One week after Zoe Cruz was let go as President of Morgan Stanley, Erin Callan was appointed CFO of Lehman Brothers. And thus, the torch was passed to the new highest ranking woman on Wall Street. She has since proved a force to be reckoned with, bringing her unconventional management style (and note-worthy sense of personal style) to corner office on Wall Street.
As documented in a recent profile in the Wall Street Journal, entitled “Lehman’s Straight Shooter,” Ms. Callan has eschewed the “fly below the radar” model of other Wall Street CFOs. She has made the most of her fashion-forward and outgoing image by appearing frequently on television and making bold predictions about the future direction of markets.
Ms. Callan started off her professional career as a tax lawyer at the firm Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett before moving over to Lehman in 1995 and cutting her teeth structuring preferred securities.
People on Wall Street first began to stand up and take notice in 2000 after Ms. Callan structured a deal for General Mills in order to maximize the tax implications of a takeover of Pillsbury from Diageo PLC for $10.5 billion. In 2006, Ms. Callan was placed in charge of managing Lehman’s investment banking relationships with hedge funds, where she participated in several high profile IPOs.
Amid speculation that her firm might become the next Bear Stearns, and collapse in the credit crunch following that bank’s massive exposure to subprime mortgage debt, Ms. Callan made some savvy calls that lead Lehman’s share prices to rise 46% in March 2008, even while profits were taking a nosedive, along with the rest of Wall Street.
Though she is not an accountant and has never worked in the finance department, a common path traced by many of her CFO predecessors, she earned her stripes with 13 years on the trading floor, and still keeps in close contact with her sources there.
Ms. Callan is known as frank and straight-forward. She moves to quash rumors as soon as they spring up by calling traders, analysts and other movers and shakers on the Street. She’s not shy about the media, having frequently appeared on CNBC in the wake of subprime to let worried investors know that Lehman was not going down. Ms. Callan is a strong presence in the boardroom, and her personality shines through, in a way that makes clear that being powerful and being a woman is not a contradiction.
Indeed, Ms. Callan is as far as possible from the stereotype of the dowdy female Wall Street exec who plays down her feminine appearance by cloaking herself in shapeless pantsuits and eschewing makeup and accessories that draw attention to her gender. Ms. Callan is known as something of a Wall Street fashionista, in fact.
Meredith Whitney, the Oppenheimer analyst who has elsewhere been profiled in these pages for her smart calls on Citibank’s stock and a glass-ceiling breaker in her own right, has called Callan is the “best accessorized” CFO on Wall Street. After the WSJ article was published, it touched off a firestorm in the blogosphere about how Ms. Callan might make it through the day in the stylish stilettos she sported in the WSJ picture that accompanied her profile. The WSJ Juggler Blog and Ms. JD covered the “shoe-issue,” and received hundreds of comments each from women in law and finance who struggle with their choices of footwear and aspire to Ms. Callan’s air of polished professionalism.
The Glass Hammer salutes you, Erin Callan, for climbing to the Wall Street corporate ladder, while wearing fabulous (if uncomfortable) shoes. You’ve made it to the top in style.