Hello from the Other Side: MJ Maly

Hello from the Other Side: MJ Maly

If you were narrating your story, what would it sound like?

I was always the nerdy kid, the backward kid, in school. I wasn’t the most popular: braces and glasses and acne. But I was smart. From the very start, I focused on using my intelligence because I didn’t feel confident enough that I had anything else.

I studied hard, went to college and grad school, and started working for a bank here in Houston in 1980. And doing that, I realized that corporate banking is just a sales job – developing relationships, selling the product of the week – and I hated it. But one thing I really liked emerged- analyzing companies, figuring out their financials and if they could pay back their loans. I was dating a guy in the investment business, and he said, “You’d be really good in the investment industry. All you’d need to do is learn how to value stocks.” There was a bank in town looking to hire, and they were looking for people who didn’t have an investment background. That’s how I got my start, and then I spent 32 years in the investment business!

I was really just looking for ideas at that job – I didn’t have the power to pull the trigger on investments. I was there for seven years, and then an opportunity came up to go work with a notable investment manager in town. And it was great because he was the person who really taught me how to gauge the psychology on a stock and to be a value investor. I really didn’t know what I was when I got there. I’m thankful that I had someone like him to mentor me, and I owe a lot of my success to him, because I firmly believed in the process and used that for the rest of my career – and I would say that my career has been successful.  

What are you doing now?

Well, I retired on March 1st, and my husband and I are in the process of building a home in New Mexico. It’s interesting being retired, because I thought I would be bored and I feel like I’m busier now than before! It’s kind of crazy. We’ve taken on a huge project, so I really don’t feel retired. Now I’m managing our business at home: trying to get our house ready to sell, more actively investing our money, shifting the investment focus because now that we are retired we need to invest more for income. There’s a lot to do! I don’t know what I thought that it was going to be, but I don’t feel like I’m retired!  

What were the hardest decisions you had to make in the past? How did those decisions turn out? Any regrets?

I was really involved in my career, and that was at the expense of family at times. We don’t have children – I never had that instinct. I knew that my job required travel, and I never thought I could divide myself well. And I don’t regret that decision. I think my husband might; here we are moving off into the sunset, and it’s like, “Who are we going to leave all this to?” He might regret that, and I feel a little bad about that. But it was never something I had an inkling to do.  

Are there things that you spent years stressing out about that turned out to not really be that big of a deal?

As a woman in business, I always felt like I had to be better than every damn guy out there. I constantly felt like I was proving myself. It took a long time; probably just in the last five or seven years of my career I started feel like, “I’ve got this.”

I was always insecure – I never felt good enough – because I was a woman and I was working in a man’s world. Like, what do you wear? In the 80s we dressed like men so we could fit in, and then we were like, “Well that’s bullshit.”

When I look back on it now, I was constantly excelling and putting up the numbers, but I was so stressed about it.

But there was one upside that I figured out: when I would go to conferences, I would be in a group meeting with the CEO of a company and I was the only woman in the group. It was like, “Where are the women?!” But I learned to use that to my advantage. The CEOs were meeting nine guys in blue suits and then a woman with a personality, and they always remembered me. So maybe it’s okay to be the lone woman in the room because you’ll be the one they remember. I learned how to get over that and use it to my advantage.  

What do you wish you had spent more time doing over the years?

I worked and I went to the gym and I took care of the household, but I never really created hobbies for myself. There just wasn’t time – I was so focused. And now that I’m retired, I feel like I was so left brain all the time that I absolutely squashed my right brain. It’s hard for me to come up with hobbies, because I’ve never really taken the time to think about it. Now that I have a little more time, the right side of my brain is waking up a little bit and I’m starting to think about looking into photography or the piano or things I used to do when I was young. It makes me a little more balanced. I regret smooshing that down so harshly. I’m trying to smell the roses a little more, to find the things that bring me joy.

I’m kind of a crazy perfectionist, and I’m coming to the realization that that can be a blessing and a curse. Sometimes I probably put my job ahead of everything and everyone. Now that I’m retired I think about stuff like that more. I feel like sometimes perfectionism was running me. I guess I’m learning to let go a little bit. But I have to work on it.  

What would you say your highlights have been?

Certainly being married to a very lovely man for 21 years. That seems to be rare in this day and age. My success in my career is above and beyond anything I would have imagined for myself. It still shocks me sometimes how well that went. And the fact that I got to work with so many incredible people that I care about and like and respect. Because there are some real jerks in this business and my tolerance for working with assholes is low. I feel so fortunate to have worked with some incredible people; we had so much camaraderie, and that was a really highlight. Not only was I doing what I loved, I was doing it with people that I liked and cared about. I feel like I won the jackpot.  

And the low points?

I was married once before and that ended in divorce. That was really difficult, but I learned a lot from it. Sometimes hardship helps you grow. It’s all been pretty good – maybe because I’m a glass half full kind of person.  

What do you think has changed the most for women over your lifetime?

There’s a part of me that wants to say that not very much has changed. I do think we are getting more women in professional positions, but not enough. And we surely don’t have enough women in senior leadership positions and corporate board seats. And I just don’t get that. There are so many studies that show that female leaders are additive to the performance of a company or organization.

I think that men are a little more respectful of women in the workplace than they used to be. They’re a little more politically correct these days than they used to be. When I was working in banking, we did a big syndicated loan and had a closing dinner for all of these banks and I was there as the lead banker. And the CEO of this company just hit on me nonstop in a really aggressive, physical way. It was awful. It was the most awful experience of my life. I would hope that that doesn’t happen any more. Women can maybe feel a little more comfortable that they’re not going to be accosted – but I think we have so much further to go.  

What would you like to see continue to change and improve for women?

I wish that there were more balance. I think women sometimes feel like they have to make the choice between children and career, and I wish that didn’t have to be the case. Not just at home, but in the corporate setting. I would love to see workplaces that were more understanding of women who want to have a family and also maintain their career. It’s a shame that women feel like they have to make that choice, because they end up missing out on one or the other.  

Looking back at the past 50 or so years, what words of wisdom would you have? 

Find a good mentor. They guide you, they teach you, and they keep you from putting your foot in your mouth.

Even though I always felt like I had to prove myself, I still think that women need to do that. You need to do such an outstanding job that people can’t help but notice. If you can stand out, it makes all the difference.

Make the effort. Suit up and show up and be special. When we were interviewing people to come and work on our team, it shocked me how nonchalant young people were about presenting themselves. This is your one shot to put your best foot forward. If you didn’t make the effort now, why would I ever hire you?

Always keep your ear to the ground and get an understanding of what your street value is. Men do that so much better than women. I was always amazed that the guys always knew what they were worth. I didn’t do that very well. I once found that I was awfully underpaid. I read somewhere that when a woman gets a job offer and is presented with a compensation scheme, she says thank you very much and accepts it. And for men that’s just the starting point of the conversation.  

Where do you see yourself in five years, ten years? What does "retirement" look like to you?

Hopefully we’ll be living in New Mexico in a house that we built. And if we’re not, I don’t know what that means!

I look forward to starting to regain some balance in my life. And having more fun: traveling more, reading all the books I’ve always wanted to read.

I would love to do more charitable work. There is a part of me that feels like young women need guidance and I’ve thought about what that might look like – whether its helping her prepare a resume or doing a mock interview. Or it might look like teaching women how to be financially astute and independent. I see so many women who are dependent on men. At least learn, spend some time learning how to take care of yourself financially. I feel like its my turn to be giving back; I feel like I’ve gotten so many gifts in my life and I really feel the need to return the favor.

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