More SLC Women in Finance
The Paper Route: Gloria Lau '76
Her degree from Harvard Business School came in very handy, as did her years of experience in the upper echelons of Citibank and Charles Schwab. But in 1997, when Gloria Lau ’76 was asked to move to Japan and open and lead a new financial services company—Charles Schwab Tokio Marine — she found herself relying on a skill she’d picked up in college, many years before. “At Sarah Lawrence,” said Lau, “I learned how to start with a blank sheet of paper and figure out how to solve a problem, flesh out an idea, research a question.”
Businesses value—and reward—people who can solve problems, and Lau’s career advanced steadily until her retirement in 2004. Indeed, she’s living proof that no good deed goes unpunished. “Whenever I got comfortable in a job,” she said, “I was given more responsibilities. I was always stretching to learn something new, taking on something that took me out of my comfort zone.”
In Japan, Lau was taken way out of her comfort zone and went through a lot of blank paper as she worked to get her young start-up on its feet. Lau negotiated the joint venture agreement between Schwab and Tokio Marine, and then, with the firm officially incorporated, stepped into the C.E.O.’s office and oversaw day-to-day operation of the growing firm. “This was a historic first—a Chinese-American woman heading a joint venture between a major American financial services company and one of the largest insurance companies in Japan. It was a monumental challenge.”
Lau lived and worked in Japan from 1997 to 2001. “The range of issues was so broad,” she recalled. “Interpreting customer research; deciding what kind of products to develop, how to price them, and what kind of advertising and promotion to run; dealing with regulators; figuring out how to motivate people; learning to manage two bosses and the joint venture partners; and putting it all together to build customers and deliver revenue. There were always problems to solve.”
Fortunately, she was not alone. “I learned a lot from the people around me,” she continued. “There were people who mentored me and whose guidance helped me build confidence.” She also learned from the people under her. “They taught me so much; it was humbling and kept me on my toes.” And, as always, there were problems—“people who really frustrated me because they were negative, difficult, or threw obstacles in the way; I didn’t always fully appreciate it at the time, but they made me dig deep to figure out ways to work with them.”
Words of Wisdom: Sheyna Steiner '98
Who won’t be getting a tax rebate check? Is it time to refinance? Can a car be an investment? Ask Sheyna Steiner ’98. Or, better yet, log on to www.bankrate.com, where she works as a staff writer and avowed enemy of a costly modern scourge: financial illiteracy.
From her office in North Palm Beach, Fla., Steiner watches, more often in disbelief than in delight, how Americans earn, borrow, spend, and save their money. Too often, the picture is not pretty.
“The country has a negative savings rate,” said Steiner, “and a recession spawned by the subprime crisis in the housing sector. If people had known what they were getting into and had the slightest inkling that the housing market would not go up forever, they wouldn’t have signed up for adjustable-rate mortgages or treated their homes as piggy banks, siphoning out equity to finance vacations and new furniture.”
“The message in society in general,” she continued, “is for consumers to spend their money to power the economy, but it’s really to the peril of the individual who gets caught up in competitive consumerism and who doesn’t save, doesn’t understand loans, and then is surprised and shocked when an emergency forces them into bankruptcy.”
Steiner hopes that her work will help Americans avoid such unpleasant surprises. In addition to writing articles for the Bankrate Web site, she also writes and records the Bankrate.com Personal Finance Minute, a one-minute radio feature that airs on XM satellite radio. She also writes about auto loans for her company’s coverage of the Federal Open Market Committee, which sets short-term interest rates.
Steiner’s own financial literacy was acquired well away from Sarah Lawrence, where she studied writing, psychology, Asian studies, and painting. In fact, she got into the financial sector “completely by accident.” In February 1999, her uncle helped her get a job as a customer service representative at Fidelity Investments in New York. His timing could have been a little better. She started just in time for tax season, when thousands of customers poured through the front door.
“It was absolutely brutal,” she recalled. “Like being thrown to the wolves. I was in the investor center in Rockefeller Center, so obviously a lot of foot traffic, tons of calls, and tons of checks to process. I did what I could, but I was in way over my head. No experience to speak of, but I learned quickly.”
And now, nine years later, she’s the one keeping the wolves at bay.
Barns and Balance: Denise Hayman-Loa '79
Sit next to Denise Hayman-Loa ’79 at a dinner party and you may hear more about “Virago” and “All Elegance,” two of her 10 horses, than about the financial firm she recently co-founded: Sixpoint Investments. You may also learn quite a bit about her metal and stone sculptures and rather little about her 26 years of financial services experience—even though she’s the former co-head of pension coverage at Morgan Stanley and head of equity pension coverage at Goldman Sachs—or about the book she co-authored on risk management. If you really want to discuss private equity, hedge funds, and pensions, she’ll happily talk your ear off, but the conversation will likely drift back to her two loves, horses and art. Her work, she explained, “is even a bit specialized for people in the financial industry,” and horses and art are “actually more important to me than business. They add depth and texture to my life, and I plan to do them full time in the not too distant future.”
Hayman-Loa recently applied to the M.F.A. program in sculpture at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, but she has always had, as she put it, “bifurcated interests.” Needless to say, Sarah Lawrence fit her like a pair of custom-made riding boots. Here she explored it all, taking art and dance side-by-side with economics, philosophy, and math. Feeding the left side of her brain, however, was no afterthought. “The financial sector,” she explained, “was always of interest to me, because of the analytical and numbers-based thinking and how dynamic it is. Plus, when I was starting out, it certainly helped pay the bills.”
Today, when she’s not mucking out stalls, Hayman-Loa still gets a lot of pleasure from her business. Her firm markets financial investment products to large institutional investors worldwide. “I help develop the marketing materials and approach,” she said, “and always have to be thinking creatively about how to describe the products and interest investors.”
“I have control over my schedule,” she continued, “work from home when I’m not traveling, have the opportunity to be intellectually stimulated by the products we market, yet spend a lot of time interacting with my clients, the investors, who are very smart, nice people.”
A happy, busy life, with time for “Virago,” “All Elegance,” and one more: “Still Life with Apples.”