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Woman of the '90s // DIANA WINOKER

Published Jul. 6, 2006

Diana Winoker talked recently with Times staff writer Jackie Ripley about the challenges of being a stockbroker.

If my Grandma Bell were alive today, she'd be 103 years old, and she'd still be influencing my life. She graduated from Winthrop College in South Carolina around 1910 and then went to Columbia University in New York, where she got a master's degree in accounting _ something that was unheard of for a woman, especially for a woman in the South.

My grandparents moved to Tampa during the Depression, at a time when things were so bad my grandmother took a job in a cigar factory. You know how your grandmother is supposed to show you things? Well mine not only taught me how to embroider, she also taught me how to roll cigars.

My father also had a big effect on my life. He taught me about the stock market. I began putting the money I made from babysitting on AT&T, and dabbled here and there but never really built up a super portfolio. I just enjoyed getting the dividend checks.

I was still playing the stock market when I was at Tulane University. I thought I wanted to be a child psychiatrist, but my lack of skill in organic chemistry put a stop to that. I switched to psychology but dropped out of graduate school when my father lost his citrus processing business. I moved back to Tampa and took a job in public relations for what was then the Tampa Bay Area Rapid Transit Authority, and started work on my MBA at night.

By then I realized I wanted to be a stockbroker but I was too young _ you had to be at least 25. So when I left TBART, I took another marketing job, and as soon as I was old enough, went to work for Merrill Lynch. It wasn't long before Dean Witter offered me a better job _ it was, as we say in the business, an "up-tick."

Once I got my MBA, I moved into management. But I couldn't have picked a worse time. It was just before the market turned bullish, and if I'd stayed where I was, my commissions would have turned up with the market. As it was, I was traveling three weeks out of the month, supervising stockbrokers all over the Southeast and looking at matchbook covers to figure out what city I was in. I gave it about a year and decided to go back to being a broker. It took a while to rebuild my client list, but with hard work and some luck, I re-established myself.

I have a unique situation here at Smith Barney. I have two partners, and we service everything from individual accounts to multibillion dollar corporations. Because we work as a group, our clients almost always have a rapport with at least one of us. It sort of gives you a winning poker hand no matter what.

But this job is extremely stressful. It's like walking in every morning unemployed. If you don't sell appropriately, you can lose someone's life savings. At the same time, you can't control what the Japanese think of the U.S. market, or what the Germans do, or any other number of variables. The hours also are crazy because you have to meet with clients at their convenience.

It's probably safe to say that's why I've never been married. My parents even took custody of my dog because my dad said my long hours were unfair to him. But if you're going to succeed in this business, you have to be aggressive, and aggressive women are only just beginning to be viewed in a positive light. Let's face it, it's pretty hard to turn off your business persona and become the weak and helpless belle come 6 o'clock at night. It takes a unique man to understand what I do and to be comfortable with it.

Even now, only 3 percent of the stockbrokers nationwide are women, and that's twice the number there were when I started in this business 18 years ago. But how many truly successful women are there, if you're qualifying success by how much you make? The truth is, there aren't a lot of us making $100,000-plus a year. I joke with my friends that I'm over 30, make more than $30,000 a year and work more than 30 hours a week. I'm in that difficult bracket as far as finding a husband.

I do, however, manage to take four weeks off a year for long trips. I've been to China and to Kenya, and I just came back from Tanzania. My next stop is Morocco. I've also dived the Red Sea and Micronesia, so it's safe to say I work hard and I play hard. But I enjoy simple pleasures, too. I love to cook and like nothing better than fishing off my parent's dock in south Tampa, and of course, visiting my dog.

My father used to say, you can walk in a room and look for sunshine or for shadows; look for the sunshine. I think I've done that. My life is full and I have a good time. I live my days to the fullest.

Jackie Ripley can be reached at 226-3342