father totally forgot about us; he’s not in contact with us any longer. When I realized he was not going to be there with us, I didn’t look for him either. This reinforces the fact that ego is very dangerous. My dad is a very egotistical person and my mom was always trying to keep us grounded.

That was the hardest experience I had to endure. You always believe that parents’ love is unconditional. I was very close to my dad; we both had this explorer side. My mom always said I was the one who looked more like him, my character was like him, very outgoing. ‘Til today, when I make a joke she’ll say, ‘You’re just like your father.’ I’m also the one who drew a line with him. My brother and my sister say, ‘OK, I accept whatever he has to give me even if it’s just Christmas presents for my kids.’ But I didn’t feel comfortable; I’d rather not have it. I don’t want to have to explain to my kids why do they have a granddad who doesn’t care for you [except for one time a year].

Now, there are people in my work environment that are very ego-driven. … I’ve learned to speak out and defend both HAN and my members from these people and prevent members who might not be a right fit. I had trouble with some members at HAN, who were very toxic and tried to destroy not only HAN but our Halo Fund. The vetting process is now much more delicate and I would say the HAN board trusts my intuition on who is a good cultural fit. It’s not just experience and curriculum but the fit within the culture.

X: How do you relax outside of work when you want to tune out the noise?

JG: I love nature; that’s my thing. I would say give me a patch of green and I would be the happiest. I would need to be in a park under a tree, with a book and I can totally replenish. That’s my way of meditating and emptying my mind out.

Of course, I still travel, now with kids, so less adventurously then when I lived in Asia, when every weekend, I was diving or hiking. I still think it’s very good education for my kids to be able to see other countries. Last spring break, I was invited to Chile to help launch a new angel network in Latin America. We traveled to five cities in five days. They asked me to try to select entrepreneurs out of the 50 that applied to the program. We selected five amazing women entrepreneurs that have the opportunity to pitch to 700 angel investors. It was an amazing experience. I brought my family over to travel around Chile and then we went to Easter Island. My son turned 6 during that trip. He said it was the best birthday ever. Whenever he is not at school, he would like to travel. We are [raising] another explorer.

X: If you could go back in time and get five minutes with any major historical figure, who would it be, and what would you want to say to them?

JG: Marie Curie, the first woman to have the Nobel prize, and actually, she has two. What she achieved was pretty incredible. What I’d like to know is, first of all, how the relationship with her husband worked, how they were able to work together. She was … included in the first Nobel prize they shared. I’m very curious about that relationship, just because sometimes I would like to apply some of that with my husband, and make sure we promote each other as much as we can. And I would tell her to protect herself from all the radiation so we could have Marie Curie for longer.

I have quite a few women in science friends in France. It’s pretty crazy how they are still dealing with a lot of issues just because they are women and not given the same chances as men. That’s the thing—I’m pretty surprised at how far she got given the time was much more difficult, and how she was able to publish all her work as soon as it was discovered. That was essential to be [given credit], to put her name on all the discoveries that otherwise would have been claimed by men, most probably.

X: What career advice do you give to new college graduates?

JG: I would say be careful about money over passion. I guess when you finish college you just want to make sure you have a good-paying job and can repay all your loans. And I guess you need to have [a big company] on your CV to get some credibility and learn how they do things.

I was pretty miserable at my job at Citigroup. I ended up hating it. It was more politics involved than real work and impact. I realized corporations were not for me. I know that I would have been happier if I had discovered that earlier on. I think that many college graduates and students decided what college to pick and are looking to how much money they could make as to what they think the idea of success is. My granddad was my role model so I went to banking … but I was miserable. Learning who you are, and not getting caught up in success because of what others think is success is important. You need to figure out what works for you and that takes a lot of self-awareness.

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