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“I discovered that I could up my game under pressure.”
How did playing tennis four to five hours a day for ten years help Sally Cates become a successful financial services executive?
As a teenager in La Jolla, California, Cates worked relentlessly on her game, becoming a top regional player and winning a scholarship to the University of California at Santa Barbara, where she played on a nationally ranked team.
Competing in major tournaments, she realized how much the team depended on her.
“There was a lot of pressure, and you had to perform well under pressure,” says Cates, managing director, PR and communications for Dynasty Financial Partners. “But I discovered that I could up my game under pressure and that really helped me in my career.”
She was tested quickly, landing a job at CBS Network News in New York in 1982 and thrown into the cauldron of a frenetic newsroom working alongside big name broadcasters like Dan Rather and Diane Sawyer.
Although Cates thrived in the fast pace of the newsroom, she realized that television wasn’t the right fit for her. “I loved the content, but TV is a visual medium and I’m just not a visual person.”
She had also become intrigued by the business world, gravitating to covering stories about Wall Street and working with the pioneering financial journalist Jane Bryant Quinn.
“It was a new world for me,” she recalls. “My father was a surgeon, so business wasn’t something I grew up with, but I was fascinated by Wall Street, deal-making and how it all worked.”
After five years at CBS, Cates followed her passion and took a job at Hill & Knowlton, a storied public relations firm, where she took a crash course in financial PR, working on accounts that included banks, insurance companies, mutual funds and other financial services firms.
“It was a fantastic experience,” Cates says. “It was completely frenzied and two years there was like ten years anywhere else. But I loved it and learned the business.”
After a stint at Oppenheimer Funds, she was recruited by Smith Barney, which was then acquired by Citigroup, where she became head of global communications for Citigroup Wealth Management, working with the company’s private bank and asset management divisions. She left Citi in 2005 for a more important role, raising her two children.
Cates then headed communications for Thompson Financial for a few years, then worked with high-level Wall Street firms as a consultant. She was recruited by two former colleagues from Smith Barney and later Citigroup, Shirl Penney and Todd Thomson in 2012 to join their new company, Dynasty Financial Partners.
Nine years later, Dynasty is one of the most successful companies in the RIA space, helping breakaway brokers become independent and providing a wide array of services to 48 RIAs who collectively have over $60 billion in assets under management.
“Sally has been instrumental in helping to shape our brand image in the marketplace and works closely with our clients on their public relations strategies,” says Penney, Dynasty’s CEO. “She is also a fantastic leader and mentor at Dynasty and one of the founding board members of the Dynasty Women’s Network.”
Equitable compensation and treatment in the workplace have been priorities for the Women’s Network, Cates says.
After women at advisory firms have found out they’re making less than men for doing the same job — sometimes from finding a stray document at the copying machine — the network helps them negotiate for equitable pay.
“We look for ways to professionally escalate the conversation without going postal,” Cates says.
Workplace oversights such as relegating women to bringing in bagels or baked goods to meetings and assuming women will be the ones taking notes are also discussed.
“Those kinds of tasks can be a time suck and leave women in a narrow lane,” Cates says. “We counsel women to push back without getting angry and emotional and make suggestions like creating a calendar for performing tasks that is gender-neutral.”
Cates is heartened to see millennial women not tolerating improper male behavior that baby boomers like herself had to put up with earlier in their careers. “In those days, the attitude was ‘if the boss is doing it, it must be good,’” she says. “That’s unacceptable now.”
She’s also trying to encourage more young women to enter the advisory profession.
“It’s a great career path for women,” Cates says. “They can be well compensated with flexible hours. And it’s a job they can do. I’m seeing female assistants at RIAs realize they are smarter and quicker than some of the men they work for. More and more of them are now saying ‘I’m going to be an advisor myself.”
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