Investors' Bookshelf: Herera's Tales of Wall Street's Top Women

Author:
Publish date:

By Roger Segal
Special to

TheStreet.com

Rating Scale:

$$$$$ = new or old, an indispensable classic

$$$$ = first-rate: informative, helpful and a good read

$$$ = a useful book on investing

$$ = some good ideas but hampered by weaknesses

$ = skip it

Sue Herera,

Women of the Street: Making It on Wall Street -- The World's Toughest Business

($$$$). John Wiley & Sons, 1997.

So, you've read Jim Cramer's

Summer School piece detailing his own route to a career on Wall Street, and now you're thinking about a career on Wall Street yourself, right? Well, you also should spend some time with this book and read about the career paths of these 14 extraordinary women.

CNBC

anchor Sue Herera has compiled an absolutely fascinating collection of professional biographies from some of Wall Street's most successful women, including

Mary Farrell

,

Muriel Siebert

,

Abby Joseph Cohen

,

Gail Dudack

,

Maria Fiorini Ramirez

and

Elaine Garzarelli

, among others. Each discusses her own experience with gender discrimination, trying to balance a demanding career with marriage and/or children, and what qualities have been instrumental to her success. Their stories paint a picture of how far women have come in the last 20 or 30 years, and also of the demands facing anyone hungry for success on Wall Street.

Some of these women experienced such blatant gender discrimination that it made my jaw drop. Grace Fey, executive vice president and director of

Frontier Capital Management

, tells of her early years at a Boston-based investment management firm. "I always had the best performance in the firm," she says, so when she had the audacity to ask for "a larger piece of the equity," she received a chilling response: "This particular fellow said to me, 'You know, for a woman you make a lot of money. If I were you, I'd go back to my office and be happy just to have the job.'"

Fey acknowledges that that kind of blatant sexism was rare. Most discrimination these women encountered were things like professional meetings held in exclusively male clubs. "They wouldn't even think of it," recalls Farrell, "and then when I'd arrive everyone would be embarrassed, and I would get cut out of the meeting." Or experiences like Garzarelli's during her first years at

Drexel Burnham Lambert

, when some clients preferred flirting with her instead of hearing her market analysis.

But most of the discrimination was financial, with Farrell and Dudack saying that for many years they were underpaid relative to their male peers. Recalling her experiences in the 1970s, Farrell says, "By far the worst show of disrespect was that women were not paid as much as men. I asked very simply to be paid what the men were paid." Farrell says she became "obsessed that management would not be able to find me lacking in even one single measurement -- whatever they measured. Whether it was number of pages written, stock price performance, client contact, whatever. I'd find out what the numbers were, and I'd make sure I was in the top ten percent¿"

All the women profiled in Herera's book agree that today there is no better place for a woman to succeed than on Wall Street. The reason: Wall Street is only concerned about the bottom line. "If you can quantify what you do, that really removes the discrimination factor," says Elizabeth Mackay, chief investment strategist at

Bear Stearns

. "In that sense, Wall Street is probably a better place, relative to some others, for women. If you're good, if you've got the goods, you'll be compensated."

There may have been times when these successful women thought of just throwing in the towel when faced with subtle or blatant gender discrimination. A career on Wall Street is never easy, and when it's combined with discrimination it can be doubly demoralizing. For Ramirez and Farrell, the proper response was simple: persistence. "I was shocked at how tough Wall Street was," recalls Farrell, "there were so many obstacles. I was motivated to work hard, but instead of somebody saying, 'Boy, we sure are lucky to have this woman,' I constantly had to prove myself. It was just absolute persistence that got me through it, refusing to take 'no' for an answer."

Siebert believes that while women have gained power on Wall Street, they still don't know how to leverage that power, and in particular how to break into the executive suites of the major firms. So she throws down the gauntlet: "I think women are being paid pretty good money, but I'm surprised by a few of them who, after amassing a few million dollars, haven't started their own firms."

Though Herera sometimes sees parallels between her own career experiences and those of the women of Wall Street, by and large she fades into the background and serves as the conduit for their stories. She has dispensed with the standard interview format encountered in other books ( where you read a script-like, line-by-line interchange between journalist and interviewee), and the result is an extraordinarily engrossing read.

Roger Segal, chief keeper of the

Investors' Bookshelf

, is a New York-based contributor. He appreciates suggestions and email at

Gersonides@aol.com.

Previously in Investors' Bookshelf

Alan C. "Ace" Greenberg,

Memos from the Chairman

, ($$$). Workman Publishing, 1996. (reviewed

Aug. 2)

Yes, these are "real" memos from Alan "Ace" Greenberg, chairman of

Bear Stearns

. They are a valuable resource for any manager who is forever trying to remind her staff about the importance of business fundamentals, from telephone etiquette to honesty. Greenberg emphasizes the simple but easily forgotten truths of success in business and investing; inviolable in boom times or bust.

Ralph Wanger,

A Zebra in Lion Country: Ralph Wanger's Investment Survival Guide

($$$$). Simon & Schuster, 1997. (reviewed

July 26)

Wanger is the man behind the

Acorn

family of funds, and in this readable and witty book he introduces readers to the principles and techniques that have helped his flagship

Acorn Fund

provide investors with a nearly 17% average annual return over the past 16 years. Wanger believes in small-cap companies -- primarily because big-cap companies are closely followed by the investor herd. His methodology: finding companies that can benefit from long-term trends and that can pass a series of other tests, including strength of management, financial fitness and fundamental value.

Gene Marcial,

Secrets of the Street: the Dark Side of Making Money

($$$$). McGraw-Hill, 1996. (reviewed

July 19)

Marcial's book is as close to financial erotica as anything I've ever read. He recounts some of the darkest, sometimes sordid, insider trading stories on Wall Street. As the author of

Business Week's

"Inside Wall Street" column, Marcial is one of the most well-connected journalists on the Street. His tales, all of them true, may shock you and may reconfirm your feeling that the individual investor is at a huge disadvantage when going up against well-financed insiders who routinely exploit the game to their own advantage.