Mary Susanne. The Story of My Career. The Early Days

posted June 8th, 2011 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

I asked Mary Susanne to provide me with a brief synopsis of her career.  She said:  “Well, I graduated in history and French. How did I end up in the investment business?  I had a grandfather and an uncle who had their own investment company and I guess it was in my genes.  And I had a grandfather who was an obstetrician who played the stock market, lost all his money in 1929 and made it all back again.  So the investment business was in my genes. After graduation, I worked in the summer of 1968 at Wood Gundy and then I worked for Wood Gundy in London, England with the “Cockney Sparrows” in the cage and normally they don’t have the colonials over in the winter time but I was there and I loved it.  There was just a buzz about it.  When I came home, I was going to go to library school but they had changed library school from one year to two years and I lost interest in going. All my family, besides the ones I have just mentioned were in law and it certainly didn’t appeal to me and I didn’t feel like going back to school for years and years, so I started to look for a job.”


Mary Susanne continued: “I didn’t type. Those were the old days at university, no typing, no computers, nothing.  So I went to typing school and I ended up as a filing clerk at Pitfield Mackay Ross and that’s really how I started in the business. I worked myself up to be an analyst ultimately. However, first of all, because I was just a filing clerk, I made myself useful to the corporate finance department and to the sales people by running what was a little library.  I knew where to get any statistics they wanted; I was very resourceful.  There wasn’t internet; there wasn’t all that stuff, but there were a lot of publications from Ottawa.  There were annual reports and there were all kinds of services that you could subscribe to.  Anyway, so that’s what I did. Then I started with the securities courses and so then I became a junior analyst at Pitfield.  Then I got fired one Friday afternoon, simply handed an envelope. I told him he could take the envelope back and he said chances are you are going to look for another job and I wanted to say, well that’s the most intelligent thing you ever said. Anyhow, I did start to look for another job and I got a job at Wood Gundy as an analyst which I really enjoyed and because I was female I was asked to cover the retail industry. It was interesting and there weren’t a lot of people that covered it. I picked up other industries that were somewhat related to retail, like textiles, and I tried to take on new areas that other people weren’t involved in which somehow related to the retail side.”


“One of the experiences I had a long time ago in 1968 was meeting the Sieffs, who were the principal shareholders of Marks and Spencer, although I had no idea that they owned Marks and Spencer.  Anyway, all that is just a bit of background to say meeting them meant I could go to London, England and I could visit with them. They bought People’s Stores and then Wise Stores here in Canada and they introduced me to their suppliers, so that I could go and further augment my knowledge of the retail industry. It turned out to be a good connection when I started my own business and it was a lot of fun.”


“However, Wood Gundy underwent a bit of a management shake-up.  The economy wasn’t so hot and I got fired, on a Friday, which was quite typical.  I was considered to be the most expendable. I was the only female analyst. However, I had done very well at my job so I had lots of recommendations from the sales managers of the other offices because I’d been useful to their institutional clients. The gentleman who fired me got fired himself the day after he fired me.  He was a director and I don’t think they’d ever fired a director at Wood Gundy before, so I kind of got washed under the carpet. When I went to speak to the chairman of the firm and explained what had happened to me, he didn’t know that I’d been fired.  I was given severance. I went to a lawyer who was very helpful to me then and later, particularly when I started my business. She said just write a letter and get some more money from them but don’t make a fuss because you’ll never have a career on Bay Street if you do which I understood.  So we did get more money and then I started looking for a job and, as you know, to look for a job when you don’t have one is not fun.”


“I looked and looked and looked and finally I had to move to Montreal for a job with the Royal Bank in the Investment Department which was a lot of fun.  I was thrilled with it but I was out of work for six or seven months before I got it.  So off I went to Montreal and I worked for a wonderful American woman who was very, very smart.  Unfortunately, she has since died but she became a good friend of mine.  She gave me lots of room to grow and I established more connections from there which helped me.”


“And then two things happened.  In 1976, there was the revolution in Quebec unfortunately and many head office functions moved to Toronto. The Royal Bank moved their Investment Department back to Toronto and, at the same time, they were restructuring some of the instruments that were covered in the Investment Department.  That’s a little bit more technical than you need to know but basically they were then going to shift me around.  So I was put into a main line banking training program which was fine, and I learned a lot, but mainline banking means that you’re pretty far away from the powers that be and I’ve always liked to be where the decisions are made and you’re pretty well down the totem pole in that situation.  A head hunter came to me and said that they were looking for somebody to manage money at the Mortgage Insurance Company of Canada (“MICC”). I got that job and I went there and I did very well there. I was novel in my approach to portfolio management and I was able to keep up my contacts on the street which I had already established from when I was in the Royal Bank Investment Department, so it was lots of fun. And then the economy was really going into the tank and MICC was going with it because there was a law in Alberta, where they had insured a lot of mortgages, where if you couldn’t pay, you could walk away from your mortgage and then they had to pay up.  I was constantly creating money in the Investment Department for them to do what they had to in Alberta which meant that their operation was getting slimmed down.”


“In the meantime, I had met a gentleman who was a terrific guy and he told me to stop being Joan of Arc for the principals of MICC and instead go out on my own and he would back me and that’s what I did.  I wrote up a business proposal. He just wanted one page. I had a couple of women help me. They were both CA’s and they helped me put something together and that’s what happened. Then I went to the Royal Bank to borrow some money. I went through three bank managers before I found one that understood how to organize my finances in a way which would make them acceptable to the Ontario Securities Commission (“OSC”). I was grateful to this manager because she knew how to structure my loan so that the working capital ratio would be what was acceptable to the OSC because I didn’t have any clients.   I had to apply to the OSC for a license and I needed an exemption. I didn’t have my CFA but I had a lot of experience managing a reasonable amount of money, so I applied for the exemption. I went directly to the appropriate person at the OSC and had a meeting with them because I felt a personal connection to my work.  Most people hire fancy lawyers to complete the application forms and so forth but I didn’t think that was the right approach for me.  In the end, I got my financing and I got the exemption I needed and that is how I started my business.”


What Strikes Me?

Our family can influence our interests and our career choices


The importance of making ourselves useful to our work colleagues and associates


Don’t make a fuss, make a change


The importance of connections


People can appear out of the blue and see things we don’t see ourselves and offer to back us


A good lawyer and banker are critical


What Strikes You?


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