Monday, August 26, 2013

Muriel Siebert, Wall Street Pioneer, Dies at 80

Muriel Siebert, Wall Street Pioneer, Dies at 80.
Muriel Siebert is to Wall Street what Barbara Walters is to television news: a female pioneer in a traditionally male-dominated industry. Today we mourn the passing of a truly iconic and admirable woman.

Muriel Siebert was born September 11, 1932 in Cleveland, Ohio and attended Case Western Reserve University. She left in her junior year when her father was diagnosed with cancer. She came to NY with her Studebaker and $500 in her pocket.

She started her career as a $65/week trainee in research at Bache & Co. She went on to become an industry specialist in airlines and aerospace. At the time, she was paid much less than her male colleagues, despite doing the same work as them. The only way to make more money was to work for herself.

She created Muriel Siebert & Co., Inc and applied for membership on the NYSE. The stock exchange held up her membership for months while they demanded a letter from a bank committing to lending her $300,000 of the record $445,000 seat price. But, no bank would give her a letter without proof that she would be admitted. Siebert was turned down by nine of the first ten men she asked to sponsor her application. Eventually, David Rockefeller, then Chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, personally signed a check to her to cover the cost.

On December 28, 1967, Muriel Siebert became the first woman in history to own a seat on the floor of the NYSE. This triumph was not well taken by Wall Street, and many derogatory articles about her physical appearance appeared in the various newspapers.

 In 1975, when the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) first permitted broker commissions to be negotiable, Siebert and Co. became the nation's first discount broker. Siebert took out a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal and appeared in that ad herself, cutting a hundred-dollar bill in half as a symbol of her discount philosophy. As a result, her long-time clearing house dropped her, and she was briefly threatened with expulsion from the NYSE by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

 In 1977, Muriel Siebert became the first female Superintendent of Banks for the State of New York, with oversight of all of the banks in the state, regulating about $500 billion. Not one bank failed during her tenure, despite failures nationwide.

In honor of Siebert's 30th anniversary on the New York Stock Exchange, she rang the closing bell on January 5, 1998. Likewise, on December 28, 2007, exactly 40 years after her election to the membership of the New York Stock Exchange, she rang the closing bell in celebration.

Today we mourn the death of Muriel Siebert and honor her for her lifetime of pioneering work. She was indeed a remarkable woman and would serve well as a role model for today's girls. In a time of dubious accomplishments and vacuous and meaningless fame, we would all be better off prizing Siebert's determination, bravery and fierce pursuit of professional success.