May 5, 2015
I had the pleasure of interviewing my mother, and mentor, Nancy Port this past week. As a child, my perception of my Mom’s career was that it was intense, challenging, and very rewarding.
Nancy began her career in politics, working for the Governor of the State of Vermont, Richard Snelling. At the end of Governor Snelling’s term, my Mom needed to make a career shift to support her single income household and was offered a position as the Vice President at National Life of Vermont. Life quickly changed for her upon accepting that position as the only woman leader at the company.
How did you make your way into a career in financial services?
I had other careers and experience where I had done a good job and I was hired into a position because of my references. On my first day at National Life, I was introduced as the Vice President. My boss said to the staff ‘she doesn’t know what mutual funds are, but we think she’s trainable’.
3 years later, I was the President of the company. I never thought I would work in financial services, but I was determined to do a good job in whatever career track I chose. I had held positions previously as the Chief of Staff for the Governor of Vermont and the Director of the Vermont Bicentennial Committee.
What would be the key factors to your success as a woman in FS?
I didn’t even know what a ‘position’ was when speaking about a portfolio. I learned a whole new language and terms, and took NASD exams that really scared me. But I believed I was intelligent and I knew I could learn. I had been Chief of Staff to the Vermont State Governor where I had learned whatever necessary in that field. I knew I could learn whatever I put my mind to. I studied really hard, passed the exams and then as a woman I think I brought a leadership to the organization that hadn’t been there before.
I listened carefully to my staff and treated everyone equally from receptionist to CEO of the company, and I tried very hard to be the kind of leader that I would have wanted to follow.
Can you share any stories about coaches or mentors that you had along the way in your career?
I worked very closely with a wonderful mentor when I was the Director of the Bicentennial Committee. ‘Frank’ was in our office a lot working on the books. He was one of the Commissioners on the Committee. Frank drilled into me to always be over prepared no matter what the situation is. Treat people respectfully and equally. He was gracious and kind, but not afraid to make tough decisions.
Did you mentor anyone in your career and bestow anything differently on them than you had previously had from your mentors?
I always tried to break down barriers for people so that they could succeed. I wanted to help them find ways for them to see themselves as successful. Tell people the truth. If things aren’t going well, you have to tell them the truth.
I also believe that work should be fun. You have to feel like you can go in every day and enjoy the people you are working with. I was always big on (I had to hire a lot of people) making people realize that while I was interviewing them, they were also interviewing our organization. When people select a job, they need to evaluate the environment and make sure they are motivated to work there.
Could you site any specific challenges that you had as a woman in financial services?
I was often the only woman in the room, or one of a few. On the Board, I was the only woman. There are always dynamics that shift when you are the only woman among a group of men.
Have you seen a shift in women leaders in FS?
I think it’s much more wildly accepted now. And I think maternity leave has improved vastly over the past 20 years, but I still see vacancies in leadership roles across the board.
If you were to give advice to your 16 year old self what would it be?
Study more history and economics because the history helps you put things in perspective today and the economics are so important in terms of how the world operates. For personal reasons, economics is important. Understand your own finances and economics.
You can’t plan your life. Be open to the twists and turns that you could never imagine. Serendipity really does happen when you are open to change.