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Karen Finerman likes to tell people she was raised Calvinist. Or as her mother used to say, "I buy my girls Calvin Klein clothes… Then when they graduate from college, they have to figure out how to pay for them themselves." In order to keep herself in Calvin, Karen went to work on Wall Street.
As a woman working in finance she noticed numerous ways that she and her female colleagues sabotaged themselves both professionally and personally. Why were her friends unable to bring the same logic they applied at work to personal decisions? Why did they often let personal baggage undermine them in the office in a way that her male colleagues never did? A classic illustration is that women tend to Poll (Do I look good in these shoes?) rather than Decide, often giving too much weight to the input from a random stranger rather than rely on their own gut.
Covering three major topics (Career, Money, Love), Finerman's Rules serves up unvarnished advice about getting ahead in your career, overcoming failure, meeting your ideal mate, and navigating the challenges of work-life balance. Most importantly, she offers the reader a crash course in taking control of her financial destiny. Or as Karen puts it, "You wouldn't let a man tell you where to live, how to vote, or what to wear. Then tell me why 80 percent of women have a man in charge of their money?"
What Are Successful Girls Really Made Of?
I was raised a Calvinist. You might think you know what that means, but let me explain it the way my mother preached it to my three sisters and me back when we were at home: "I buy my girls Calvin Klein clothes, so that's all they know. Then when they graduate from college, they have to figure out how to pay for them themselves."
That's it—that's the philosophy. I can't tell you how many people I meet who think Calvinism is something else entirely. It worked for us.
Wendy, the oldest, went on to be a movie producer of such films as The Devil Wears Prada, Stepmom, and Forrest Gump, for which she won an Oscar. Unlike many people in the movie business, Wendy knew no one to help her get started. Through sheer will, she managed to find a job working for Steve Tisch, the producer. And it was only through her relentless perseverance and ambition that she finally got the book Forrest Gump made into one of the most successful films of all time.
My brother Mark, the second oldest, was spared the Calvinist lecture. Yet he still managed to become a real estate financier of such success and renown that I can scarcely come across someone in the real estate business who doesn't know him and tell me with a smile, "I love your brother." After a brief career as a professional tennis player on the pro circuit, Mark realized he could teach others how to play tennis to make money, or he could learn business skills and teach himself how to make money.
He went from teaching a real estate king how to hit topspin to realizing he could be the real estate mogul himself, and he already knew how to play tennis. He became the right-hand man to two big real estate players, first at Nomura and then Credit Suisse, before becoming the number-one man himself in the CMBS business (commercial mortgage-backed securities—don't worry if you don't know what that is), financing office towers and shopping malls—and he went higher from there. Yet he is still, at heart, the boy I grew up with. Even though he lives in a grown-up house in grown-up Greenwich, Connecticut, he's like Tom Hanks in Big. Mark has every toy imaginable—cars, horses, pinball machines, tree houses, go-carts, vegetable gardens, an indoor basketball court, candy machines—and he still thinks cartoons are funny.
Then there's me, the tomboy, nerd, and hedge fund cofounder.
And pulling up the rear—our two little sisters. First is Leslie, who followed my footsteps into finance after graduating from Berkeley and headed to Morgan Stanley. She then made the leap to become an analyst at a large credit hedge fund. Leslie recently took the road less traveled (in our family) and became a stay-at-home mom (for now). Leslie is the arbiter of cool in our family, the master of style. She can renovate an apartment and act as a general contractor even when nine months pregnant.
Last is Stacey, the youngest, maybe the smartest of us all, who was hired out of Wharton by Salomon Brothers, then got plucked away by RBS, and then after the 2008 market crash was hired by Goldman Sachs. After a breakup with a boyfriend, she decided to channel the energy left over after her day job to become a world-class Ironman competitor. She transformed herself into an extraordinary endurance machine. She doesn't just focus on finishing in the allotted 17 hours. She's looking to improve on her personal best of 12 hours, for the 2.4 mile swim, the 112 mile bike ride, and the 26.2 mile marathon.
Funnily, we all made our way from laid-back Southern California to New York City and its environs. It was here that we hoped we would find our success.
Instilling in her children her own brand of Calvinism, our mom didn't subscribe to the Happiness-Is-a-Warm-Puppy, Free-to-Be-You-and-Me parenting styles that were so prevalent when we were growing up. I think she may have truly believed that being only warm and loving to your children conveyed that you accepted them as they were, as opposed to putting forth the effort to make them better. She always let us know that we could—and should—reach for more, with our academics, sports interests, and our ambitions. If you had asked my mother, "Would you rather your children be successful or happy?" she would have answered, without the slightest bit of hesitation, "Successful. How can you be happy if you're not?"
Growing up, that message stuck with me. It was so imbedded in my thoughts that I don't ever remember when I learned it. It just was. Any of my friends who spent time in our kitchen (the neighborhood meeting place) heard the same message. In the way other mothers would have said, "Did you get enough to eat?" or "Any crushes these days?" my mother would say to some of my seemingly less ambitious friends, "How are you going to support yourself with no plan?"
As a teenager, rather than setting myself on a course to pursue fame (quite common growing up in L.A., the entertainment capital of the world), happiness, fulfillment, and spiritual enlightenment (also quite common), I skipped right on to trying to be successful. Let's just get on with it, I felt. "Onward" became my motto.
I wanted to get out in the world, have a great job, make my mark, and see how far I could go. And I wanted to make good on the philosophy my mother drilled into us with all the subtlety of a Lady Gaga performance. I got it loud and clear. I would need to succeed, and then I could possibly be happy.
* * *
And so I set about a career with a goal to make money, be independent, and make a success of myself on Wall Street. But as I did that, I realized that what I learned on Wall Street could be used anywhere, and in any part of my life. It's OK to have a plan, to invest in your future—for your financial security, your love life, your personal fulfillment, and even your happiness. To have personal happiness as a stated goal doesn't detract from it if you get there. Serendipity is nice, but hoping for luck and the magic of happenstance shouldn't be an excuse for a lack of proactivity. I had to learn for myself that waiting isn't a life plan.
In my journey to succeed and find happiness, I've accumulated a fair amount of wisdom as I saw what made some people quite successful, while others, who were far more talented, got stuck, paralyzed, or repeated the same mistakes over and over. I saw, too often, how women consistently got in their own way. That's what this book is about. It's my story and the lessons I've learned—with some wisdom from friends, siblings, and colleagues mixed in—about how I knew what I wanted but needed to learn to get out of my own way. Since the steps to success (in business and life) didn't come naturally to me (and really, look at the messes around you; do they for anyone?), I had to try, then fail and try again. I had to come up with principles and "rules" to add to the Calvinist ethic I got from my mother. And it's not easy, because people don't tell you what to expect—especially women, who believe they are not supposed to say out loud some of the things that other women really need to hear. I don't care if what I have to say is PC or not. As I started writing this book, I realized my children didn't know and hadn't even considered what I thought I had already so thoroughly engrained in them, which is that they will need to be independent and self-reliant. They will need to be in charge of their lives. These are things they need to know.
What I wanted was very clear to me—success. To me—and I hope for you—that does mean money. I want you to have enough money and the independence that money affords so it isn't a force determining what you can and can't do, or who you can and can't be. Plus, having money is fun. I remember the absolute, joyous freedom I felt when I first went to college: I had no bedtime, no curfew, no rules—I loved it. I was in charge. I couldn't believe I didn't have to answer to anyone.
Then four and a half years later, I would feel the same excitement when I made my first bonus. All the money was mine to spend (or save) as I wished. It was that same absolute joy of not having to answer to anyone. That $6,000 bonus was my first feeling of being successful as a grown-up. As I climbed the ladder in finance, the amounts grew, but that thrill of success at that very first bonus has always been the most memorable and meaningful.
* * *
I have spent much of my life where the boys are, first as a tomboy and then on Wall Street. Growing up, I loved every and any sport. I was frustrated by girls who didn't, so I spent most of my afternoons with the boys. In middle school, I was allowed to enroll in the boys PE—65 hardly developed boys and me. It never occurred to me that they could do anything I couldn't. And that's the way it was until high school when I joined the girls' tennis team.
In spite of my affinity for sports, as a teenager it started to dawn on me that I wasn't really going to become a professional athlete. The claustrophobic milieu and some of the overbearing parents definitely weren't for me, and somehow I was sensing that I might not be that good—that is, good enough to go all the way.
But with my mother and upbringing, I knew I needed a plan. Subliminally, I was looking for what I would be when I grew up, but I didn't have a guide.
I saw my mother as determined and passionate as a parent and teacher, but she was also a seemingly powerless mom. I had seen how the person who makes the money has the power, whether or not they wielded it with a heavy hand. My dad did well financially—as a well-known and highly respected orthopedic surgeon (and team doctor for UCLA football and basketball)—but he still struggled under the weight of all those children. The net result was that I learned that money isn't infinite—it's limited and limiting—and that I never wanted to be in a position where I had to ask a man (or anyone) for money. I wanted a freedom my mother didn't have. Money was the way to get that, as well as just a good thing to have. I remember my mother (who liked to imagine herself as a talented interior designer) coming home with a love seat she thought was perfect and my father telling her it was too expensive. I could see that she was crushed and embarrassed to have to take it back. I hated seeing her demoralized. If only she didn't need to ask him for the money.
With that desire of financial independence firmly in mind when I was 15, something caught my eye. It was a front-page article in the Los Angeles Times business section with a big glamorous photo highlighting Ivan Boesky, the famous Wall Street risk arbitrageur, long before he was convicted of insider trading. I was enthralled by the excitement and action of trading stocks of companies involved in takeover deals. He was a titan of Wall Street who sat at the center of high-stakes trading and gigantic amounts of money. And it was his for the taking, if he just made smart bets. It didn't even seem that hard; anyone could do it. In fact, I could do it.
Just like that, I knew. I wanted to be a risk arbitrageur. Ar-be-tra-zher—I loved the sound of it. I wanted to be in the action, and I wanted to be the one making lots of money. I loved the image of creating my own destiny and being in control of my world. This wasn't some fantasy future in the way lots of girls announce that they want to be a fashion designer or a singer. I had found my calling. This was going to happen. I was destined for Wall Street.
I informed my parents that I intended to apply only to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, as that was the surest route to Wall Street. If I didn't get in, I wasn't going to college.
This was one of the more memorable in a series of stupid risk/reward plans I would make in life. Fortunately, Wharton accepted me. I remember heading off to college with the implicit, though unspoken, message from my mother: "Don't come home till you've set the world on fire."
Fast-forward till now: a lot of things have worked out better than I could have hoped. I've worked hard and I've been exceedingly lucky, and I've failed more than a few times.
Here's what's worked: I have a family I love—two sets of boy-girl twins (Jack and Lucy, born in '97, and Kate and William, '01). I have a husband, Lawrence Golub, I didn't let get away, who for better or worse (and we've had both) is the love of my life. I have friends I've known since grade school, high school, college, and after who inspire me and make me laugh and accept me fully. And last, and not least, I have a career that has brought me much of what I've hoped for in terms of money, freedom, influence, and excitement, including my added role on the CNBC show Fast Money, where I get to weigh in about the market and investing.
Here's what hasn't worked: For years I thought I wasn't successful enough and worried about whether people thought I was, and it drained a lot of energy and created a lot of stress. I was pregnant with twins. Twice. For some reason, I managed to have two pregnancies that tested all of my physical, mental, and marital strength. (Who knew the fertility clinic would be the "fun" part.) I've fumbled in business more times than I care to admit, both in investing and in leading. I've dealt with the near death of our business—when we couldn't blame it on a global market crash but on our own mistakes and egos. I suffered from guilt (oddly, only mild) over being a working mom, though I'm fully over that now. And I never, never have downtime. Going forward, I know there's a future of obstacles, mistakes, and life's misfortunes ahead, but I can't worry about that now.
Here's the thing I wasn't expecting—that finding success investing and being on Wall Street could be in any way instructive to finding happiness and "success" in the rest of my life. I wasn't expecting portfolio management decisions to be metaphors for life decisions, yet that's exactly what I found. Working in a male-dominated industry only brought these insights into sharper focus. Your industry may be different than mine. Your life may be different than mine, but I want you to recognize where women are at a disadvantage and help you avoid those traps. I don't want to waste time bemoaning the disparities between men and women, or the challenges for women if you are in a male-dominated field. Learn what you can from men.
I want you to learn the value of taking away just one thing of worth from someone else's screwup or triumph. Maybe you won't need to learn from your own stupidity if you can learn from mine. And frankly, I'd be honored if you did. There are choices to be made along the road that improve the likelihood of success—both in work and in the delicate balance of work and everything else. You can actually make things easier on yourself, especially when you're honest with yourself and others. There are ways to make decisions that improve your chances of success. There is real-world knowledge about taking risks—risks that are always there, so why not consider how to handle them rather than avoid or succumb to decisions not of your choosing. And we can learn to deal head-on with our squeamishness about putting ourselves out there—which too often feels tainted or wrong rather than natural and right.
Get Out of Your Own Way
The biggest obstacle women face in their careers is themselves. From our start in the working world, too many of us make decisions that don't take into account the possibility—let alone the probability—that we can succeed. Even the most well educated and hard-charging should just assume that as a woman you're going to have a harder time. There's going to be more on your plate than any guy in your office. It is just a fact, or as my friend Janet often says, "Soccer would be easier if you could use your hands. But you can't."
I remember trying to explain to my son Jack after he came back disheartened from a soccer loss that complaining about unfairness is a waste. He was upset about the ref, the mud, how his team got unfairly penalized, and on and on. I looked at him unswayed and repeated the truism: "And soccer would be easier if you could use your hands. But you can't." He looked back at me equally unswayed and said, "But mom, I'm the goalie." After a brief laugh at the irony of the lesson I was trying to make, the point remains: Life is hard; complaining rarely improves things.
There are barriers to success and it's difficult for everyone, but we need to get over the misleading beliefs and unnecessary obstacles we put in our own way.
I know we can't rationalize or wish away the differences between the sexes. Beyond our upbringing, conditioning, training, and institutional expectations, and/or our own internal aspirations for a division of labor with our partner, it's in our biological hardwiring. If an infant cries in the middle of the night, the father may wake up and wish he could do something about it, but a woman can't not hear the cry, and if she's breast-feeding, she lactates. Same stimulus, very different response.
My approach has always been to focus on reality and not belabor the inequality. The road to success is just different for women. There are enough hurdles for women already to being successful. We need to get out of our own way and create more options, not fewer. Through trial and error I've learned that success starts when you develop the nerve to ask for what you want and develop a sense of intuition for what your boss, colleagues, and clients need.
We do ourselves a great disservice by throwing self-made artificial roadblocks in our path, from our complex relationship to the concept of success, to our resistance to standing out and wanting to be noticed, to that especially challenging start to our careers where we may stall waiting for the "perfect" job or shortchange ourselves by equating our careers with dating and hoping we'll get "picked." Too often women fall prey to the idea that, "If it's right, it will happen," an idea that we apply to the right job, the right apartment, or the right partner. That is a big mistake.
We all need to give ourselves permission to succeed wildly and to stand out, and we need to stop pretending we don't have goals and dreams. We need to develop the nerve to ask for what we want. We have to do these things focused on ourselves, not in comparison to others—including men.
Untangling the Desire to Succeed
Let's start with the very big obstacle of feeling like it's unflattering to want to be successful and to want to win. (For lots of women, it's OK to be successful but the wanting is what gets in our way.) Yet it doesn't take a sociological study to know this:
If you don't proactively want success for yourself, how are you going to convince others that you're worthy of attaining it?
No matter what our aspirations—to be the first woman president, to invent a breakthrough medicine, to be in charge of the first mission that lands a human on Mars, or the more realistic and likely goals of leading departments, universities, and our own start-ups and investment funds—we can make the idea of success unattainable, too hard, and not even that desirable. But success—and the financial wealth that can come with it—opens doors. Success creates options, which are some of the most valuable things you can have. So let's begin:
Act as if, believe as if, plan as if you can and will succeed. There is no reason not to.
I remember confessing to my friend Peter—whom I had met in our Yuppie-filled Upper East Side apartment building in the 1980s—after one of our many Sunday-night spaghetti dinners (that he cooked) that I wanted to be the most successful woman on Wall Street. I've fallen far short of that but well ahead of where I'd have been if I had no aspirations, no big goals, and no plan. It might have been a bit grandiose, but it was true. We accept this desire in performers, teachers, and athletes. Many women unabashedly want to be the best mother they can be. And we all believe that wish is noble, right, and necessary. Why, then, is it shameful to want to be the best _____(fill in your profession)_____? Ask more of yourself and you shall receive.
The corollary of women not giving themselves permission to want to succeed—and even win—at whatever they set their sights on is that women are too good at losing. One of the most inexplicable phenomena to me is the notion that it is unappealing for women to want to win. There is no shame in winning and no shame in wanting to win.
The pinnacle of this ridiculousness is evidenced by the Miss America Pageant. At the very end, the last two contestants are on stage waiting together to hear who will be crowned the next Miss America (let's leave aside for now the inherent sexism in the pageant itself). When they announce the runner-up, she has to pretend to be so happy for the winner. It's absurd—you don't see that in the Super Bowl.
Why aren't we allowed to want to win? Is it seen as too aggressive? Too competitive and risky to our relationships with men? Or too risky to our own definitions of women? I'm not going to solve that issue; I just want to admit that I want to win. I want to outperform. You will likely feel the same way if you let yourself—at least in some parts of your life. It actually makes me nervous if I feel that I am caring a bit less about winning as I age.
Wanting to win shows a desire to work hard and a willingness to make sacrifices. If you're a manager of anything (a department, a baseball team, a small business), do you want to create the best team of gracious runners-up that you can?
And for just a second, let's be honest about "winning" and "success." Of course, "success" covers all those higher callings of influence, status, meaning, good works, and fulfilling relationships. But it also covers money—that is, making it. Too often, to soften the meaning of "success," we round off the meaning, as if it's impolite to want financial success, or at least to talk about it. But the financial rewards that come with success create more opportunities, freedom, and choices than almost anything else. So do the work that matters to you most and that you'll thrive in, but don't discount the role of money in the success you seek.
When we're young, our heads are filled with a lot of nonsense like, "Follow your bliss" or "Do what you love and the money will follow" (this works as well as "Eat what you love and you'll love the way you look"). Well, if you're 45 years old and working for Save the Pandas and still can't pay off your student loans or go on a decent vacation or buy a primary residence, happiness may be on your personal endangered species list. If you happen to be a marketing executive and can afford to write a check to the World Wildlife Foundation and one day go Panda-watching in China, you might be happier.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What do you want, even if you tell no one? Taking away any concerns about pride, or what's realistic, or what's appropriate, what is the biggest professional goal you can imagine for yourself? Don't minimize that goal because you think it's unattractive.
- Which women are role models you can emulate? Are there men you can emulate? Did their anatomy get them where they are? If not, don't necessarily rule them out as a role model. But your first choice should be a woman. If you don't have a person who comes to mind, look for women in your family, your college, or among your friends' mothers, your mother's friends, or the media for role models that exhibit the qualities of success and winning that you can relate to and desire.
Stand Out, Be Noticed
To succeed, it is your duty to put yourself out there. I've learned the hard way. At heart, I'm a wallflower. I believe in myself and my talent, but deep down I remain afraid to step up, or rather peel myself away from the wall. But I do it anyway.
From the time I was a 10-year-old tomboy and the neighborhood kids played basketball, I would stand by the side of the court and hope they would ask if I wanted to play or that my brother would tell them to invite me. My mother would always push me to go ask them if I could join the game. If they would just give me a chance, I knew they would be impressed. (I later went on to become the Pepsi Hotshot Basketball Competition winner for Southern California—which I won at a Lakers halftime after many regional victories. It was my debut and only appearance at the "Fabulous Forum" in downtown L.A.)
Both as a teenager and newly minted young professional, I remember hating to call a store to ask their hours, to stop a stranger on the street for directions, or to ask a shoe salesman for help. To this day, sending a dish back at a restaurant is nearly impossible for me, even if it has no resemblance whatsoever to what I ordered.
A first, small turning point came for me in eighth grade when I ran for president of the student body. I was an eighth grader at long last, a big fish in the small pond (not that small actually, with close to 1,000 kids) that was Hawthorne Elementary School, grades K through eight. Oddly, I have never really had a fear of public speaking. I prepared (what I thought was) a clever speech, which I presented as if I were Muhammad Ali. I wore a boxing robe and gloves and delivered it entirely in rhyme. It seemed to go over well, and I won the election. As an aside, "Finerman" is an excellent surname for running in eighth-grade elections. My slogan was "Who's the finest in the West? Finerman, she's the best." And there was "Finerman—the finer woman to represent our eighth grade."
Only after winning the election did it occur to me that I had to be the class president. I had to run the student council meetings, assign tasks to people, and the worst part, speak up to the powers that be at our school on behalf of our grade. Rather than be an advocate for our class, I would have far preferred to just say nothing and not put anyone out. But we wanted to be able to have school dances, hold a weekend car wash to raise money for a school trip, and expand the offering of doughnuts at our short morning break inappropriately named "Nutrition." Ironically, the students couldn't have chosen a person innately less inclined to ask for anything than me, but I had the job and I did it.
Years later, I still don't know if this reluctance to stand out is a woman thing or a shy-person thing, but it is particularly damaging to women. We need to push, slide, or adjust and find a way to stand out. I'm not advocating that anyone cross over into uber-bitch-in-stiletto-heels territory. But keep in mind that for every woman with a reputation for brashness or craftiness, there are dozens, hundreds of women still trying to muster the courage to stand out and be noticed.
The Finer Points
10 Highly Selective Guidelines for Public Speaking
- Be prepared—there is no substitute
This is the book that every woman who wants a role model for success needs. Finerman's Rules is jammed-packed with great advice that's presented in Karen's uniquely honest and funny way. She teaches through her own story as a mom of four, a wife, a daughter, how she became a big Wall Street success, then failed big (spectacularly) and then bounced back. Everyone can learn from Karen, I know I have.
-- Suze Orman
This is the book every parent should give to a daughter. With the wisdom that comes only with experience, Finerman offers young women the advice of a mentor and the candor of a friend.
-- Lois P. Frankel, Ph.D., author of Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office
As a woman on Wall Street and the mother of four, Karen knows how challenging it can be to find the right balance between work and home. She also recognizes how important it is for women to take a more active role in managing their money. With honesty, style and wit, she shares practical advice for having a great family life, a fulfilling career and a better-than-passing acquaintance with personal finance.
--Tory Burch, Designer and CEO of Tory Burch LLC
- On Sale
- Jun 4, 2013
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Business Plus