Inspiring the next generation of women leaders
Liz Ann Sonders shares her insights and advice for women pursuing careers in the financial services industry.
By Meredith Richard, Senior Manager, Communications
If you’ve tuned in to CNBC, Bloomberg TV, or Fox Business, chances are you’ve watched Liz Ann Sonders on your screen as she breaks down the day’s market moves and long-term trends. As Schwab’s Chief Investment Strategist, Liz Ann has a range of responsibilities, from market and economic analysis to investor education, all focused on the individual investor.
Liz Ann’s role is crucial not only for Schwab clients, but for the investor community overall. And recently her passion and dedication to serve this community were honored for the third year in a row by Barron’s as she was included on its 100 Most Influential Women in U.S. Finance list.
Liz Ann also plays an important role as a mentor for her colleagues and rising leaders at Schwab. Here, she gives Tais De Rada, Investment Consultant at Schwab’s La Jolla branch, her career insights and advice for women pursuing careers in the financial services industry.
Q. Liz Ann, thank you so much for joining me today. To start, I'd love to hear a little bit more about your career trajectory and the steps that you've taken to get you where you are today.
Liz Ann: To be perfectly honest, my entrance into the world of financial services was more fluke than purposeful when I graduated undergraduate school. To be honest, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted to live and work in New York City, interviewed at a number of different firms, not all Wall Street firms, but just resonated with the people at Zweig/Avatar and ended up taking that position. I was there for 13 years. I've been at Schwab since then. So, two jobs in 36 years, which is somewhat unheard of, went to graduate school at night in the beginning of my career and just kind of moved up the ladder as time went on. And now I love it, but it was not purposeful.
Tais: You know, it's funny, we usually think of our goals as “I’m going to go from point A to point B,” but there's a lot of different ways that we can get there. Thank you for sharing.
Q. As a woman in the industry, I'm curious if you’ve personally faced any barriers or difficulties along the way, and if so, how have you overcome those?
Liz Ann: Yes, but not maybe to the same degree as one might expect for a woman who started on Wall Street in 1986, which if you think it's a male-dominated industry now, you should see what it looked like in 1986. There were times, there was one time in particular in 1997 actually when at Avatar, we were looking to get more people exposed to financial media; it was brand-new, CNBC and other programs out there, and our marketing had suggested me to the PR firm and they said, “Well, we're just worried about the lack of experience.” Yet, the person they ended up recommending was somebody who had joined the firm eight years later than I did and was younger than me. But he was a male, so I just decided I would push back on that and had a lot of support from our marketing people, and that really was the start of the media part of my career. So, a good end to that story.
Q. What initially sparked your interest in financial services? And if we fast forward to today, what continues to motivate you?
Liz Ann: The interest, interestingly, was sparked in the early years of my career. I wasn't sure of where I wanted to go when I was in college. But once I started, I fell in love with the industry. But what’s interesting is my first 13 years in the business before I joined Schwab, I was a bottom-up stock picker, as they often call it.
I was more at the micro level, yet my firm and in turn, my tremendous interest was more the top-down, the big-picture macro analysis. That's really where my passion developed. And then the opportunity presented itself when I joined Schwab for the creation of the role 23 years later that I still have. So, it was a learning process, but also specifically, doing something for many years that I found I didn't really have passion for, and now doing something for many, many years thereafter that I do have passion for.
Tais: Now, that's amazing to hear, especially because with what you do today, there are so many people like myself who are able to consume and learn a lot about what’s going on in the markets and the economy. So, I think it's amazing to take a step back and say, “How did you get from here to there,” especially for people like myself who are interested in pursuing things like that. And especially when you talk about career progression, a lot of the times people emphasize mentorship and the importance of that.
Q. I’m curious if you've had any role models throughout your career that stand out and maybe if you could share one or two lessons that they taught you?
Liz Ann: I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out three of the women who have been most influential in my life and certainly role models, which were my two grandmothers who were both immigrants from Norway and didn’t speak the language and my mom, who was a first generation American. And they’ve just been extraordinary role models. I’m the first in my family to earn a college degree. So it wasn’t that I had as these models, these exceptionally successful women in business, it's just sort of character and ethics and just how they managed their lives and the love and support that they provided. In my career, they happen to have mostly been men. But I mentioned Marty Zweig, the founder of my first firm, incredible mentor, Louis Rukeyser, the late great Louis Rukeyser, which is where on Wall Street Week I got my start in financial media. And then, of course, the ultimate, Charles Schwab the man, Chuck, as we all call him, has been an incredible role model and mentor, whether he knows it or not, for the past 23 years.
Q. Has there been one specific career achievement you're most proud of?
Liz Ann: I would say it’s the blending or the integration of my family life and my business life. And I think there are a lot of people that use the term balance when describing how they integrate their personal life with their work life, and maybe it's just semantics, but I have always thought of it as more of an integration, because I think when you use the term balance and again, it could just be semantics, but it's how it plays in my head balance almost suggests that if you're giving your all to one side, you're not giving anything to the other side. Yet, I think of it as an integration. So when I look back at my 36 years in this business and 25, almost 26 years as a mom, I think being able to integrate those two somewhat successfully, maybe my kids might disagree at times, is my proudest accomplishment because I think both sides of my life are equally important.
Tais: I think you hit on something very important. People stress the idea of balance, but if we think about it more as integration and you know, you can do both and just that idea of “It’s possible, don't set limitation on yourself.” I think that's amazing. And whenever we're talking about success in our careers and our lives, I think a big part of it is also what obstacles have we overcome and how have we learned from those.
Q. What would you say is the biggest challenge you’ve faced throughout your career and what has that taught you?
Liz Ann: That's a great question. I suffered from, for quite some time, I think an affliction that probably many people suffer from. I find that women more easily admit it than men do, but I think probably everybody suffers from, which is the so-called imposter syndrome. Just concern, especially as I was transitioning in my career from this bottom-up analysis portfolio management to more of this macro top-down analysis. And just wondering whether “Am I smart enough on my own, knowledgeable enough? Do I have the right resources? Can I do this with some level of success? Will my messages resonate?” And there was a struggle for a long time. Again, I think it's a natural struggle, and I think most people go through it. I’m just perfectly willing to admit that was a big one for me. I haven't felt it inside me in a while. Maybe that's a good or a bad thing, but it was definitely a struggle during that transition in my career.
Tais: They always say you never feel 100% ready before doing something that's like taking action is so important and just taking those first steps. And so that's amazing. Thank you for sharing.
Liz Ann, I actually recently got to participate in Schwab's CARE program, which stands for Career Accelerator Resource for Emerging Branch Network Talent. And really the main point of the program was to promote and develop more female financial consultants and client-facing roles in the branch network. And I would say one of the biggest takeaways that has stuck with me since is the quality of your life is the quality of your relationships, and really the importance of cultivating your own personal and professional brand and the power of that.
Q. I know throughout your career, and even your personal brand, you've definitely cultivated a unique brand yourself. If you can give one or two pieces of advice for emerging women leaders like myself, wanting to pursue the financial industry, what would that be?
Liz Ann: It’s an interesting way you asked the question because I've never thought of what you're asking about with the term brand. It is not something that I purposely attempted to cultivate. I think the real key, and I pass this on maybe especially to women, is don't think of whether it’s brand, or whatever term we're going to use, as completely separate in our personal life and in our working life. I think personality and who you are, what you want to represent, I think should be similar in both aspects of your life. I've often said what you see or what you hear is what you get. I'm not terribly different. I'm really not different at all in my personal life as I am in my work life. And I think sometimes women especially feel like there are parts of their personality that they maybe have to constrain in order to be successful, especially in what is still a fairly male-dominated industry. And I take the completely opposite take to that. I think the inherent nature of who we are as women, and some of the sort of classic aspects to our personality that may maybe differ from men, I think are exactly the sort of forces and the power that we have in order to allow us to be successful in this business. I think women feel they have to have that demarcation, that separation, and what they represent in the working world is very different than who they are in their personal life. I think that that's noticeable, and I'm not sure that's the right path to take. So, the real net of it all is be yourself.
Tais: I think there's a certain power in being fully yourself and authentic. And as you mentioned, when you're doing that, opportunities will come, and you'll really be on the path that you're meant to be on. So, I think that's a powerful way to look at it. Thanks, Liz Ann.
Read Liz Ann’s 100 Most Influential Women in U.S. Finance Barron’s profile (Note: At the time the profile was published, a recession was not Liz Ann’s base case, but now it is. You can access Liz Ann’s latest market commentary at schwab.com.)
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