Telling My Wall Street Story

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Over the past two days, I've spent several hours visiting with one of my dear friends, Sally Harker, who I worked with at Smith Barney in the mid '90s. She could, but kindly won't, share a firsthand account of my impressive lack of bounty early in my career.

As close friends often do, Sally gave me some constructive feedback about my blog. Which was — you are encouraging women to tell their story without telling yours. And, for all your readers know, you may be daring them to dream, without having dreamt yourself.

Why don't you share what happened when you first moved to New York?

So, in an attempt to walk-my-talk, here goes:

When I graduated from college at 27 (nope — not a typo), my husband and I were off to New York City, he to pursue a PhD in molecular biology at Columbia, and me to support us.

Beyond knowing that I had no interest in pursuing music (I finally settled on music after changing my major several times and accumulating 180 credits), I had no idea what I wanted to do, nor was I qualified to do much.

To any future employer, my resume (that I put together only after we had arrived in NY) boiled down to: music major + woman = secretary. Indeed, a month after we arrived, I was hired as a secretary at Smith Barney's 1345 Avenue of the Americas office.

As the year progressed and I was less than completely overwhelmed by Manhattan (for the first week I wouldn't go anywhere without my husband or a friend), and I began to understand what Wall Street was, it occurred to me — I'm just as smart as the folks on the professional track (e.g. investment banking analysts). I may not have a degree from Princeton, and I may not be an engineer, but I can do this.

Further motivation to “do this” came as I realized I was going to need to work for a very long time. My husband's PhD would take 6-7 years, his post-doctoral work 3-4, and if I continued to work at a low-paying secretarial job, we would be at the poverty level for a decade or more.

I had a decision to make — job or career, make x or 10x.

Opting for the latter, I began to take business courses at night, while trying to figure out how I was going to jump to the professional track, a jump which would be difficult not only because of my lack of pedigree, but because I was a woman. Also, at nearly 30 years old, I was much older than the typical college graduate.

But a break did come in 1992, nearly 3 1/2 years after arriving in New York. And not surprisingly because of a mentor. My boss at Nomura Securities, Cesar Baez, took a chance on me, bridging for me the often unbridgeable divide between secretary and professional.

You know the rest of the story. If you don't, you can read it on the About page. But, in short, when I left Wall Street in 2005, I had accomplished what I'd set out to do — and more.

Which is why I suppose Sally wanted me to tell my Wall Street story: she knows that I dare to dream, but she wants you to know too.

Are you going to want to figure out what your dream is?

Or do you want to brainstorm about how to make your dream happen?

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