Women are trading Wall St for Main St

2010-09-25 13:34

It’s ironic that the skills that make women effective on Wall Street ­also help them run their own businesses after they leave.

“Many women who leave Wall Street can make a go of an entrepreneurial venture,” says Maddy Dychtwalk, author of Influence: How Women’s Soaring Economic Power Will Transform Our World for the Better.

Dychtwalk adds that the recession has emphasised this point. She says over the past few years the number of businesses run by women have increased twice as fast as those run by men.

“There is a case to be made that women are leading the country out of the recession,” she says.

Recent numbers released by the US Bureau of Labour Statistics show that over the past decade 140?000 women have left Wall Street – a 2.6% drop – while the number of men grew at a rate of 9.6%.

Barbara Warren is part of that ­exodus. In 2008, when many were holding fast onto their jobs amid signs of the approaching financial crisis, the former Wall Street attorney bolted to start her business.

Today Warren and her partner, Clara Herrera, are gaining traction with their self-funded venture, Lumete Eyewear, a sunglasses wholesaler specialising in luxury shades for women. The specs, which sell for up to $200 (R1?411) a pair, have found their way into high-end boutiques and are drawing interest from international customers.

“It’s nice that I can do my own legal work,” jokes Warren (31), who always planned to run her own business. “Honestly, I’m unqualified to do all the other roles in my business.”

Wall Street alumni of all ages and stripes have been taking their chances on private enterprise.

Some, like Warren, had a well-hatched plan. Others, like Stephanie Scott, saw the downturn as an opportunity.

Scott, who began her career at UBS, left a senior post at mergers and acquisitions advisory firm Centreview Partners in July to ­purchase a franchise called Mom Corps, which places professional women in temporary positions.

“I saw all these amazing women leaving Wall Street,” says Scott (27), who owns the rights to ­placements in Manhattan and will officially launch next month.

“The Mom Corps concept was an obvious fit for me.”

In her short-lived Wall Street stint, Scott worked on some big deals, such as PepsiCo’s $7.8 billion purchase of Pepsi Bottling Group. “I got to spend a lot of time with C-level executives,” says Scott, adding that the experience is something she can parlay in her dealings with new corporate ­clients. “I loved being in the middle of the action.”

Time on Wall Street opens doors to exclusive networks that otherwise would be closed off, says April Rudin, who left her job working on behalf of wealthy clients at a small private bank last year. She went on to form The Rudin Group, a marketing firm that helps companies target high-net-worth customers.

“High-net-worth marketing is done in small groups. It’s laser ­focused,” says Rudin.

The Wall Street pedigree also puts entrepreneurs at the top of the class in fundraising, says Andrea Miller, head of YourTango, a website dedicated to relationship ­advice. Miller (39) started her ­venture in 2005 after working in the private wealth group for ­Goldman Sachs.

“I’ve had to raise capital,” says Miller, adding that her credentials “gave me a new appreciation and probably some insights into how to be much more effective when it comes to sales.”

Some Wall Street veterans left simply because they tired of the rigours of trying to juggle career and family in a workplace with little tolerance for personal pursuits.

“I watched everybody else miss out on their spouse and children,” says Sharon Blavais, a former ­human resources executive with Goldman. “I sold my soul to the devil for 10 years. If I wanted to do anything else with my life, I thought I’d better step out.”

In 2001, shortly after the September 11 attacks, Blavais (40) took a generous severance package. She now runs her own career consulting business, Shake Up My Resume, part time out of her New Jersey home while raising three children. She credits her Wall Street pedigree with helping her seal the deal with clients.

“It definitely gives people confidence,” Blavais says. “Already it’s as if I passed a test.”

Many of these entrepreneurs don’t miss their former jobs.

“Working for the hedge fund ­industry, I had a vague notion I was creating liquidity in the financial markets,” says Warren. “It feels good to be creating a product that our customers are excited about.”

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