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Paving the Way

Meet Five Women Pioneers in the Demanding World of High Finance

By Amy Merrick | Photos by Chris Strong

As a junior investment banker in J.P. Morgan's New York office, Susan Elolampi, '01, found herself in a meeting room with 40 men, all arguing over the wording of a prospectus. Determined not to be intimidated, she spoke up - and the room got quiet. The second time she spoke, the same thing happened. By the end of the meeting, her managing director was quietly asking her to make his points for him because people were listening to her. "I thought, 'Hold on a second, I'm different and it works,'" she said.

The experience started a pattern that has repeated many times during Elolampi's career: first, she would be noticed for being in the minority; then, she would earn respect by demonstrating her knowledge.

Elolampi is among dozens of women graduates who have used their Booth education to ascend to top positions in the male-dominated banking and finance industries. For younger women starting in their careers, following in the path of these pioneers requires creativity, flexibility, and determination. Many women enter the field, yet relatively few reach the top ranks.

A lack of female role models can discourage younger women from staying in finance. And the exceptionally long hours and frequent travel can make it difficult to balance family demands. In the decade from 2002 to 2012, 200,000 women left the financial and insurance industries, while 237,000 men joined those fields, according to an August report by Institutional Investor, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Women are particularly underrepresented on Wall Street and in the executive suites. And when the financial industry contracts, as it did following the 2008 market crash, more women than men choose to leave or are pushed out of the field.

Yet here are the stories of five Booth graduates who have made it work. They considered the obstacles they faced as motivation to work harder and prove themselves. Several, after starting their careers in one field, later shifted roles. All viewed their work as one important aspect of a well-rounded life - a perspective, they say, that has made them better leaders and mentors.

These five executives - whose jobs span the globe, from Chicago, Dallas, and New York to London and Singapore - in recent interviews talked about their intense and rewarding careers. They also offered advice to peers, job candidates, and companies to help the next generation of women MBAs achieve the same level of success.

THE CEO

Roxanne Martino, '88, began her career as an accountant for Coopers & Lybrand, with many of her clients in the steel and manufacturing industries. "I didn't see anyone who martinolooked like me in those boardrooms," she said. When Coopers began performing audits for hedge funds - an industry then in its infancy that focused primarily on commodities - Martino volunteered for that group. Around the same time, she enrolled at Booth. After her first semester, she was hired to run back-office operations and quickly assumed portfolio management responsibilities for asset manager Grosvenor Capital Management in Chicago, where she worked while earning her MBA.

At Booth, Martino was a rare student already working in finance, so she could immediately put her studies to use. She particularly remembers a class on boardroom dynamics: "It was helpful in regard to maneuvering a high-powered group to wind up in the place you want them to be," she said.

After graduation, Martino helped Grosvenor and investment manager Harris Associates launch a joint-venture fund of hedge funds called Aurora. Twenty-six years later, she is CEO of Aurora Investment Management LLC, overseeing $10 billion in capital.

Working in the hedge-fund industry wasn't the first time Martino found herself surrounded by men. She grew up with two older brothers and attended the University of Notre Dame at a time when the school had only 800 women and about 8,000 men. Still, early in her career, she was sometimes stung by unfair treatment. When a male peer was promoted ahead of her and she asked the head of personnel about it, she remembers being told, "He's a family man and has two kids." Comments like that are "ingrained in my memory forever," but she worked hard not to be distracted by these biases.

Martino attributes her success to both confidence and training, stemming from her experiences at Booth. Potential investors pay closer attention once she describes her education, she said. "There's an amazing level of credibility that Booth gives you that you are going to have a hard time getting anywhere else," she said.

She also transmits that confidence to those who work with her. Nearly 20 years ago, Martino hired Scott Schweighauser, then a derivatives trader at ABN Amro, to become a hedge-fund analyst at Harris Associates. Today, he is Aurora's president. "Her real genius is that she stirs people's own imaginations that they can be wildly successful," he said.

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Martino wants more women to imagine themselves in senior finance roles. For that to happen, they need to broaden their networks - but male colleagues also need to make an effort, said Martino, a member of the Chicago Network, which aims to increase the representation of women in executive roles and on boards of directors. Female director candidates often are overlooked because no current board member knows them well enough to vouch for them, she said.

Martino and her husband of 35 years, Rocco, have long navigated the pressures of having both spouses work in finance. (Rocco Martino is cofounder of private-equity firm LaSalle Capital Group.) They have two sons, ages 27 and 15.

Their rule is that one parent is always in town, and the couple keeps a shared four-month calendar to schedule their travel. "People hear that and say, 'Well, that's easy, because you're CEO, and he runs his firm,'" she said. "But we've always done this. We've made a commitment to finding time together, finding time for work, and most importantly, finding time for our children."

THE COMMERCIAL BANKER

wong"Males only need apply." The year was 1982, and Jeanette Wong, '02, (AXP-1), replied to the ad specifically so she could ask the interviewer why Banque Paribas required a man for the job. It turned out the position involved travel from Singapore to Indonesia, and the bank was skittish about sending a woman on her own. But they were impressed with Wong, so they created another corporate banking role for her.

From there, she moved to Citibank's Singapore office, where she worked in private banking for two years before switching to investment banking at J.P. Morgan, also in Singapore. She spent 16 years working her way up to running the global-markets and emerging-markets businesses in Asia, as well as serving as J.P. Morgan's head for Singapore, while studying in Booth's Executive MBA Program Asia.

As her career was advancing, Wong also was raising two sons, so she tried to schedule her days to be home for dinner. Working on J.P. Morgan's sales and trading desk, that often meant arriving for work at 4 or 5 a.m. Still, her job required a lot of travel. Wong remembers her younger son coming home from school in first grade suggesting that she change her career so she wouldn't have to travel. His friend's mom worked at a local company, he pointed out, where she never had to be away.

On the road, Wong encouraged her children to call her any time - when she was visiting New York, her cell phone would ring at 2 a.m. "I was always available to them," she recalled. Her sons are now in their early twenties, "and the effort they make to have dinner with my husband and me reflects the effort we made to be with them when they were young," she said.

At work, Wong combined her sense of fairness with her sense of humor. Lay Hoon Kuok, a former J.P. Morgan managing director, recalled the day an executive accidentally emailed Wong and her male cohead on the trading floor a file containing confidential information about both of their compensation packages. Kuok was sent to ask them not to open it. She found the two laughing: "If I ever discover that you get paid one dollar more than me, I'm going to quit," Kuok remembered Wong joking to her partner. They agreed not to open the file.

After years of being subject to the whims of the market - at J.P. Morgan, Wong was cohead of foreign exchange and emerging markets for Asia during the financial crisis there - she welcomed a switch to commercial banking. With its emphasis on longer-term relationship building, a new role at DBS Group in Singapore gave Wong more predictability in her schedule and rewarded her ability to establish rapport with clients. "You still need to know where rates are going, but it's not like waiting for the G7 meeting to end or to find out what Bernanke's going to say," she said. "The pace is entirely different."

Wong joined DBS in 2003 as CFO. Five years later, she moved into her current role as group executive of institutional banking, which includes corporate banking, strategic advisory, and mergers and acquisitions. She oversees a $3.7 billion business, with about 3,000 employees spanning Asia, London, and Los Angeles. Working with corporate clients, "you always feel like you are playing a role in facilitating how the whole economy moves," she said.

Derrick Goh, who served as Wong's CFO and COO, credits her with helping to double the size of the corporate bank in just over four years, in part by building trust between employees who had been reluctant to share information. "She adopted a style that is much more open, and today, people readily talk about what can be done to help customers grow and meet their business objectives in the highly competitive Asian market," Goh said.

THE CFO

When Karen Lynch Parkhill, '92, was a junior investment banker working in the mergers and acquisitions group at J.P. Morgan, she decided that if she wanted to control her parkhillnext career move, she would have to ask for it directly. She called Randy Lyon, the former head of J.P. Morgan's Chicago office, surprising him at home one Sunday night, to say she wanted to work for him.

While Parkhill's bypassing the human resources department might have ruffled feathers, Lyon was impressed with her candor and enthusiasm, and she soon transferred from New York.

"For me, it's gratifying to see that somebody with Karen's good personal characteristics is succeeding because she's the kind of person that you root for," said Lyon, now the vice chairman of Milwaukee-based Robert W. Baird & Co. "It's good to see that winning out over greed or sharp elbows."

Parkhill spent 16 years in investment banking - three at Rauscher Pierce Refsnes, Inc. and 13 at J.P. Morgan, where she landed after attending Booth. "As I ran on the corporate treadmill, I was always focused on that next step," said Parkhill, winner of Booth's Distinguished Young Alumni Award in 2008. First, she wanted to prove to herself that she could make vice president, then managing director. Over time, she grew dissatisfied, worried that she was an absent mother, since her job took her away from home three or four days a week, to a different city each day. Parkhill and husband Jeffrey Parkhill, '92, whom she met at Booth, have twin sons, now 14, and a six-year-old daughter.

In 2004, during what she calls a "serendipitous" car ride with then-JP Morgan Chase & Co. president Jamie Dimon, (now chairman and CEO), Parkhill hinted interest in a change. Dimon said he recognized that the lifestyle of an investment banker, particularly for someone with young children, could be difficult and eagerly pointed out other roles at the bank. "The prospect of a different job was exciting - but I didn't know what I wanted to do," she said.

She requested a yearlong sabbatical. When she returned to work, she transferred into commercial banking, which turned out to be the perfect move to reconcile the elements of her life. "I loved having time with my kids, but I fully recognized that I needed a meaningful career," Parkhill said. "I came to appreciate that there were great, smart, powerful women outside of investment banking, which - up until that point - had been the realm in which I had wanted to prove myself as a woman."

Parkhill was appointed CFO of Chase's commercial bank, and she had to get up to speed quickly. "To take on the job at a very high level without the background says a lot about her capacity to learn and develop," said Todd Maclin, then Parkhill's boss as CEO of the commercial bank and now chairman of Chase's consumer businesses and the commercial bank.

Richard Wade, who was chief risk officer for the commercial bank during the financial crisis, recalled Parkhill's calm, impeccable presentations to regulators and her ability to create harmony between the risk and finance departments. "When people are under stress, that's the best time to measure them," he said. "She liked being in the middle of the fray."

In 2011, she moved to Dallas for an even bigger job: vice chairman and CFO of Comerica, a financial services company with assets of nearly $65 billion. Not only does she oversee the typical finance functions, such as treasury and investor relations, but she's also in charge of operations, technology, compliance, and strategy.

Parkhill would like to see more women reach the C-suite. She echoed Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's COO, in saying women need to take responsibility for "leaning in" to their careers. But she also said some men need to be enlightened about women's leadership potential. "I do think there are men in decision-making roles who carry conscious and subconscious biases," she said. "And how do you break down those biases? You surround them by ambitious, competent women."

In her office, Parkhill keeps a reminder of her Booth education: a scrimshaw paperweight from Howard Haas, retired adjunct professor of strategic management, who taught her leadership class. The paperweight shows an Alaskan sled pulled by a team of dogs, and the inscription reads, "If you are not the lead dog, the view never changes." 

THE INVESTMENT BANKER

elolampiParkhill recruited Susan Elolampi to J.P. Morgan at a women's event in 1999, when Elolampi was a first-year Booth student applying for internships. "There are so many things she does well," Elolampi said of Parkhill. "She is smart and has great relationships - and I observed and learned so much from her."

Elolampi, now a managing director in J.P. Morgan's London office in the financial sponsor investment-banking coverage team, realized early on that she couldn't just sit at her desk hoping to be noticed. She kept a matrix of people she wanted to work with and asked to join their projects with an eye to broadening her corporate finance skills. Her supervisor thought she was overzealous, but the strategy helped her demonstrate her abilities and win promotions. "Manage your destiny," she advises young women in banking. "Ask for experiences. Don't wait for them to be handed to you."

That attitude has helped Elolampi learn the range of skills needed to be a top financial sponsor banker, which requires her to work with every industry group and product team within the bank. "She's consensus-building, and she doesn't have an agenda, which garners the trust of people internally," said Jenny Lee, a managing director in J.P. Morgan's leveraged finance group, who has worked with Elolampi on a number of transactions.

A hands-on project leader, Elolampi relishes the chance to get immersed in the details. Her group routinely looks at deals across many different sectors, from financial institutions, industrials, and consumer to retail, health care, and natural resources. As a result, she has to be well versed not only in industry knowledge but in the mechanics of M&A and equity and debt transactions. "I need to be a jack of all trades and a master of some," she joked.

First as a technology strategy consultant for KPMG, then later as an investment banker, Elolampi always has worked in male-dominated industries. Sometimes, she said, she can sense new colleagues or clients holding back. She might receive a limp handshake, or the initial conversation can be strained. At times, it can feel as if she has to pass an extra test to win the respect of her male counterparts. "I don't take things personally," she said. "Once they get to know me, it will be fine, and it's never held me back."

On balance, though, she views her differences as an advantage. She can more easily distinguish herself at meetings. Clients remember her name.

Colleagues describe Elolampi as intensely hard working and gifted at developing connections with clients. "She has an innate ability to quickly strike up relationships with people, which is powerful," said Toby Radford, a J.P. Morgan managing director for consumer and retail investment-banking coverage, who worked extensively with Elolampi for two years.

Coming out of Booth, many of Elolampi's classmates started with her in banking; after 12 years, only a few remain. In part, the financial crisis of 2008 caused both men and women working in finance to reevaluate their careers.

Even with memories of the crisis receding, Elolampi said she is concerned about the next generation. "Wall Street does a decent job of recruiting women, but women can sometimes get lost within a bank," she said. "If there isn't a champion supporting them, it can be difficult to navigate." She credits Parkhill for being one of her advocates, and she plays the same role for other women.

Elolampi attributes her longevity in the industry to maintaining friendships and outside interests, such as running, skiing, and travel, despite the long hours and unpredictable client demands. She served as a program co-chair for her 10-year Booth reunion, working her contacts alongside her classmates to set a class attendance record.

THE ADVISORY DIRECTOR

Young finance associates are evaluated primarily by how well they can navigate a spreadsheet, but the skills that distinguish them early in their careers don't necessarily robertstranslate to leading a client meeting or a drafting session for an IPO, said Linnea Conrad Roberts, '90, an advisory director at Goldman Sachs Group.

"There are big hurdles in going from being a nice, obedient young person who does everything he or she is told to do, to actually managing a team," she said. "It can be a very difficult transition, especially for women."

For Roberts, an undergraduate minor in computer science would prove to be pivotal to her early success on Wall Street.

Following stints as an auditor at Price Waterhouse and assistant controller at OroAmerica Inc., a jewelry manufacturer, she enrolled at Booth, where she participated in the first LEAD program and studied with Merton Miller. "As celebrated as he was as an economist, he was still a very fun person to be around, and he had an amazing way of using humor to get his points across," she said.

Roberts was hired by Lehman Brothers in 1990 to cover technology companies as an investment banker. Her technical background helped her understand how those firms operate; the next step was developing her own leadership style. "I've been told that I'm too nice - it's pretty much been on every review," she said. She turned that tendency into an asset, emphasizing the importance of each team member and encouraging people to share their concerns.When she struggled with her initial banking interviews, several classmates stepped in to help her prepare, boosting her confidence. "I never felt like there was competition internally at Booth," she said. "It was a big team effort - everybody wanted everybody to do well."

After three years of leading Lehman's global technology group, in 2004 Roberts joined Goldman as a managing director, serving as cohead of the global technology, media, and telecom group. Since 2010, she's become a transcontinental commuter, following her marriage to George Roberts, one of the three cofounders of private-equity giant KKR. She splits her time between New York, where her 16-year-old son from her first marriage lives, and George Roberts's Northern California home. "We both have loved our careers in finance and feel lucky to have a shared passion," she said. "We also spend time together philanthropically, helping others to have meaningful jobs and careers."

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Last year she accepted Goldman's request to lead an effort to improve the firm's recruitment and retention of women. Roberts always enjoyed coaching colleagues, and she often has recruited at Booth and other business schools, but the daily demands of her job frequently sidelined her mentoring activities.

Freed from her investment-banking responsibilities, now she'll have more time to communicate what she loves about the industry: the constant learning opportunities, the access to corporate leaders, and the knowledge that her colleagues are motivated to do their best work every day.

Roberts reminds younger women they don't have to be superhuman to succeed in finance. "I've had those days when I overslept. There was a day when I wore a black shoe on one foot and a blue shoe on the other. We try to find these perfect role models, and I'm as far from that as anyone can get." But as Roberts has found, "there's a certain beauty in that."

As an increasing number of studies highlight the importance of a diverse workforce to a company's success, Goldman and other firms are hoping to convince more women that finance can be a viable long-term career.

To improve recruitment, Roberts said, "We have to get rid of the theory that there's only a certain type of woman that succeeds in business." In top spots across finance and banking, Roberts and her fellow Booth alumnae are proof of the possibilities. 

Last Updated 1/16/14