Afsaneh Beschloss
President and CEO, The Rock Creek Group

"Hello, Madam President," James Wolfensohn would greet Afsaneh Beschloss, then his chief investment officer, after a 1998 New York Times interview pegged her as a potential successor to the World Bank president.

Beschloss hasn't claimed that post yet, but Wolfensohn could use the same greeting today, and without jest.

After a 20-year career at the World Bank, Beschloss is now president and CEO of the Rock Creek Group, a global advisory and asset manager, previously called Carlyle Asset Management Group. Beschloss ran the Carlyle Group division from 2001 until 2003, when the private equity firm agreed to sell her a majority stake in it. Carlyle turned it over to her completely two years later.

Beschloss has expanded Rock Creek from only several hundred million dollars to a current $10 billion in assets under management. Its fund of hedge funds outperformed by a wide margin last year. Competitors returned a median 8.67% in 2013, according to the InvestHedge Composite Index. Rock Creek's flagship fund returned 15% to its investors, mostly pension funds. Beschloss' team also managed to beat the MSCI Emerging Markets Index by 4%.

Beschloss may be the only woman to run such a sizable firm of this kind, but at times, it's been easier to ignore that gender-specific superlative. "You almost have to not be a woman, or not be seen as a woman, in order to succeed," she says of the male-dominated world of finance, where trading floor diversity still isn't all that different from the 1980s.

Three decades ago, when Beschloss was starting her career in energy and finance, she was the only woman at Shell International Group Planning in London to be seen in the executive officers' dining room. That environment is changing, albeit slowly. The best way to improve gender balance in the industry, she says, is to be a good mentor, provide leadership and focus on performance.

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