Beth Burns, '93
CBWN Alumna Spotlight: Beth Burns, ’93
by Jessica Iverson, ’12
For Beth Burns, ’93, the turning point in her career came as a result of one of the most significant global financial events in history. On October 19, 1987, known widely as Black Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost almost 22% in a single day of trading, marking the beginning of a global stock market decline. Beth was a year out of her undergraduate engineering program at Michigan State University, one of just a handful of female engineers working for AT&T.
That day, all of her colleagues were talking about the market action and what it meant for the world—and their own personal portfolios. She was fascinated by the discussion but didn’t feel she fully understood it. So, in a quest to gain knowledge about the financial markets, Beth started her MBA at Booth. She’s been in investment roles ever since and finds it every bit as interesting now as she did on Black Monday.
“I saw that the markets are where money is made, and I wanted to know how it worked,” she says. “Every day, new information is coming in and changing the dynamic. I want to know what’s going on in the world and in our economy, and see how that impacts the markets. I still find that relationship very intriguing.”
Take your own path
Beth doesn’t see her career in investments as a straight upward trajectory; it’s been more a series of steps in a variety of directions, as she tried new roles and followed her emerging interests. Post-Booth, Beth landed at Ameritech for a role in mergers and acquisitions during the buying spree of the 1990s, which she credits with a deep understanding of how companies are valued—an interest that was sparked during her Financial Statement Analysis course with Professor Steven Kaplan. From there, Beth joined Northern Trust, assisting with the launch of their alternative investments products. She enjoyed educating colleagues on how those new products fit into their overall portfolios.
“The diversity of the roles I’ve had have given me breadth of knowledge. When I was in each role, I looked at all of the aspects—what did I like, what did I want more of, what did I want to leave behind. And from there, I charted out that next role,” she says.
Motivated to move into portfolio management, Beth joined Fifth Third Bank, where she managed money for high net worth individuals and small institutions. It was during this time that another historic financial event occurred—the 2008 global financial crisis. Armed with her MBA and many years in investment management, she was positioned much differently than she had been on that Monday in 1987. Her experience with individual investors during the crisis prompted an interest in the institutional side, which she explored as a Vice President at Chicago-based Marquette Advisors. Since 2012, Beth has been an Associate Partner at Aon, working in Outsourced Chief Investment Office (OCIO) mandates.
It might not have been the traditional investment management path others would envision but, for Beth, it’s created a successful and enriching career.
“We get derailed when we’re trying to fit into someone else’s narrative. You have to walk your own path,” she says.
Act with intention
Most recently, Beth has been building a financial coaching business in addition to her full-time role. While she does work with men, her primary client base is women. She believes that, due to differences in the careers and lives of women and men, women are falling behind financially—something she is seeking to change.
“Women live longer than men. Our wages are lower on average. We tend to be more conservative in our investment strategies. And we have more job breaks in our careers than men, for caregiving or part-time work,” says Beth.
Her top financial advice for women? Spend with intention.
“It’s so important to act with intention in your personal finances. I ask clients to write down their goals, make a vision board, fill up a journal with what you want to achieve. And be specific. All of your financial decisions should be aligned to make those things happen,” she says.
Beth also recommends performing an audit of your personal finances, looking backward at your financial decisions rather than jumping right into a forward-looking budget or investment plan. This involves an inventory of where every dollar is going and how it is – or isn’t – working for you because, as Beth explains, “The only way to change your financial habits is to figure out exactly where you’re starting.”
While she has explored many different roles and companies in her career, Beth has always known with certainty that she wasn’t interested in making her job the sole focus of her life—
traveling, volunteering, and exploring her personal passions have been, and continue to be, priorities for her.
“I always wanted to work hard and contribute to a team and, at the same time, I wanted to play, give back, and do what brings me joy,” she says. “When someone asks me ‘What do you do?’ my response is always ‘I do life.’ And I’m off the charts happy about life.”
Beth Burns is the author of two books, Inner Strength, Outer Success: Practical Strategies to Being Happi(er), Healthi(er), Strong(er) and Wis(er) and Inner Strength, Outer Success: A Savvy Gal’s Guide to Financial Empow(er)ment. You can learn more and connect with Beth at innerstrengthoutersuccess.com.
About the Author: Jessica Iverson, '12 is a writer and independent PR & brand marketing consultant based in Chicago.