Monica Lai has a big job: She belongs to a team of just three that oversees pharmaceuticals company Pfizer’s $14 billion defined benefit pension plan and is responsible for all alternative investment commitments, including hedge funds, private equity and real estate. Pfizer’s defined benefit investment team also operates without the help of an investment consultant. Lai, 38, grew up in Wichita, Kansas, and attended Stanford University, where she received a BA in public policy. She graduated during the dot-com and investment banking boom; after less than a year as an analyst in investment banking in New York with Merrill Lynch & Co., she was getting offers to join tech banking teams. Instead, she decided to go into restructuring and then private equity. Lai earned an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College before joining Harvest Partners, a New York–based middle-market private equity firm, in 2005. Three years later she moved to Steven Rattner’s Quadrangle Group in New York, which was building out a single-family office. Finding that she enjoyed asset management, Lai jumped at the opportunity to work for New York–based Pfizer, where she could play a major role and invest across asset classes. When she joined as an investment officer in 2010, the hedge fund portfolio was only about 1 percent of total assets, mostly allocated through funds of hedge funds. Lai has grown it to roughly 5 percent, invested directly in a concentrated group of funds.