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Winter 2004 CalBusiness  
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Up Close: Margo Alexander Shaping Wall Street from Within

by Carolyn Marshall

Shaping Wall Street from Within
Margo Alexander, BS 68
Retired Chairman
UBS Global Asset Management

Margo Alexander’s unlikely ascent from stock analyst to one of the most senior women on Wall Street as CEO of a major asset management company and senior executive at Paine Weber, took root at Berkeley in the mid-1960s, when the then-undergraduate pursued a business degree against the backdrop of turbulent campus protests. While others chose to change the world by soldiering or demonstrating, Alexander – always the pioneer – held the unusual view that big business offered the best vehicle for change.

"I had come to believe that corporations – businesses – were the shaping social and economic force in this country," said Alexander. "I decided to go to business school and try to change things from within."

After receiving an MBA in 1970 from Harvard Business School she pursued the improbable: finding employment in a world typically reserved for men. "At the time, people would actually tell you – ‘we just don’t hire women’," she recalled.

Thanks to school contacts – a resource she would tap repeatedly – she landed at a firm that would become Paine Webber (now UBS). For the next 29 years, Alexander stuck with the company, building impressive credentials and a resume punctuated by a long list of "firsts." She was among the first women to work as a securities analyst. She was the first woman to head a top-ranked research department; the first woman to oversee a major trading floor; and among the first females to head a large asset management business.

Alexander attributes her success to hard work, an exceptional education, carefully-honed credentials, and a dash of good luck. Recently retired at age 56, Alexander learned early on that her management style relies on encouragement and support – support of bosses, subordinates, and the home team. She argues that managers who steal credit, ruthlessly compete or undermine, rarely survive.

"Getting along with people and forming personal relationships has been the bedrock of my career," Alexander said. "Being a team player was absolutely crucial."

Another important lesson? No one escapes a certain degree of failure. Alexander willingly concedes that her corporate journey had its missteps, unforeseen back-stabbings, and a highly visible demotion.

"I think people don’t always appreciate that careers have ups and downs. This is not unusual," she told students at the orientation in August. "It’s how you recover and rebuild that counts."

Alexander believes in the power of an MBA – particularly from schools such as Haas or Harvard. The degree is a "union card" of sorts, that opens doors. And the education behind the degree gave her a unique set of "thinking skills" applicable to all facets of life – from CEO to mother of two children. Her advice to students: "leverage" any and all opportunities that Haas has to offer. Attend conferences, seek fellowships and join clubs --- all with an eye toward building a network.

"You are very likely to find that the network of people you meet here at Haas," she said, "will be your most valuable resource."

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Margo Alexander

Margo Alexander, BS 68
 
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