Trial by Fire

Mari Buechner has worked for the same company in the same town for more than 20 years. Her career, though, has been anything but routine.

Working her way from a part-timer in Coordinated Capital Group's due diligence department to president and part owner of the Madison, Wisconsin--based broker-dealer, Buechner has become a leading authority on compliance issues--and learned a thing or two about navigating these male-dominated waters along the way.

She received her trial by fire on the road, visiting companies during her stint as a due diligence officer.

"It was a big challenge as a young college student to walk into a boardroom that was mostly male and start asking questions," she says. "But what's the alternative? You're there to do a job, and you have to do it. Sometimes I would walk in, and they would think I was bringing coffee."

She would have to explain to the row of men across the conference table that they were all there for her. She was their meeting.

Buechner credits the founders of Coordinated Capital, Larry and Donna Peters, with giving her the support and the encouragement she needed to get through those first years and make her way into senior management at the firm.

"They were really committed to growing the firm from within and open to allowing me to go as far as I wanted to within the company," she says. When due diligence started to decrease as part of the business, she moved to the compliance department, which gave her more one-on-one interaction with the firm's client reps.

It also gave her an up-close and personal view of the impact that the increasingly complex regulatory system was having on independent advisors and small firms. So she jumped at the opportunity to join the NASD's District Committee.

"I felt very strongly that as long as there was a forum for the independent contractor firm I wanted to be part of it," she says.

Now, she is also on the NASD Licensing and Registration Committee and is chair of the Compliance Advisory Counsel for Financial Services Institute. And whenever possible, she volunteers her time with the NASD's education initiative for small firms by participating in conferences on best practices.

"I find that very fulfilling because everyone can read the rules, but I bring the practicality of implementing new regulations at a small firm," she says.

That level of hands-on service is the standard that she and her partners at Coordinated Capital are committed to delivering to their clients.

"Our whole goal is the personal relationship," she says. "I know that everyone says that, but sometimes service in this industry has become too commoditized. We hire and maintain people who work well within the culture of the firm, so it has just evolved into this."

Much the same way that the industry is evolving to be more inclusive of--and represented by--women. It's probably no coincidence that most of the office staff at Coordinated Capital are female.

"It is easier to be a woman in this industry than when I started," she says. "As industry evolves and more reps get into this business, you are going to see more women [at all levels]."

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