79: Enough with the Flowers Already

79: Enough with the Flowers Already

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

Enough with the Flowers Already

Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels.

~Faith Whittlesey

They sent me flowers. I saved them millions of dollars and they sent me flowers. I know they meant well, but really?

I was a Wall Street analyst, and I was very good at what I did, figuring out which stocks were going to rise and which were going to fall. There was a company I knew very well, one whose stock I had recommended for years. Its price had gone up, but then I had decided that it was overvalued and it was going to go down.

I told a few of my clients, big professional investors, and got the ones that owned that stock to take their profits and get out.

And that’s why I got the flowers. Because that stock went down and one of my very nice clients wanted to thank me for getting him out before he lost all his profits. But I would rather have gotten more money in commissions than receive a big bunch of flowers.

It was okay though. They were nice guys and they did pay me as well. But there’s no way a male analyst would have received flowers… for the same great work. And I was pretty sure a man would have been paid more.

Paying analysts for their stock picks was basically done on the honor system, with the clients deciding how much to pay via brokerage commissions. Time after time, stock pick after stock pick, it seemed that I was earning less than my male colleagues.

I decided to start my own hedge fund, so I would be in charge of what I made. When you run a hedge fund, it’s all math. If your portfolio goes up, you get twenty percent of the profits. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female or an iguana. Math is math.

So I ran that fund for a few years and never had a down quarter. I got my twenty percent of the profits and made a nice living while working from my house and being there for my young children. I only had one run-in with a male chauvinist that I remember. He called me one day to complain about something — I don’t know what — and accused me of running school bake sales instead of my hedge fund. I had a policy. I got to fire one annoying client each quarter — by sending him back his money. So I sent him all his money immediately, and then he begged me to take him back. But I was working too hard to make money for someone I didn’t like. I didn’t let him back in.

There was a lot of male chauvinism on Wall Street but I navigated my way through it. Sometimes I could use it to my advantage. Guys didn’t expect me to be smart. They saw a petite, pretty, blond woman and thought I was some kind of bimbo. I would actually get a lot of information out of them, sometimes figuring out stuff that no one else knew. I was written up in Forbes magazine for being the first analyst ever sued by a New York Stock Exchange company — for exposing the massive accounting fraud perpetrated by their CEO and other top officers. I had figured that out using two things — my ability to get men to talk to me on the phone… and math. When their own accountants finally conceded that what I had been telling them was true, the top management was fired and their stock went to zero. Their lawyer ended up apologizing profusely to me during a deposition when I proved to him that his clients were crooks. Oh well, guys. The little blonde got you.

Then I got the coolest job. I kept running my hedge fund but also joined the management team of an exciting new start-up telecommunications company. I was the Executive Vice President of Strategic Planning. It was a company with huge potential. When I joined them they were out of cash, but because of my reputation as a straight shooter on Wall Street, there was a hedge fund that was willing to invest six million dollars in the company as long as I was on the executive team.

Things were looking up! It was my presence that brought in the crucial cash infusion. For the next two years, I was a critical member of the team and we raised tens of millions of dollars and grew the company like crazy. I felt like I was getting respect. The environment was definitely getting better for women in business, and I was the company’s representative to Wall Street. I talked to all the investors and kept them up-to-date and interested in our company.

I was always part of the team that presented to institutional investors as we raised money to fuel the company’s tremendous growth. I was at the front of the ballroom or sitting at the conference table, explaining the PowerPoint slides. When you raise money for a big company, the investment bankers take you around the country on what is called a “road show.”

On one road show, we were in Denver for breakfast and had a big lunch meeting in San Francisco with fifty important investors. Our flight was canceled. This was before smartphones. My colleagues and our investment bankers just stood there at the gate looking lost. I ran over to one of those airport phones that they use to page people and asked the operator to put me through to whatever charter jet service existed at the Denver airport. Then I chartered a jet with my credit card, rushed everyone to the other side of the airport, and we took off for San Francisco. The pilots arranged for limos to pick us up planeside when we landed and we made it just in time for the lunch meeting.

The biggest deal I was involved in was a $225 million capital raise. That time we didn’t fly commercial. We did the whole road show on private planes, flying from city to city with limos meeting us right on the tarmac and speeding us to our next meeting. Sometimes we saw investors in two cities in two states on the same day.

The CEO, COO, Vice Chairman and I were on the plane one night, along with a few investment bankers. I actually felt like “The Grownup on the Gulfstream” as the men watched some stupid movie that involved Eddie Murphy and fat people sitting around a dining room table passing gas. These captains of industry were in hysterics. So were the investment bankers. And I thought, Wow, if people really knew. But that was just a male/female thing.

Anyway, I presented to the potential investors at every meeting. I was one of only four people who reported to our CEO, and there were thousands of employees by then. I felt like I had arrived — the only female on the plane and an integral part of the team that had a successful road show and raised $225 million for the business.

We closed the deal, and I was thinking, There isn’t a single institutional investor in this company who isn’t in at least partly because I’ve talked to them. The road show was great and I’m one of the guys… except for my taste in movies.

A few days later, we were back at the office, victorious. Then, to express their gratitude to us for making the deal a success, the gifts arrived from the investment bankers. The CEO, COO, and Vice Chairman each got a six-bottle case of Dom Perignon champagne. I love champagne!

Guess what I got?

A vase filled with flowers.

~Amy Newmark

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