Valerie (Val) is a “new kind” of Republican. She is of Hispanic-American descent, a first-generation college student, married to a first-generation immigrant. Raised in a single-parent home by her mother, her family lived paycheck to paycheck her entire childhood. Her views have been shaped by her diverse and humble upbringing, and her life was dramatically transformed through education and hard work.
Val attended her local community college and later transferred to the University of California, Berkeley (BA). She self-funded her education through scholarships and working 30 hours per week and became active with the college Republican group. She later went on to earn graduate degrees from Columbia University (MPA) and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (MBA).
Val started her career as the Campaign Manager and Congressional Aide for GOP Congressman Bill Baker (CA-10). She spent over 15 years in the technology and finance industries at leading firms, including UBS, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, Bloomberg, IBM, and Silicon Valley startups. She was one of a handful of women executives and a top performer in Fixed Income Sales & Trading on Wall Street. She left the corporate world at age 39 to launch her family’s private investment office, Zen Capital Partners.
Valerie was born in Daly City, CA, on June 14, 1973 (Flag day) to a Slovenian mother (Renee) and Mexican father (Gus Sr). When she was a year old, her family moved to San Pablo, CA, a predominantly blue-collar, lower middle class, racially diverse town, where she lived for the next 16 years. Her parents divorced just after her first birthday. Her mother was forced to take this extreme step to escape life-threatening domestic violence. Valerie has one older brother, Gus, who is 18 months older and remains her best friend. Her mother was left to raise her two young children by herself, with no financial or emotional support from their father.
Renee joined the Social Security Administration right out of high school in San Francisco, CA, as a GS 3. She spent her entire career in the federal government and retired after 25 years as a GS 12 in Richmond, CA. As a single-parent household, her family lived paycheck to paycheck her entire childhood. No one in her family had ever attended college.
Renee did her best to shield Valerie and her brother, Gus, from the crime in the area and provide as normal a childhood as possible. They were latchkey kids who were responsible for getting themselves to and from school and feeding themselves as their mother left the house typically at 5 AM and returned at 7 PM.
Starting in preschool and through high school, Valerie grew up with a highly diverse group of kids from other low-income families. Valerie never took the SAT and didn’t really plan on going to college. Her brother, Gus, served as a role model for her that set the stage for Valerie’s future academic and professional success.
With limited family financial resources, they had to figure out a way to self-fund their college education, which they did by working part-time and through scholarships. Val and Gus would go on to become first-generation college students, first-generation graduate students, graduate from Berkeley and Wharton and build successful careers in Technology, Finance, Politics, and Real Estate.
Instead of a traditional four-year college, Val and Gus initially attended their local community college before transferring to the University of California, Berkeley. She self-funded her education through scholarships and by working 30 hours a week at Wells Fargo Bank. She graduated from Berkeley with no debt, while volunteering, working, and maintaining top grades.
She later graduated from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University (MPA), where she received several academic scholarships and was a teaching assistant in statistics. She also attended The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned an MBA (Finance).
Val spent over 15 years in finance, technology, and politics working at leading global firms, including UBS, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, Bloomberg, IBM, and Silicon Valley startups.
She started volunteering for GOP Congressman Bill Baker (CA-10) while at Berkeley. Upon graduation, she joined his campaign as his Campaign Manager and Congressional Aide. During her tenure, she worked on the signature legislation to fund and extend Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) to San Francisco airport.
After her tenure with the Congressman Baker, she went to graduate school at Columbia University. She joined IBM Global Services upon graduation, where she led technology teams to develop and implement web applications for the city of New York. In 1999, she returned to the Bay area to join a Silicon Valley startup in the emerging and rapidly growing Internet industry. When the economy turned in 2001, she left to get her MBA from Wharton. Upon graduation from Wharton, Val was among a handful of women to join a Fixed Income Sales & Trading group on Wall Street, where she was a top performer. She left the corporate world at age 39, to launch and run her family’s private investment office, Zen Capital Partners.
Valerie saw her mother work 14-hour days, almost every day, to provide for the family, which laid the foundation of her own grit and perseverance. As a role model, her maternal grandparents and mother, Renee instilled in Val and Gus the power of hard work, financial responsibility, and living within one's means.
Renee taught the children to adapt and thrive, no matter what challenges in life. She made her children promise that they would create a better life for themselves. She constantly reminded them about the abundant opportunities available in America, to anyone willing to work hard and take risks.
Given their circumstances, the children had to earn their allowances and work harder and smarter, get up, and dust themselves if they fell down and keep trying. These were the foundational guiding principles that allowed Valerie and Gus to change the trajectory of their lives - through education and perseverance.
Val is married to a first-generation immigrant and has lived in six states in the US and has traveled extensively across the US, Europe, and Asia. She met her husband, S. Brian Mukherjee, almost 20 years ago, while working in the technology industry in San Francisco, CA. They have two middle school children. As a woman, Val has experienced first-hand the agony of a miscarriage, a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy, as well as the joy of two live, healthy births.
Brian is a first-generation immigrant from India, a technology executive, and private equity investor. He came to Iowa as a graduate student with $250, a one-way ticket and a dream. Starting his career as an engineer, he later served as the CEO or division head of several US and International public and private companies, where he helped build, transform and exit several companies in the internet, mobile and software sectors. Subsequently, he helped launch a first-time Chicago based private equity fund. He now invests in early-stage technology companies. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering and an MBA from Chicago Booth.
Brian and his older brother were raised in a military family in India. Both their parents were born in Bangladesh and came to India as refugees around the partition in 1947. Through sheer grit and determination, his father self-funded his way through medical school in India by tutoring kids in exchange for room and board. He subsequently joined the Army Medical Corps and retired as a (Brigadier) General after 30+ years of service. Brian’s maternal grandmother, Pratibha, dropped out of school and was married at age 16. She became a widow at age 24, when her husband died unexpectedly of cholera, age 32, while she was pregnant with her third child. With the help of her father, a Ph.D. historian, and the curator of the Dhaka museum, Pratibha finished high school, put herself through college and graduate school, and subsequently became a college principal and raised her three kids as a single mother. Brian’s mother followed in his grandmother’s footsteps, put herself through college and graduate school, and also become a college professor. Brian’s brother joined the merchant marine right out of high school. He became one of the youngest captains of trans-continental oil and gas tankers in the company’s fleet.
Over the last 15 years, Valerie and her family have lived in California, Washington, Connecticut, New York, and Illinois, often relocating for either her or her husband’s job. She has traveled extensively across the US and internationally in Europe, Latin America, and Asia.