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Elizabeth and Lindsay Burton: “Can I Brag About My Sister for a Minute?”

December 03, 2016 | Filed in: Woman of the Week

Lindsay and Elizabeth Burton are the type of finish-each-other’s-sentences sisters that everyone wishes they had. And although they insist that they’re totally different, their careers are equally impressive: Elizabeth (who is older by a little over a year) manages the investment portfolio for the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System, while Lindsay runs a financial consulting company in Charlottesville, VA, as well as the Kayo Conference Series, which brings together women in the private equity field. They stopped by the MM offices earlier this month to chat about work ruts, motherhood, and learning calculus in elementary school.

First, Some Introductions

Lindsay: Can I brag about my sister for a minute? In a three-month period, Liz had a baby, started a brand-new job running a $4 billion hedge fund portfolio for the state of Maryland, and she moved into a new house. And her nickname at work is “Iron Lady,” because she’s such a tough negotiator. Some people worry about stepping on toes when they start a new job, but she walked in, looked at the portfolio, and said, “Here are the issues, and this is how we’ll move forward.” I think she’s amazing.

Elizabeth: And Lindsay does everything. Most entrepreneurs start a company when they’re 23 and living in Silicon Valley—not when they have two children, a husband, and a mortgage—but Lindsay did it a couple of years ago, right after her son was born. Now, she not only has a great financial advisory business, but she runs this huge conference that’s known among the biggest names in private equity. Now, everywhere I go, people ask me if I’m related to Lindsay Burton. The crazy thing is, Lindsay used to be very shy. I was the outgoing one, and Lindsay would hide behind our mom’s skirts when we were little kids. But now she’s the one who walks into a room and gets names.

Elizabeth and Lindsay Burton

From left: Elizabeth wears the Lydia dress in pinstripe, and Lindsay wears the Etsuko dress in tile.

On Style

Lindsay: We’re very different. For me, it’s more about function and utility. I want to feel good, and I want to blend into the mood of wherever I am. For a long time I tried to dress like a man, because I work in a man’s world—I wore pantsuits, but I never really felt comfortable. And now I’ve found the right mix: I feel feminine, but I also have a sense of confidence, power, and fit. 

Elizabeth: Lindsay is more classic, and I always try to be fashion-forward and not look like anybody else. It’s my worst nightmare to have someone dressed the same as me. I always try to push the edge. But as I get further in my career, I have to be a little more conservative. Wearing booties may not seem edgy, but when you’re in hedge funds, it is.

On Parenthood

Elizabeth: Once, when I was really stressed out, Lindsay said to me, “You can only do two of these three things well: You can have friends, you can have family, or you can have your career. Which two do you want?” And I’ve really chosen family and career, but I think that’s why Lindsay and I are best friends. We don’t have a lot of time to go hang out with other girls, so it’s made us super close.

Lindsay: I think you have to prioritize as you go through life, and sometimes one thing is the focus, and other things take a backseat. You just have to pick and choose where to spend your time and energy. For me, I have family, I have work, and I have my health—I go to the gym every day. Right now, friends are not as much of a priority, but I have my sister.

Elizabeth and Lindsay Burton

From left: Elizabeth wears the Lydia dress in tweed, and Lindsay wears the Harlem skirt with the square belt and the Didion top in eclipse.

On Their Upbringing

Lindsay: Our dad is an economics professor, and he’s always doing a hundred things at once. He’s a mad scientist type, and for him, work is fun. He’ll work during our beach vacations. He hasn’t retired; he’s 74 years old. Our mom is very different, but still extremely creative and entrepreneurial. She’s always full of ideas.

Elizabeth: When we were young, I think our mom’s passion was being a mother. But once we were older, she started all these other businesses—she made and sold her own jewelry, and a few years ago, she started this comfort food business where she makes and delivers nutritious meals. 

On Learning Calculus in Elementary School

Lindsay: When we were in elementary school, our dad used to take us to his classroom during the summer and teach us calculus. He made his own little textbook for us, and he would give us grades.

Elizabeth: Lindsay got B’s and C’s, and I think he gave me C’s and D’s. When you’re learning calculus in fifth grade, and the only other person in the class is your younger sister, who’s doing better than you—that was pretty crappy. I don’t think I would do that to my children. But our dad was trying to help us, and guide us.

Lindsay: He pushed us really hard. Now that I’m a parent, I want to let my kids figure out what they’re good at, but I also want to set a high bar, and I think our father certainly did that.

Elizabeth: Our dad always says, “If people ask you a question you don’t like, change the question; if you don’t like your job, change the job description.” And I think we’ve both applied that to our lives. Our dad is totally self-made, and there were no handouts. He was our soccer coach when we were little, and we were probably two of the best players on the team, but he would never play us. He didn’t want people to think he had favorites.

On Surprising Career Paths

Elizabeth: I outright rejected the math and economics that my dad taught us when we were younger. I majored in French and politics in college, and I told my dad that economics was dumb—I was like, “I know supply and demand are related. I don’t know how you built a career out of it.” Then, after college, I quickly found out that the high-paying jobs happen to be in the finance industry, so I ended up there. I’ve worked in mortgages, I’ve worked in consulting, I’ve worked in M&A, and now hedge funds.

Lindsay: I used to be in corporate finance, doing deals in a high-rise building in New York, and the job never really got me excited. What I do now involves people, and that’s what I love. When I do consulting for another company, it’s usually a family-run business or a cool entrepreneur who’s invested their blood, sweat, and tears into what they’re doing. The human side of work is really important to me, and I think I get that from our mom, not our dad. Our mom is very kind and sensitive, and she brings people together. Starting the conference series was a whim; I began it as a side project, and then realized how much I enjoy putting people in a room and watching them interact.

Elizabeth and Lindsay Burton

From left: Lindsay wears the Alexa dress in pebble, and Elizabeth wears the Emily dress in deep forest.

On Supporting Each Other

Elizabeth: After I had my first child, in 2014, I had two very difficult years. I was looking for a new job, and none of my interviews were going well. It started to pile up, all this doubt— “Am I smart? Can I do this? I’m an idiot. I’m never going to have a job again.” It seemed like every effort I made kept falling flat. And then this opportunity for my current job came along, and it worked out. Lindsay was very instrumental in helping me get through those two years, and making me think hard about what I wanted.

Lindsay: Liz is my biggest cheerleader. She likes every single one of my LinkedIn posts. Sometimes I have moments when I wonder if I’m doing things right, or if I’m qualified, and Liz has always had my back. It’s a great license to take risks when you know there’s one person who truly doesn’t believe you’re capable of failure. That’s been a huge backstop for me. And if someone slights me in any way, even if I get over it in a week, Liz never forgets it.

On Getting It Done

Elizabeth: Before I had kids, I used to work constantly. But now I think, “There’s only so much I can get done. What are the high-level things? What can I delegate?” I also worked out a schedule with my current job where I’m there from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and then I go spend time with the kids; my husband takes care of them in the morning, so we switch off.

Lindsay: My routine is set, and it’s non-negotiable. I go to the gym at 5:00 a.m. every single day, like clockwork. And when I come home in the evening, I make dinner, put my kids to bed, and read them their stories every night. If I have to work a little bit afterward, that’s fine—but I’m unavailable for work-related things when I’m with them. When I’m not on my routine, I really struggle. 

Elizabeth and Lindsay Burton

From left: Elizabeth wears the Lydia dress in tweed, and Lindsay wears the Didion top in eclipse.

On Dressing for Work

Elizabeth: I found MM on Facebook about a year ago, and I bought a few things. Then I had a baby in March, and I felt really down about my looks because I’d gained about 25 pounds from pregnancy. My husband wanted to buy me some new clothes, and he asked my sister if she could recommend anything. She said, “I don’t know if Elizabeth’s going to like this, because we have different styles, but I think it’s great,” and she sent him a link to MM.LaFleur. Story of our lives: We always find out that we’re into the same things, even though we don’t think we’re alike. I used to change my outfit five times a day before walking out the door, but now I can’t do that—I get to the office at 7:00 a.m., so I get up at 4:30 a.m. My go-to is the Sarah dress—I think I own five of them. And the jardigan! I wear mine every day.

Lindsay: I feel like MM found me. I saw the Bento Box, and I thought, “These people are smarter than I am about clothes, and I hate shopping. I’m going to try this.” It makes a lot of sense for women like us—we don’t want to waste time. I think the budget is an issue, too. You want high-quality clothing, but you don’t need $500 designer dresses. You want variety, and you want to be able to refresh your wardrobe seasonally without spending all your money on it. My favorite is the Etsuko. If I have to roll out of bed and go straight to a meeting, that’s what I always put on. I also have the Alexandra in black. I feel great in that dress.

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Charlotte Cowles is a New York-based writer​ ​and editor.​ ​Her work has been published in New York Magazine,​ Harper's Bazaar,​ and Art in America. She'd always rather be at book club. Read more of Charlotte's posts.

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