Professional Insights: A Women’s Roundtable

By Michelle Parish, Corporate Communications Manager, Hilltop Holdings

Note: Southwest Securities and FirstSouthwest were separate firms based in Dallas, TX, prior to their merger in January 2016 to create HilltopSecurities. Any mention of these firms by the interview subjects refers to their affiliation with the specific legacy firm preceding the merger. Also, a truncated version of this article was originally published in Hilltop Holdings’ Momentum, the holding company’s quarterly newsletter.

It’s safe to say, regardless of gender, it takes a special combination of personality, acumen, skills and experience to succeed in the fast-paced, highly competitive world of financial services. In honor of Women’s History Month, we recently visited with some of HilltopSecurities’ (HTS) leading female professionals – eight accomplished women who have distinguished themselves within their respective fields to become leaders in their industries. Their experiences, insights and words of wisdom for professional and career development resonate across industries, gender and generations.

The following are some excerpts of our conversations with:

 

All of you have built successful careers in very competitive, male-dominated fields of public finance, clearing services, municipal and retail financial advisory, and equity and options trading. Throughout our conversations, a recurring theme was “opportunities” – seeking them out and acting on them as a means for enhancing your professional skill sets and the role they played in furthering your careers. Share an example of an important project or program in which you had an opportunity to serve in a leadership capacity and distinguish yourself professionally.

Lana: I essentially stumbled onto a project that changed my career upon joining the Clearing division in 1997. Through my role as relationship manager for most of our high-volume, active trading clients, I landed myself front and center in our system conversion to Talisys (CSS at the time). It was imperative that these clients be converted to that new platform prior to our other clients for a variety of reasons, so I blazed a trail with the help of many senior people at the firm. The workload and effort were monumental, but as I soon realized so was the opportunity. Through that project, I proved to others, as well as to myself, that I could lead and influence others, team-build to solve problems and form lasting relationships even during challenging times.

Alynn: This past year, I’ve been able to help lead the firm’s preparations for major rule changes being enacted by the Department of Labor that would impact how advisors can interact with clients’ retirement accounts, as well as continuing to build out the Advisory Services Group, which is our fee-based fiduciary platform. My group also built out a business development team to help advisors diversify the number of solutions they provide their clients and drive organic growth.

Mary Hanan: I’ve been involved in order audit trail system (OATS) reporting since it began, initially filling out the registration paperwork and, until this point, continuing to work with Talisys regarding changes and then testing prior to the installation of new code. I have also been involved in pretty much everything related to equity and option processing through Talisys since converting to that platform prior to Y2K. Prior to the consolidation of Southwest Securities (SWS) and FirstSouthwest (FSW), I helped to identify the gaps and worked with employees of both firms and Talisys to develop and test the needed functionality. Projects I worked on for the conversion included adding the trailing stop order types and, with Southwest Securities and FirstSouthwest employees, Trades Away – a process of posting trades from drop copy FIX messages.

Julie: My business is more private sector oriented than many areas of the firm. For me, it has been extremely important to stay connected through any and all industry organizations relevant to real estate development and the Houston economy – organizations that are important to the health and well-being of the business and not just the next deal. Visibility is crucial. You have to be the last one "they" saw when the next new project is contemplated. I recognized this, and as such, I have been able to play an important role in the financing of many of the largest master planned communities in the Houston area. A drive out to any major highway in Houston is a reminder of the professional impact my career has had.

Cinder: In 40 years of being a financial advisor, I’ve had numerous opportunities to take a leadership role, most of which have revolved around finding solutions to problems that make sense for an issuer, or issuers in general, including initiating both general legislation and special legislative acts – to allow structuring flexibility – and special purpose bonds such as pension obligation, deficit financing, tax increment, etc. When a property tax cap was implemented in Massachusetts, most of the municipal credit ratings in the state were negatively impacted and, at one point, the state had more below investment grade credit ratings than any other state in the country. We were very much a part of creating a generic security structure that allowed for securing debt with an intercept of state aid, resulting in a program rating one notch below that of the state, and which provided market access for all of our affected issuers. That program has since been copied in many states around the country.

Anne: I’ve had the opportunity to work on water and wastewater financings, programs and projects across the country. In particular, I believe my recent work on behalf of the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), which earned Southwest Bond Buyer Deal of the Year, is the most significant program on which I have worked and where I’ve demonstrated a leadership role. It started with being a technical resource to the 2013 Texas legislative session where the legislation was passed, resulting in a constitutional amendment put before the voters of the State of Texas to approve the transfer of $2 billion from the State’s Rainy Day Fund to the State Water Implementation Fund (SWIFT). I worked with TWDB in partnership with the financing team to help create and structure a program that is projected to turn the initial capital investment into funding more than $27 billion of subsidized financing for water resource development projects across the state over the next 50 years. (In just two years, through this program, TWDB has funded just under $1.6 billion in projects, saving them a projected $187 million in interest expense.) Additionally, between what has been previously approved and is pending, the TWDB has committed more than $4.5 billion in project funding from 2015 through 2025. This program is more than the financing of water infrastructure, it is critical to meeting the growing population demands of the state and the corresponding economic development opportunities that come with having adequate water supplies.

Marti: Those who know me best, know I have a lot of opinions – and I'm usually not shy about sharing them. I entered public finance at a time when interest rates were falling, which made for lots of refunding opportunities. I started running numbers non-stop, which landed me in lots of deals. I also noticed at the time that many of our bankers and clients in Texas weren't utilizing banks as purchasers for some of these transactions. I started asking questions like, "Why aren't we doing more of these private placements? I think they're a better deal for our clients." The response I got back was, "We don't know. You’re right. Let's do it." From there, I worked to standardize the processes, term sheets and expanded the bank contacts. I think just being willing to speak up has put me in lots of situations which have allowed me to stand out.

Mary Williams: I was recruited by FSW right out of college to work with industrial development bonds (IDBs). At the time, IDBs were growing in popularity due to the manufacturing and warehouse distribution growth and economic impact of DFW airport. The person in charge was anxious to hire someone ASAP since an employee was leaving and he needed immediate help. I was offered the job because of my work experience. Plus, I could start right away. A deal was struck and I was the 40th employee of FSW, right after David Medanich (now head of HilltopSecurities’ Public Finance division). In those days, we were still using type writers and carbon paper to type the official statements, and the dress code required women to wear dresses or skirts… and the dreadful panty hose! Thankfully, both technology and the dress code have since changed. After the 1986 tax reform, the IDB business slowed down due to a change in the tax law, and I had the opportunity to respond to an RFP from Texas A&M University that involved restructuring and consolidating their various bond issues into a single credit system. Without much supervision, and ignorance being bliss, a call center was established to contact all the retail bondholders (the majority being Aggies and very few institutional holders) and achieve 75 percent of bondholders’ vote to redeem bonds and reissue with a new system wide unsecured general obligation revenue bond with no covenants or debt service reserve fund. The University of Michigan was the first institution to create this new revenue structure the year before. Today, it is the most common structure utilized by higher education institutions. Because of its success, we proceeded to get hired by many other public universities in the state. My practice today primarily centers on higher education and other non-profits. It’s been exciting and so interesting working in and building my career within this sector.

 

In your opinion, what do you believe has played a large role in enabling you to build a successful career?

Lana: Nobody succeeds alone. I could go on all day answering this question, but I have a very simple philosophy as a starting point, and I say it all the time: “Show up every day and be someone people want to work with and you will already be 90 percent ahead of the pack.” With that said, I have been incredibly lucky in my life and career. Growing up, my parents expected me to be responsible and to play an active role in the day-to-day operations of the family household. Looking back, that is where I learned the concept of teamwork. Everyone had work to do in our family and self-reliance was paramount. Career wise, I have had many mentors and champions who have believed in me over the years. From my very first job at SWS as a college intern in Nacogdoches to this very day, I have had male and female supervisors who have given me opportunities and support. Bill Felder was my mentor at SWS and he’s now my dear friend. The conference room in Clearing Services is now named after him. When I hold meetings there, I look up at his photo and cannot help but smile. He was tough on me when he knew I could do better, but the times we would “win together” are some of the best memories of my career. I sincerely believe that my success is not because of – or in spite of – the fact that I am a female. I believe I have succeeded because I genuinely love this company, our clients and the coworkers that I have the great fortune to spend my days with.

Alynn: I began my career with the firm working for a subsidiary of SWS – Mydiscountbroker.com, an online discount brokerage firm that competed with Etrade and Ameritade at the height of the tech boom. I believe that experience gave me a unique perspective on how valuable the relationship between a client and a trusted advisor really is. As financial advisors, the most important role we have is preparing our clients for uncertainty and helping them align their decisions and behaviors with their goals and values.

Mary Hanan: Whatever success I have achieved is due to several reasons. I like to understand how things work in detail. Having begun my career in the Dallas branch of a large New York firm, I had the opportunity in 1980 to join SWS, a smaller firm at the time. The move gave me a chance to learn and do more. I worked on the options trading desk and handled commodity orders. Options had only been trading on exchanges for a few years and the number of stocks with options was small. It was extremely fast paced since everything was manual in those days. It also introduced me to a group of extremely knowledgeable and competent people, who were at the same time humble and willing to perform whatever tasks were needed. It ingrained in me the idea that with hard work and the right attitude, there was little we could not accomplish.

Julie: I believe my success comes from a competitive nature, tenacity and great mentors and advocates I’ve been fortunate to have support me along the way.

Cinder: For starters, working in a field that provides opportunities to learn and grow daily, combined with being a bit of a type A personality who is driven to get ahead.

Anne: I have had wonderful mentors over the years, including my FSW colleagues, clients and other professionals. One in particular was George Janning, my former managing director at FSW. It was a tremendous opportunity to learn from and work with him. Being able to work for a company whose leadership encourages employees to pursue new and different business opportunities has been instrumental. While these opportunities come with accountability, I believe they could not have happened without an environment that supports and fosters such opportunity.

Marti: I’ve been very fortunate to be partnered with the right people who trusted me and gave me the opportunity to assume responsibility to get out there and sink or swim.

Mary Williams: Thanks to supportive colleagues and a work environment that afforded opportunities to grow within the firm, I’ve been able to build a career about which I’m passionate and a portfolio of loyal clients based on consistent quality service. I love working with colleges and universities, and I don’t have to go to class! Plus, my client meetings are mostly held during the day. Rarely are there ever evening meetings.

 

In a few sentences, what are some words of wisdom or valued advice that has benefitted you over the course of your career that, in a forward-looking manner, you would want to share with someone else who may be at the beginning of their career?

Lana: My former boss and chairman of SWS, Bill Felder, gave me some great career – and life – advice. He said, “Cast your bread upon the water, and it will come back to you a ham sandwich.” Of course, that usually gets a laugh, but when you think about the message, it is powerful. Give your time, attention, best effort and support to others and good things will come back to you. As for advice I’d pass along: Confidence is priceless, but ego is worthless.

Alynn: Someone once told me to dress for the job you want, not the one you have. I used those words to govern the way I approached situations and how I carried myself. By never saying, "That is not my job," and always looking for ways I could help the company achieve its goals, I have been able to build relationships across all levels of the organization. That has resulted in me having the opportunity to be a part of many different projects and initiatives outside of my day-to-day role that have allowed me to develop my professional skills.

Mary Hanan: If I could pass along any professional words of wisdom, it would be to encourage anyone to seek out work you enjoy doing and, if at all possible, with people you enjoy being around.

Julie: Be patient. Keep your head down. Don’t worry about the things going on around you that you cannot control. Do good work but take the time to get out and network with your peers and professional community. Ask for advice from lots of people and observe the successful people who have come before you and how their success was achieved. And never be an “I,” but a “we,” even if your role was significant. Oh, and choose your battles carefully – an important and potentially challenging lesson to learn.

Cinder: Several things come to mind in terms of how to progress in this or any job. Ask questions, think smart, get out of your comfort zone, challenge yourself daily, read everything that passes through your hands – and then some – work hard, learn everything you can, connect the dots, have fun and look for opportunities because they are all around you – don’t expect someone to hand them to you. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, and make sure to never lose sight of the forest for the trees. Always try to understand the big picture, as well as the bottom line, so as to help you put everything you do in context.

Anne: I am so rewarded and motivated by the work that we do. Understanding how our contributions impact the communities in which we live and work has left an incredible impression on me. My words of wisdom are when working on a bond issue or a project, be sure to step back and understand what you are truly accomplishing. Helping to build a school, creating additional water supplies, improving transportation or healthcare facilities are all important. While our role may be focused on the financing aspect, it’s part of a larger effort that can make a significant difference in our communities. Having this perspective can be extraordinarily valuable when you come upon the challenges that are expected with each financial transaction or project you undertake. Also, make sure you continually challenge yourself to learn and grow.

Marti: Never dismiss anything as below or above you. There are learning experiences everywhere. Even the most mundane task can provide a lesson, even if you can’t initially see it.

Mary Williams: I’ve learned to ask lots of questions, to not be afraid to say “no” or “I don’t know,” and to always look for other alternatives. Also, I’ve found that success can often be traced back to a time or place when you were given an idea or an opportunity that started you on the right path. It’s important to remember that you are indebted to that moment until you help someone else, just as you were helped.

 

A heartfelt thank you to all of these ladies for articulating important messages of mission, professionalism and passion. You are trail blazing amazing paths for women in financial services!

Hilltop Securities Inc. (HTS) is a registered broker-dealer and registered investment adviser that does not provide tax or legal advice. Material presented herein is for informational use only and may not be duplicated or redistributed without prior written consent of HTS, and distribution or publication of this material does not represent a solicitation to complete a financial transaction with the firm. Though information was prepared from sources believed reliable, HTS does not guarantee its accuracy or completeness. Securities offered by HTS (1) are not insured by the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) or by any other federal government agency; (2) are not bank deposits; (3) are not guaranteed by any bank or bank affiliate; and (4) may lose value. HTS is a wholly owned subsidiary of Hilltop Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: HTH) and is located at 1201 Elm Street, Suite 3500, Dallas, Texas 75270, 214.859.1800. Hilltop Securities Inc. is a member of NYSE, FINRA, and SIPC. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. ©2017 Hilltop Securities Inc., a Hilltop Holdings Company. All Rights Reserved.


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