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Published: October 11, 2002

 
 

Best Business Books 2002: Women Leaders

From the beginning of Siebert’s professional life — she started as a securities analyst — she faced monumental prejudice. Most Wall Street firms hired women only in the capacity of secretary, and the few that allowed women to stray beyond steno pads paid them about half of what men earned for the same work. However, the ill will she experienced in those early years was nothing compared with the almighty ruckus that arose in 1967 when Siebert decided to try for a seat on the exchange. Nine of the 10 men she asked to sponsor her “ran screaming in the other direction, at least metaphorically.” Then she was refused a loan from Morgan Guaranty to buy the seat until the exchange admitted her, and the exchange wouldn’t admit her until she had the loan; these were conditions never asked of a man. (When Siebert became superintendent of banking in 1977, she oversaw 500 banks, one of which was Morgan Guaranty. A moment to savor.) In the end, Chase gave her the required $445,000 against stock she owned, although that bank had a bet going that it would never have to make the loan. Amazingly, her victory had no immediate impact — it wasn’t until 1977 that Siebert was joined on the floor by another woman. As she puts it, “For ten years … the NYSE consisted of 1,365 men and me.” Glacial, indeed.

Like Mickie Siebert, Mary Wells Lawrence is a legend in her profession. She also came to New York City in the ’50s, getting her start as a copywriter at Bamberger’s and then Macy’s. After a stint at the advertising agency behemoth McCann Erickson, she went to the smaller, singular firm of Doyle Dane Bernbach, where breaking-the-mold creativity was the order of the day. After seven years at DDB — “heaven on earth” — she briefly rejoined McCann before founding Wells Rich Greene, which quickly gained a reputation for hip, humorous advertising. With such clients as Philip Morris, Procter & Gamble, American Motors, Braniff, TWA, and Continental, she was the only woman of her era to head an agency with big-budget accounts. When Lawrence took her company public in 1971, she became the first woman CEO to be listed on the NYSE. While the male chauvinism she encountered was not as ludicrous and pervasive as the Wall Street variety, she remembers that after she landed the hotly contested TWA account, “Madison Avenue’s old guard decided women were dangerous to the advertising community and that I was not only an arriviste but the queen of black widow spiders.” A cute blonde (her description), she is remembered as the “it” girl of her time. An it girl with a serious career.

Passionate, Positive, and Lucky 
One can’t help but ask why Siebert and Lawrence were able to succeed when so many women either gave up or didn’t try at all. On the face of it, they would seem to have little in common. To be sure, both are women of considerable intelligence and exceptional tenacity, but their personalities couldn’t be more different. In line with her profession, Mickie Siebert is steady, analytic, and sardonic. In line with hers, Mary Lawrence is vivacious, intuitive, prone to contradiction, and a favorer of breathless run-on sentences studded with words like “sizzle,” “sparkle,” and “shimmer.” One can’t imagine Mickie Siebert kicking off her shoes at the end of the day and dancing alone to Sly and the Family Stone pounding as loudly as possible on the record player, as Mary Lawrence endearingly owns up to doing to free herself of stress. (“People in the building averted their eyes in the elevator. God knows what they thought.”)

 
 
 
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