Wednesday, March 10, 2010

HerStory: Power Houses - Catherine Hughes & Muriel Siebert

Catherine "Cathy" Hughes and Muriel Siebert are two powerful women in fields dominated by large institutions headed by men. At first glance the women may seem a world apart but their struggles in fields where the glass ceilings are as high as the grass on your lawn unites these power houses. These ladies know how to work the room -- the board room.

Cathy Hughes, the Founder and Chairperson of
Radio One, was born into a family that was both musically and mathematically inclined. Her mother was a trombonist in an all female jazz band and her father was the first African-American to receive an accounting degree from Creighton University. Hughes is one of the richest African-Americans living in the U.S. but spent her early childhood growing up in the projects. While Hughes' living situation was not ideal, this did allow her father to finish school.

After taking the helm of WHUR-FM at Howard University, one of America's oldest and most prestigious historically Black universities (HBCU), Hughes founded Radio One in 1979 with her husband Dewey. Hughes hoped to create a legacy for her young son and an outlet for the voices of African-Americans whose needs were being ignored by traditional media. There were several setbacks in Hughes quest to conquer the radio waves including the loss of her home.

Like any woman on a mission Hughes kept moving forward. After 32 presentations to potential investors and hearing "no" countless times she was able to fund her $1.5 million venture. Catherine Hughes is the little entrepreneur who could. One station turned into 53 (in 16 major urban markets) and thus began a media empire. Today, Radio One owns
Giant magazine; cable station, TV One and several other companies. Not only has Hughes given a voice to Black America; she's given a voice to women in America.

Siebert was the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). In 1967 Siebert founded Muriel Siebert & Co., Inc., a stock discount brokerage firm. The "big boys" must have been afraid of getting shown up by a woman. NYSE and lending institutions sent Muriel back and forth, each demanded she receive approval from the other. Eventually, Siebert received the funding she need to purchase her seat for a hefty $445,000. Prices for seats in 1967 were set between $220,000-450,000.

In 1975 Siebert regulated more than $500 billion in funds as Superintendent of Banks for the State of New York. During that time, no banks in New York failed while institutions went under -- nationwide. Not new to stirring the pot; Siebert called for the regulation of hedge funds amidst the latest financial crisis. A study by New York University's Stern School of Business found that 1 in 5 hedge funds lie about their performance and assets they control. More money, more problems? Not if you are Muriel Siebert, the "First Lady of Finance".

Besides having a head for business, Siebert has a heart for philanthropy. In 1990 she founded the
Siebert Entrepreneurial Philanthropic Plan. The plan allows securities buyers to donate money to charities within their communities; proving that it is possible to give back while making bank. While serving as the President of the New York Women's Agenda she created a financial literacy program for women which continues to this day.

And in closing, here's a reminder for financial institutions who may have forgotten what Siebert has said all along:

The men at the top of industry and government should be more willing to risk sharing leadership with women and minority members who are not merely clones of their white male buddies. In these fast-changing times we need the different viewpoints and experiences, we need the enlarged talent bank. The real risk lies in continuing to do things the way they've always been done.

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