First-generation College Student
First-generation Graduate Student
Married to a First-generation Immigrant
Wall Street, Silicon Valley Executive
Wife, Mother, Athlete, Coach
NOT a Career Politician
Val 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 Val 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. Their house was burglarized when she was a child. Given there was nothing of value to steal in their house, the criminals instead took the two family dogs, Boxers – Bo and Tanya. Growing up, Val often worried she would be "stolen" from her home.
Starting in preschool and through high school, Val grew up with a highly diverse group of kids from other low-income families. Val never took the SAT and did not 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 grants and by working 30 hours a week at Wells Fargo Bank as a teller. She graduated from Berkeley debt-free, while volunteering, working, and maintaining top grades.
She later attended two Ivy league universities and 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 firms, such as UBS, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, Bloomberg, IBM, and Silicon Valley startups.
She started volunteering for GOP Congressman Bill Baker (CA-10) while she was at Berkeley. Upon graduation, she joined his campaign as his Campaign Manager and Congressional Aide and was one of the youngest women in the country in these roles. 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. As 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.
Growing up, Val saw her mother work 14-hour days, six days a week, to provide for the family. She taught the children to adapt and thrive, no matter the challenges and made them promise that they would create a better life for themselves. She taught them about the abundant opportunities 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 going. Val’s maternal grandfather worked a blue-collar job at an envelope manufacturing factory in San Francisco, CA. Her grandmother raised four kids on an extremely tight budget. These were the foundations of Val’s lessons in grit, perseverance, and the motivation to live responsibly.
Val met her husband, S. Brian Mukherjee, a technology executive turned investor almost 20 years ago while working at an Internet startup in San Francisco, CA. Brian is a first-generation immigrant from India, whose parents fled Bangladesh as refugees during the partition in 1947. Brian’s father went on to graduate from medical school, joined the Indian Army, and retired as a Brigadier General. His mother was a college professor and later led a non-profit organization serving military families. Brian came to Iowa State University on a full scholarship to pursue graduate studies in engineering and later earned an MBA from Chicago Booth. After working as an engineer and a management consultant, he joined the emerging Internet industry in the late-1990s. He later served as the CEO of several public and private technology companies, where he built, transformed, and exited several Internet, mobile, and software companies. He also helped launch a Chicago-based private equity fund before starting his own venture equity firm that invests in earlier stage technology startups.
Val and Brian have two school-age children, a son (14) and a daughter (11), and live in Winnetka, IL. As a mother, Val experienced first-hand the agony of a miscarriage, a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy, as well as the joy of two live, healthy births. A lifelong athlete, Val started playing tennis five years ago and rose quickly through the USTA rankings. She competed in local, state, and national tournaments, and represented her local club at the Women’s Nationals in 2017. She taught both her children to play golf and tennis and coaches her daughter’s tennis and basketball teams.
Over the last 15 years, Val and her family have lived in 5 states - CA, WA, CT, NY and IL, relocating often for their jobs. Her children have attended over 15 different schools across various states and types of learning, from gifted and talented, to private, to progressive and traditional. She has traveled extensively across the US and internationally, in Europe and Asia.