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Op-Ed: Working Moms in Finance May Feel Overwhelmed at Times, But ‘If You Love Your Job, Find a Way to Stay at It'

Source: Karen Firestone
  • Karen Firestone, now CEO of Aureus Asset Management, was expecting twins when she started working on Fidelity’s Magellan Fund.
  • Though she traveled often for work, Firestone compromised by coming home to her four children at a reasonable hour – or at least getting to their hockey and swimming lessons on time.
  • “Don’t give up,” Firestone said. “If you love your job, find a way to stay at it.”

The fact that I ended up with a long career in an industry with only a handful of women, was more coincidence than intentional.

My interest in finance goes back to when I was a teenager. I begged the headmaster of my high school, the son of Charles E. Merrill, the founder of Merrill Lynch, to help me get a part-time job at the firm's office near our school.

Learning whatever I could, after school and in the summer, whether it was reading the brokers' research mail or answering the switchboard calls, was valuable as an introduction to Wall Street. I was hooked.

I went to Fidelity after business school, which followed four years as a junior analyst at a Boston investment company.

Fidelity was the best of the buy side and had a well-deserved reputation as being demanding and tough for women.

I was pregnant when I began working – not the best condition in which to start a job in an office dominated by men in 1983. 

Showing resilience

Karen Firestone's family
Karen Firestone
Karen Firestone's family

My first assignment was as one of the three assistants to Peter Lynch on the Magellan Fund, who owned over 1,000 stocks in the fund.

I met the managers of hundreds of companies all around the country, called in ideas from the road, built the models, and learned as much as possible from Peter and the other brilliant investors with whom I worked. 

Some of my colleagues dismissed me as someone whose pregnancy was an indication that I wasn't serious about my job.

I had twins and came back to work faster than was probably healthy, but I was showing my resilience.

Through the next 13 years, I followed about a third of the S&P and managed about 10 sector funds including leisure, biotechnology, and health care. 

In 1986, I was expecting again, but I didn't mention it until I was six months pregnant – right when I found out I was having twins again.

I came back to work full time with enough people helping to field a soccer team, but everyone was well-cared for and no one overworked or too exhausted.

Striking a balance

At times, I struggled with the pace of my life. I traveled often and worried about what I might be missing in my children's lives. I had no female peers with young families.

Because I promised my husband that when I was not traveling, I would be home at a reasonable hour, or at least at the hockey rink, swimming pool, or cello lesson on time. I did not stay at work very late. 

That schedule probably hurt my career, but I didn't complain because I knew that if I just kept cranking out good research and managing my funds well, I'd be asked to run a diversified fund – the holy grail at Fidelity.

Indeed, in 1997, I was asked to run The Large Cap Fund. I waited 14 years for that job, but I don't regret my time as an industry analyst and sector fund manager.

Soon, I took on more responsibilities, including the Destiny Fund, which had been run by the great George Vanderheiden for two decades.

Finding your own path

Karen Firestone
Scott Mlyn | CNBC
Karen Firestone

I began to think about starting a company in 2004, about the time when our younger children were finishing high school.

While several Fidelity alumni, such as Jeff Vinik, had left to start hedge funds, none had created what I was contemplating: an endowment-style investment management firm serving wealthy families and institutions. 

The partner with whom I founded Aureus Asset Management was a long-time friend in the business, who had great experience with both stocks and alternative investing.

This is our 16th year, and we have become a multi-billion dollar advisory practice with a strong track record. 

As president, and then as chairman and CEO, I recognize the importance of having the right team around me.

Perhaps because I am a woman and always feel that I have something to prove, I work extremely hard, as the leaders did at Fidelity. My co-founder retired years ago, and I have built up a wonderful leadership team.  

As an investor, I remind myself of the lessons I learned years ago: stocks are attractive when the market fails to recognize the true intrinsic value of their shares and overpriced when the market ascribes too high a price. Our job is to determine that worth.

Advice to live by

It may be that employees demand more empathy of women CEOs. I have tried to listen more and think of how I would feel in their position. Managing people is much harder than I expected, but I have no regrets that I chose this avenue. 

Along the way, I have written many articles for the Harvard Business Review, wrote my book "Even the Odds, Sensible Risk Taking in Business, Investing, and Life," given a TED talk, and contributed to CNBC on air and in print.

Without the support of my Aureus colleagues, none of that could happen.

As for advice to women coming into finance, I always tell them to work hard, be self-reliant, avoid making impulsive career decisions. If they choose to have a life partner or spouse, pick carefully.

Society has existed for millennia with men dominating the levels of achievement, whose wives worked tirelessly in the background, raising families and organizing the home.

We have little experience with the high-achieving woman who also has children.

Don't give up. If you love your job, find a way to stay at it. Careers are long, although the present can sometimes feel overwhelming. 

Beyond that, I have been married to my husband, David, who has made this journey possible, for 40 years.

My children, my grandchildren, my coworkers, and my friends know who I am, and allow me to be this woman who is clearly not everyone's idea of a role model, but is trying to live an honorable life.

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