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Women Rise to Fund Leadership

Although men continue to dominate Wall Street, women are beginning to break into the higher echelons of mutual fund companies. Women have long served as marketing executives and portfolio managers at mutual fund companies and in the past few years, a handful have moved from these jobs into top positions.

Mutual Fund Market News spoke to five women recently made presidents of mutual fund companies and learned that most are themselves surprised about their success. None of them actually set out to head up a financial services company. They attribute their success largely to timing, unique backgrounds and joining firms that encouraged their development.

Now that they have reached these positions of leadership, these female executives speak confidently and comfortably about their jobs and encourage other women to strive to follow them.

"I got into the mutual fund business through a series of coincidences," said Bridget Macaskill, who, as president and CEO of the Oppenheimer Funds, is probably one of the most powerful women in the mutual fund industry. Based in New York, Oppenheimer's family of 65 funds has $95 billion under management.

Macaskill, who was named CEO in 1995, said the only reason she joined Oppenheimer in 1982 was that the firm had just been bought by a British company and could supply her with a visa to work in the U.S.

Macaskill had come to the U.S. from the U.K. because her husband had been transferred to New York. She had previously worked as executive director of marketing for Unigate, a food company in the U.K., and wanted to continue her career. A headhunter introduced her to the Oppenheimer chairman who wanted to establish a mutual fund company in the U.K.

The chairman was convinced that Macaskill's experience, albeit selling dairy products and baby food, could translate to selling mutual funds. He even persisted after Macaskill insisted she had no interest whatsoever in financial services, she said.

"I told the chairman he would soon discover I was totally wrong for the job and that as soon as I had my work visa, I would leave very quickly and quietly," Macaskill said.

Eventually, Macaskill gave in and joined Oppenheimer funds in 1982 as senior vice president of marketing. She said she changed her mind only because the chairman "was a wonderful salesman."

Her "unenthusiastic" attitude quickly changed when she realized that mutual funds were beginning to take off in the U.S. and that the Oppenheimer funds could use a marketing push from a person with a consumer background like herself, Macaskill said.

"In 1980, only six percent of the public owned mutual funds," she said. "But because the universal IRA was introduced in the early 1980s, mutual funds really became a consumer product. I found that a lot of what I had been doing in my previous role - looking at consumers, building product lines and branding - could apply to Oppenheimer."

Today, about 30 percent of the public owns mutual funds, Macaskill said.

Besides good timing, Macaskill attributed her success to an environment at Oppenheimer that encourages women.

"I know that in the 1980s, Wall Street was not a particularly friendly place for women," she said. "But I did not find this to be true. It is much more collegial here than competitive or political, and there are a lot of women at this firm on every level."

Macaskill has also found financial services more gratifying than the food industry.

"Giving people financial independence and helping them with retirement funding is very valuable," she said. "It's something we treat with a great deal of respect at Oppenheimer." Macaskill expects many more opportunities to open for women on the buy side, especially if the mutual fund industry continues to grow.

Unlike Bridget Macaskill, Barbara Krumsiek was drawn to finance while she was still in college. She was named president and CEO of the Calvert Group in 1997. The company, based in Bethesda, Md., has more than $6 billion in assets under management.

Krumsiek's original plan was to become a mathematics professor. But, after graduating from Douglas College in New Brunswick, N.J., Krumsiek decided to work for a short period before obtaining her masters in mathematics from New York University. She accepted a position as an analyst for the investment division of Equitable Life Assurance of Chicago and discovered she found business was more exciting than academia.

"I found that I enjoyed putting pure mathematics in an applied context," she said. "It was more exciting to work with real money, real people and real portfolios."

While she did eventually continue her education, Krumsiek stayed several years at Equitable. She largely credits her rise in the industry to an assignment she was given there in 1981 to start a family of funds.

Equitable is conscientious about affirmative action for women, she said.