Women trading Wall Street for Main Street

CHICAGO Thu Sep 23, 2010 10:01am EDT

Lumete Eyewear co-founders Barbara Warren, left, and Clara Herrera are seen in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/handout

Lumete Eyewear co-founders Barbara Warren, left, and Clara Herrera are seen in this undated handout photo.

Credit: Reuters/handout

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - The same skills used in constructing billion-dollar deals on Wall Street are helping women run successful business after they leave the corporate world.

"Many women who leave Wall Street can make a go of an entrepreneurial venture," said Maddy Dychtwalk, author of "Influence, How Women's Soaring Economic Power Will Transform Our World for the Better".

Dychtwalk added the recession has emphasized this point, as she said over the last few years the number of businesses run by women increased twice as fast as those run by men.

"There is a case to be made that women are leading the country out of the recession."

Recent numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that over the last decade 140,000 women have left Wall Street - a 2.6-percent drop - while the number of men grew at a rate of 9.6 percent.

Barbara Warren is part of that exodus. In 2008, when many were holding fast to their jobs amid signs of the approaching financial crisis, the former Wall Street attorney bolted to start her business.

Today Warren and her partner, Clara Herrera, are gaining traction with their self-funded venture, Lumete Eyewear (www.lumete.com), a sunglass wholesaler specializing in luxury shades for women. The specks, which sell for $180-200 a pair, have found their way into high-end boutiques such as Red in New York City's East Village, and are drawing interest from international customers.

"It's nice that I can do my own legal work," joked Warren, 31, who always planned to run her own business. "Honestly, I'm unqualified to do all the other roles in my business."

TAKING THEIR CHANCES

Wall Street alumnae of all ages and stripes have been taking their chances on private enterprise. Some, like Warren, had a well-hatched plan. Others, like Stephanie Scott, saw the downturn as an opportunity.

Scott, who began her career at UBS, left a senior-level post at M&A advisory firm Centerview Partners in July to purchase a franchise called Mom Corps. The business places professional women in temporary positions.

"I saw all these amazing women leaving Wall Street," said Scott, 27, who owns the rights to placements in Manhattan and will officially launch in October. "The Mom Corps concept was an obvious fit to me."

In her short-lived Wall Street stint, Scott worked on some big deals such as PepsiCo's $7.8-billion purchase of Pepsi Bottling Group.

"I got to spend a lot of time with C-level executives," said Scott, adding the experience is something she can parlay in her dealings with new corporate clients. "I loved being in the middle of the action."

Time on Wall Street opens doors to exclusive networks that otherwise would be closed off, said April Rudin, who left her job working on behalf of wealthy clients at a small private bank in 2009. She went on to form The Rudin Group, a marketing firm that helps companies target high net worth customers.

"High net worth marketing is done in small groups; it's laser focused," said Rudin. "I brought a good Rolodex." The Wall Street pedigree also puts entrepreneurs at the top of the class in fundraising, said Andrea Miller, CEO of YourTango, a website (www.yourtango.com) dedicated to relationship advice. Miller, 39, started her venture in 2005 after working in the private wealth group for Goldman Sachs.

"I've had to raise capital," said Miller, adding that her credentials "gave me a new appreciation and probably some insights into how to be much more effective when it comes to sales."

DEVIL IN THE DETAILS

Some Wall Street veterans left simply because they tired of the rigors of trying to juggle career and family in a workplace with little tolerance for personal pursuits.

"I watched everybody else miss out on their spouse and children," said Sharon Blavais, a former human resources executive with Goldman. "I sold my soul to the devil for 10 years. If I wanted to do anything else with my life, I thought I'd better step out."

In 2001, shortly after the September 11 attacks, Blavais, 40, took a generous severance package. She now runs her own career consulting business, Shake Up My Resume (www.shakeupmyresume.com), part time out of her suburban New Jersey home, while raising three children. She credits her Wall Street pedigree with helping her seal the deal with prospective clients.

"It definitely gives people confidence," Blavais said. "Already it's as if I passed a test." Many of these entrepreneurs don't miss their former Wall Street jobs that were largely dictated by the whims of the stock market.

"Working for the hedge fund industry, I had a vague notion I was creating liquidity in the financial markets," said Warren. "It feels good to be creating a product that our customers are excited about."

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