By Elizabeth Palmer ’92
So say the words immortalizing Trinity alumna Joan Payden ’53 in her senior class yearbook. They evoke a mental image that is borne out in person; friendly and engaging, confident, keenly observant, and possessing of an intellect that has propelled her to the top echelons of investment management circles. Her presence is both powerful and non-threatening, a seamless blend of apparently complimentary contradictions.
This is a woman on whose counsel fortunes literally hang, yet surrounding her is a complete lack of pretense, an absence of any of the trappings of entitlement, however well earned, that have been the familiar hallmarks of high finance and money management.
I have come to ask this math major from Larchmont, N.Y. how she ended up here, at the top of her game.
…friendships made with ease and kept with lasting loyalty
She greets her visitor personally in the lobby of the 32nd floor Los Angeles offices of Payden & Rygel, now the nation’s largest independent investment management firm with over $40 billion in assets.
She is welcoming and friendly with a quick smile and firm handshake. She guides a short tour toward her office, an area tastefully appointed, favoring elegance over opulence. The firm’s art collection, including various mediums and styles, showcases local artists over the more traditional European painters. Staff move through the corridors with industrious efficiency, neither hurried nor harried, but purposefully engaged in the work of this firm that is the brain child and life’s work of this Trinity woman.
The short walk from the reception area to her office suggests Payden’s preference to remain close to the center of things, rather than secluded in a corner suite. The door to her office remains open, and colleagues periodically lean in for a moment of professional consult. Payden is in her element. She facilitates the collaborative decision making that distinguishes the Payden & Rygel signature service from a field dominated by corporate giants.
“Financial management is a process, not a product,” she says. “We tailor our services to our clients’ individual needs and goals.”
To illustrate her point, she produces an article analyzing the New England Patriots’ surprise Super Bowl victory over the heavily favored St. Louis Rams from a business perspective. Success, it is argued, can be attributed to matching the right people with the right product delivery process and bringing them together in a culture of teamwork. Everyone on the winning team is responsible for the victory, not just the quarterback.
This philosophy, coupled with a fierce commitment to remaining independent in the age of mergers and conglomerates, has left Payden & Rygel in a class by itself. The firm’s clients are as diversified as their portfolios, and in recent years the firm took on additional diversification, first joining forces with Metzler Bank in Germany in 1998 and then opening offices a year later in the United Kingdom. Payden & Rygel Global Ltd. was established to provide service to European clients and to promote investment strategies in U.K. institutions. The Metzler/Payden venture provides clients with a full spectrum of investment opportunities.
The ongoing investment “process” involves economic analysis and proprietary research on individual issues, with an emphasis on risk management, Payden explains. By extensively exploring risks as well as opportunities, the firm is able to craft strategies that best serve highly customized client needs.
To better serve these varied interests and clients, Payden & Rygel remains steadfastly committed to its independent status. Strictly investment counselors, the firms does not draw income from individual stocks or transactional fees. They invest their earning potential the same way their clients do…in their financial advice. If the clients do well, the firm does well.
But business strategy alone did not build this empire.
…serenity punctuated with a lively sense of humor…
The afternoon sun dapples the walls of Payden’s office, stretching across credenzas displaying an assortment of small toys, lighthearted quips and other mementos along with the financial reports, books, files and other tools of her trade.
Seated behind her large desk, Payden must certainly cut an imposing figure. She prefers to converse from a chair on the same side of the desk as her guest. She asks as many questions as she answers, and tends to deflect the focus from herself to the firm as a whole.
Despite this unassuming and gracious demeanor, Payden is a woman of great valor and resolution. In 1970, she boldly shattered glass ceilings, becoming the first woman vice president of Scudder, Stevens and Clark, one of the oldest and most well respected investment management firms in the world. Yet she is careful not to capitalize or allow too great a distinction between gender and achievement.
“I am either a good financial advisor or not,” says Payden. “I am not a good woman financial advisor.”
Following an enlightening and emboldening four month professional development program at Harvard University in the early 1980s, Payden made the unorthodox decision to forgo her prospects with Scudder, cash in her retirement savings and strike out on her own with fellow Scudder alumna Sandra Rygel.
Though this may have raised some eyebrows, Payden had already proven her mettle as a financial manager, and the firm’s 1983 launch was everything she engineered it to be.
“When you jump in the lake, you can’t think about drowning,” explains Payden. “Of course we needed clients; I knew we’d get them, the important thing was to pull the right people together and that is what we did. At the time, and certainly it is clear now, the risk of ‘not doing’ outweighed the risk of ‘doing.’”
Indeed it did. Payden & Rygel now employs more than 250 people in offices in the United States and Europe. The firm’s dynamic management team continues to focus energies on delivering highly customized counsel to its expansive client base through ever evolving services.
…broad fields of knowledge measured by a slide rule
It does not take a great deal of imagination to see why some of the world’s most savvy investors turn to Payden & Rygel. In an investment world of giants – giant firms, giant risks, giant payoffs and giant losses, Payden & Rygel is the independent voice of investment reason, strong, consistent and always growing.
Paydenfunds, the firm’s family of 21 domestic and international mutual funds, debuted at No. 1 in its first listing in Global Investor, Europe’s leading investment magazine, reflecting the esteem in which the firm’s reputation is held internationally. The funds consistently perform among the top ranked, lowest expense ratio funds in the industry.
…a true Trinity woman
Payden is unimpressed by protestations from women who claim to be uninterested or uninformed about financial management, particularly their own.
“Women have been buying homes and cars, shopping for appliances and choosing family physicians forever. Financial management is really very similar; you have to ask a lot of questions and then make choices based on your assessment of the answers.”
In a 1972 letter to her alma mater, Payden offered a glimpse of her own future success.
“I believe very strongly that this is a field where women can excel with the appropriate background in either economics or mathematics,” she wrote. “It is helpful to have an advanced degree in economics or business, either an M.A. or an M.B.A.”
But for women without this formal schooling, Payden recommends researching your investment opportunities and your investment advisor equally.
“Can you imagine choosing a doctor without asking whether he graduated from medical school or whether he takes your brand of insurance?” she says. “Of course not.”
So how did Joan Payden end up here, at the top of her game? Hard work, determination and good sound management.
“There really is no free lunch,” Payden says, cautioning anyone thinking of investing.
“You need to know what you are investing in, and make realistic projections for returns based on your risk management strategy.”
Investment does begin at home, and Payden & Rygel is no exception. From the board services of the top brass to the local artistry adorning the walls to the interns drawn from local business liaison programs, the firm maintains an approach to corporate health that encompasses more than just the bottom line.
Payden’s lifelong commitment to volunteer services and community involvement are thematic in Payden & Rygel’s philosophy of what it takes to be a good corporate neighbor. The former Christ Child and Wekanduit Society member is a vital part of the Los Angeles philanthropic community and her efforts on behalf of such organizations as St. Anne’s Home, St. Joseph’s Hospital and other educational and social endeavors have brought enrichment to the lives of many.
We are standing in Joan’s office, looking out across the Los Angeles skyline. It is time to wrap up our visit. I realize as I glance around, how reflective of Payden herself this office space is. Bright, welcoming, uncluttered, yet infused with personality.
A large painting of a locomotive seems to be ready to leap off the canvas and roll right out into the horizon. A portrait of an elderly man, painted by Payden’s mother while traveling in Indonesia, keeps an eye on the people passing through the doorway. It is a comfortable place to ask a question, float an idea, or learn from a master.
There is something inherently impressive about a smart, confident woman. Joan Payden is such a woman. A Trinity woman, at the top of her game.
Elizabeth Palmer is a freelance writer and president of Palmer Fitzgerald Communications, a Democratic political consulting firm. She is a 1992 graduate of Trinity College with a degree in international studies. Currently, she lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., and serves on the Alumnae Association Board of Directors.