Charles Schwab Chief Investment Strategist Liz Ann Sonders has had some stellar Wall Street mentors, including greats like Louis Rukeyser and Marty Zweig.
Her first job out of college was with the Zweig/Avatar Group in New York. During Sonders’ 13 years at the firm, she earned an MBA at Fordham (paid for by Z/A) and became head of stock selection. She then left to join U.S. Trust, which promptly was bought by Charles Schwab.
While at Z/A, she met Rukeyser and became a regular on his PBS show “Wall $treet Week.” Before her first appearance, the host asked if her parents were in finance. “No,” she said.
Rukeyser advised her to address the audience as if she were speaking with her parents. “‘Get them to understand what you’re talking about.’ And that has stuck with me since that moment,” Sonders said.
“It’s always something I try to do, whether I’m up on stage speaking, sitting down with a small group of clients or writing. I keep it simple,” she added.
Reflecting on her 30-plus years in the business, Sonders said: “I’ve had the great fortune to have worked for and with icons in this business. They just happen to be men.”
Zweig helped her learn about the markets, Rukeyser taught her the ropes of financial media, and Schwab let her grow and do what she wanted to do all along — be an investment strategist.
What about career challenges? In 1996 at Avatar, a PR consultant said Sonders’ age and gender might “cause a credibility issue,” and suggested that a newbie male colleague handle media work for Z/A.
“That blew their age [excuse],” she said. The firm’s marketing head insisted Sonders represent it in the media, which she did — leading to her regular appearances on “Wall $treet Week.”
But overall, the strategist said, “I really haven’t faced much in the way of gender discrimination. And I haven’t had anything that would be classified as #MeToo related.” (Both firms that she’s worked for have diverse cultures, she adds.)
Sonders thinks being a woman in this business “has been a huge advantage” for her and her career. The industry hit a milestone two years ago when “we crossed the 50% threshold where now more than half the wealth in the United States is controlled by women,” she explained.
Plus, women say they like having female professionals handle their money. “[Instinct] might give women a bit of an edge … ,” she said. “That’s why, across the spectrum of metrics, women are often seen as better long-term investors.”
What advice does she have for young women entering the business?
Women often are told they “need to speak up, be bold. I don’t know. That’s not been my personality… ,” Sonders said. “You do have to express your interest and show that you are interested. … We all want to be interesting, but I think being interested is even more important than being interesting.”
Who are her female role models and/or mentors?
“My mom, that’s for sure. … And one of my close friends is [Chuck’s daughter] Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz,” the strategist said.
“I’ve learned a lot from her … ,” Sonders explained. “She has worked incredibly hard and is not a coattail rider. She has elevated [the firm’s] focus on philanthropy and giving back, and that has added … to our culture.”
What’s her favorite blog, podcast, book or website?
“I read constantly. I drink from a fire hose of information. Unfortunately, that doesn’t give me a lot of time for books. The last book I read was Chuck’s ‘Invested,’” Sonders said.
She recommends following her on Twitter to see who she follows. Twitter is “an efficient way to get information,” she explained, adding that firms charging thousands of dollars for information often will push it the same research for free on Twitter — where she has 83,700 followers.
Any thoughts on Ken Fisher’s recent lewd remarks?
“It was shocking,” said Sonders. “I’ve never met him, I don’t know him, so I can’t say if it was or wasn’t out of character. But it was shocking.”