More Grubstakers and Moneymakers

A Firm of One's Own: Peggy Woodford Forbes '63

Peggy Woodford Forbes ’63 made history when she left a comfortable position at Merrill Lynch to open her own investment advisory firm—but that’s not why she did it. “I opened my own company because I wanted to,” she said. “I had worked very hard at Merrill Lynch for ten years, and I felt I could translate my expertise and contacts into my own business. I also concluded that if I was going to continue to work as hard as I did, and make the kind of sacrifices in my family life that I had, it would make more sense to have real equity in the company. It was a thrilling realization.” And, to her surprise, that realization led to a historic moment.

When Forbes opened Woodford Capital Management, she became the first African-American woman to establish a registered investment advisory firm in the United States that focused on growth equity management. Opening a business is never easy, but at that time her race and gender made it doubly difficult.

“Even as late as the nineteen-eighties and nineties,” she explained, “it was exceedingly difficult for minorities and women to gain the right kind of experience in the investment management field. We tended to be marginalized, if we were there at all.”

On top of these barriers, Forbes faced a host of obstacles—“money, infrastructure, clients… the unknown. I had never run a business, and I was self-financed. I was taking a big risk.”

Fortunately, her timing was excellent. At that time, “our country saw an increase in African-American mayors like Maynard Jackson and comptrollers and treasurers like New York’s Carl McCall. There were also people in Congress, including Maxine Waters, who made a big push for the inclusion of minorities and women in the California Public Employees’ Retirement System. Eventually, other public funds, foundations, and endowments began to think that racial diversity in their investment roster was a good thing, given their constituencies and markets. I happened to hit that wave, and it helped my business immensely.”

Woodford Capital Management did well as an institutional money management firm, but in 2005 Forbes merged her firm with Osborne Partners Capital Management, LLC, of San Francisco. Forbes now holds a senior leadership position, serving as one of the firm’s managing directors. “Every aspect of my profession fascinates me,” she said, and her passion for her work and for gender and racial equality is as strong as ever.

The Tax Whisperer: Blanche Lark Christerson '77

Taxes. Do you run the other way when you hear this word? Are you tempted to turn the page? Then you should get to know Blanche Lark Christerson ’77, an estate planning expert and a managing director at Deutsche Bank Private Wealth Management in New York City.

“I really enjoy the intellectual challenge of understanding the tax laws,” she explained with a perfectly straight face. “It’s mental gymnastics…a huge puzzle. You really have to chase it down and think about it. But once you’ve got a preliminary understanding of the matter, you can start to look for its deeper meaning—its hidden agenda.”

Clearly, tax experts are different from the rest of us. Or are they?

“When people learn I’m a tax expert,” Christerson continued, “they assume I must be good at numbers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Understanding numbers has never been intuitive for me.” Words, on the other hand, have always been “a good fit.”

“Taxes are conceptual,” she said, “as are words. I love exploring their different shades of meaning. I also enjoy getting down to the essence of something and conveying its meaning—simply and directly.”

Every month, Christerson shares her insights in her informative yet surprisingly readable newsletter, “Tax Topics.” “I’m always trying to think of interesting and entertaining ways to explain the material,” she said. “I don’t see the point of writing something that’s mind-numbing. And even when I speak at professional forums, I rarely refer to actual sections of the Internal Revenue Code—that’s a sure-fire way to have your audience’s eyes glaze over.”

So instead she tells stories. “It’s great fun to get up in front of people and tell a story—because that’s really what you’re doing when you explain something in a way that people remember. Just because the subject is taxes doesn’t mean it’s any less full of human drama.”

Mental gymnastics. A huge puzzle. Human drama. Maybe taxes aren’t so bad after all.

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