Vice President at Blackstone
During a recent conversation, Alyson Sandwick shared her passion for accounting and how she’s become more intentional about her time in the past year.
What were your early years like?
I grew up outside of Baltimore, Maryland, with my two parents and older sister. As a kid, I really liked math and science. I especially liked puzzles, problem solving, and logic. But my big dream was to be on Broadway. I actually went to a middle school and high school that focused on the performing arts.
How did you go from dreams of Broadway to finance?
There’s such an element of luck when it comes to making it in the performing arts, and I wanted to be able to feel like my hard work would be rewarded. So, I still love singing and going to Broadway musicals, but I took a more traditional career path. I started studying business at the University of Southern California, and one of my core requirements was to take accounting 101, which, it turned out, I really liked. It aligned with my way of thinking, and I liked having it as the language of business. Like a little bit of a code, and sort of like a logic puzzle that you’re trying to solve. I decided to continue down the accounting path, and to maintain a more market-facing element, I also double majored in finance.
What drew you to PwC?
I really liked all the people I met at PwC during the recruiting process. Even though they had different backgrounds, and did different things, I could tell that the culture was the right fit for me. Then I learned about the capital markets accounting advisory services group, which was really interesting because it meant working on structuring transactions, and that's where I spent the first eight years of my career.
Any lasting lessons that stay with you now?
Definitely being invested in people's mentorship and development. Always having an open door policy. And, on the more technical side, being sure to read the full scope of the accounting guidance. That one may sound basic, but it can be overlooked and it’s so important. Overall, PwC just gave me a great foundation, and I still feel very close to so many people. The power of the network is very real.
Now that you’re at Blackstone, what’s your day-to-day work like?
As our head of accounting strategy and policy, my work falls into two buckets: I spend about half of my time supporting Blackstone Inc. as a public company, so my team is involved with any transaction that affects our financial reporting and I’m also increasingly involved with our ESG initiatives. The other half of my time is spent supporting our deal teams, our portfolio companies, and our fund accounting teams in an advisory role. It’s great because I get to see so many different pieces of the organization. It’s been a really energizing, engaging experience.
How would you describe yourself as a leader?
Someone once told me that I have a quiet leadership style, which resonates with me. As a leader, I try to make space for others, not immediately chime in, and give other people the opportunity to try things out. I also think appreciation is a huge component of leadership. There are lots of things I can’t control in our day-to-day, week-to-week work. But what I can control is making sure that my team knows I see their contributions, I appreciate the work that they're doing, and I understand their value.
How did things change for you during the pandemic?
The biggest thing that changed for me, personally, is I became a mom during the pandemic, and I have a one-year-old son now. So that experience has really changed my approach to work. My daily schedule looks different than it did a year ago because I’m intentional about my time. I also have greater clarity about why I work. It's an important piece of who I am—to problem solve and to be intellectually engaged in challenging, smart conversations with people—and I appreciate that.
Reflecting on your career at this point, what makes you most proud?
When I started here at Blackstone, our team didn't really exist. We built it from scratch. So that’s been both challenging, and rewarding, to see the value that the organization places on what we can provide. Also, I’m still quite proud of getting my CFA charter, which I did while working at PwC. There wasn't anyone who tapped me on the shoulder and said, "You should go do that." But I thought it would serve me well, and it has benefited me tremendously. I use a lot of what I learned from that process today, and it’s a good reminder that there’s value in taking the initiative to better ourselves.
Outside of work, what makes you happiest?
Spending time with my son is a joy. I can just sit there and watch him as he plays with whatever little toy he's got, figuring it out. My husband and I are also pretty adventurous, and we love to travel—hiking, skiing, going to the beach. We're both scuba certified, and he’s trying to teach me how to surf. Of course, all of that stuff is harder with a baby, but we're trying to find ways to still work it in.
What’s the best advice you can offer to others?
Be gentle with yourself. I think a lot of us, myself included, tend to get focused on a destination, but it’s important to also enjoy where you are. So, try not to let your anxiety about the future take away from what you're doing now, and stay open to exploring new possibilities that appear along the way.