July 2020 is the Female Wave of Change Story telling month: Stories matter and we want you to share yours! Today Susan Ganz, Female Wave of Change Ambassador New York shares her story how she climbed the ladder of corporate America but decended again to create her own story.
Some day people are going to know who you are
“Some day, Susan, people are going to know who you are,” said my high school physics teacher. What did he mean by this? Upon reflection years later, I finally understood what he saw in me, what he truly meant, and what he was inspiring me to do. He was planting seeds for me to make my mark in the world and be visible – he saw my dedication and commitment to my studies and all of the extracurricular activities I was involved in. Importantly, he saw my heart – supporting others with their goals, whether it was through tutoring or as a cheerleader.
I wanted to understand human behavior
After graduating high school, I attended Tufts University and studied clinical psychology. Why psychology? I wanted to better understand human behavior, especially the motivations behind the way people act, and to gain insights into someone very close to me who grappled with mental illness. During my junior year of college, I completed a work study program in health and human services in London. I had the good fortune of working for British Telecom in the Selection Methods Group, developing selection tests for recruitment and advancement purposes. It was during this time that I got my first taste of making an impact and applying psychology to a business setting.
My internship abroad motivated me to use my psychology training and analytical skills in the corporate world. I started my career working with CEOs and CFOs of middle market companies, supporting them with their financing and cash management needs. I quickly noticed that it was lonely to be at the top. These C-suite executives wanted a sounding board – they shared their challenges and I listened. I wanted to be able to have a broader and bigger impact on these companies by providing direction on their respective companies’ strategies, marketing, and operations.
I became a “business doctor”
To engage in broader business conversations with the C-suite, I decided to pursue a career in consulting. To make this pivot, I attended business school at Wharton. To get my feet wet in consulting, I interned at the Wharton Small Business Development Center (SBDC). I especially enjoyed solving the challenges faced by the established businesses. The CEOs would often come in knowing that they had an issue, but did not always know the root cause. I would be a “business doctor” in understanding the symptoms and coming up with potential diagnoses, and ultimately the solutions that addressed the underlying causes of their issues.
Relationship building within one’s organization was key in being successful
From there, I was hooked on consulting. After getting my MBA, I joined a major consulting and accounting firm and supported larger companies in the next stages of their growth. I was fascinated by the work and learned a very tough lesson. Growing up I was socialized to put my head down and do my work. I applied this approach after business school and found that this was not enough. My mostly male counterparts spent part of their morning developing relationships with the senior managers and leaders of the department. Soon I saw more desirable assignments going to these colleagues. I realized that relationship building within one’s organization was key in being successful and I incorporated what I learned into my future positions.
Any time you are introducing something new, there is a natural resistance to embracing the change
Out of a desire to settle down with one company and make an impact, I said yes to a career opportunity that was outside of my comfort zone. I was asked to join one of the major Wall Street firm’s in a technology area. I was tasked with developing a strategy, process, and tools for streamlining how the company worked with its technology vendors. Since I did not know technology, my colleagues and I made a deal – I would teach them financial analysis and they in turn would teach me technology. That launched a 10-year technology management career on Wall Street. After a year in the vendor management space, I was hired internally to support the firm’s investment banking group in developing technology solutions to support their business. I had the opportunity to manage several high-profile technology initiatives for two Wall Street firms. There was a lot of pressure to succeed and I rose to the challenge with the help of my psychology training and building relationships with colleagues from different departments. Any time you are introducing something new, there is a natural resistance to embracing the change. Knowing this, I would acknowledge the resistance and work alongside my colleagues to address the objections and complete the projects.
It was during my time on Wall Street that I also experienced changes in my personal life. My two daughters were born during this time. Being a working mom in a demanding industry wasn’t always easy. Having a support system in place to assist with childcare and transporting my daughters to where they needed to be was key. The year 2001 was a rollercoaster ride. Our oldest daughter was born that year. Six weeks after she was born, we learned that my father had been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. He was given 3 months to live and he lived for 7 months – that was a gift for us. The tragic events of September 11th happened while I was on a business trip overseas. It was so difficult to be away from my husband, my newborn, and my dying dad!
Women’s leadership initiatives
While on Wall Street, I also began my journey with women’s leadership initiatives. I signed up to be a mentor with the Financial Women’s Association (FWA). After a couple of years as a mentor, I decided I wanted to explore leadership opportunities within the organization – I went on to be the Co-Chair of the FWA’s Annual Dinner, Treasurer, Vice President, and then President of the organization.
I suffered a professional identity crisis
When the financial crisis in 2008-2009 hit, my position on Wall Street was eliminated. For the first time, I did not know what I wanted to do next in my career. I had suffered a professional identity crisis. After many conversations with colleagues from the FWA, attending several job fairs, and networking with different types of people, I decided to embark on a more entrepreneurial career and work with business owners and individuals on life-meaningful issues. At the encouragement of my FWA sisters, I decided to pursue a career as a financial planner and advisor. Soon after entering the field, I noticed a gap in how the financial industry spoke to women. I felt like I was in a time warp as the approach was more like the 1950s than the 2010s. To address this gap, I decided to focus my practice on women, women business owners, and their families. I developed my own women-focused seminars and financial educational materials. It was very rewarding to empower women around their finances.
About three years ago, when legislation was introduced about advisors being fiduciaries when it came to managing retirement accounts, I was no longer able to do my seminars and use the materials that I developed. I started to lose “my voice.” In observing trends of increased legislation and more people going online to do their own financial planning and investing, I decided to figure out the next stage of my career.
Leader in diversity and inclusion initiatives
Along the way in my professional journey, I stepped up my involvement as a leader in diversity and inclusion initiatives locally and globally. Through a friend, I was introduced to the Female Wave of Change and have gone on to be the New York State Ambassador and teach in the Women Leading in Change program. I also completed the Inspired Women Lead year-long global mentoring program. Locally, I completed coursework for the Anti-Racism Project and became Co-Chair of the Melville Chamber Women’s Group, where I helped the organization in growing the women’s active participation.
R.E.S.T.: Resiliency & Empowerment Seminar Today
Earlier this year, I decided to leave the world of financial planning and advising to launch my own strategy consulting firm. I work with the C-suite on key strategic initiatives for their organizations, such as growth, change management, and pivoting post-pandemic. In thinking about how I can give back and make an impact during the pandemic, I launched a web show called R.E.S.T., which stands for Resiliency & Empowerment Seminar Today. I profile the leaders of small and mid-sized businesses and non-profits. It is these organizations that will need the most help during and after the pandemic. I realized the power of the stories shared by these executives and how others are inspired by their journeys, so this is why I decided to share my story.
I am looking forward to continuing the show and doing the work to support companies in positioning, and in some cases re-positioning, them for continued growth and success. In my professional and personal journey, I have learned to take control of my life in the face of adversity and uncertainty and inspire others to do the same. Focusing on my core values of impact, family, and community has been the guiding light and has allowed me to be visible and others to see my soul.”
Susan gave Female Wave of Change permission to share her story