February 22nd, 2010 | 6:00 am

Voice of Experience: Diane Garnick, Investment Strategist, Invesco

filed under Voices of Experience

Diane GarnickBy Pamela Weinsaft (New York City)

Called the “Princess of Perseverance” by many who know her, Diane Garnick brings her positive attitude to everything she does. “When people ask me what I am doing right now,” says Invesco‘s Investment Strategist, “I tell them I am in wild pursuit of lifelong dream to provide financial security for as many people as possible.” She added, “My greatest accomplishment is when clients who are senior people—the sophisticated investors—call me and ask ‘can you please explain this to me?’. That is the best feeling in the world because if I help them and they do a better job managing pension assets, every single person who worked, and is relying on that money for their retirement, will do better.”

It would be an understatement to refer to Garnick’s beginnings as humble. “We were very poor,” she said. “There were many times we didn’t have enough food to eat, many times we didn’t have hot water or heat, and other times that the house would be locked by the bank.”

Garnick remembered, “Someone gave us a very small black and white TV that if we adjusted the antennae just right we could get PBS. On Friday nights [while I watched the Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser program on PBS], I would think to myself, ‘wow these people who understand Wall Street…their kids are the luckiest kids in the world because those kids probably always have food. They never worry about whether there is going to be heat.’” She would ask herself, “Could you imagine being one of those kids?’” She vowed that, if she made it through those tough times, she would make sure that her kids—and children everywhere—would never suffer the way she and her siblings did.

At 15, she became pregnant and decided to continue with school while raising her daughter. “I didn’t want to settle for a GED,” she said. She worked hard to complete 9th through 12th grades, while raising her daughter and living in her grandmother’s attic. An excellent scholar, she received a stack of scholarships to top universities around the world but, she explained, not a single one would accept her with a baby. “I would call and say I need a dorm room big enough for a crib and they would say ‘these rooms are reserved for serious scholars only.’”

So she set out on her own, taking a series of small jobs to support herself and her daughter. “I dressed as a clown to go to school parties. I drove a taxi and put my daughter in the car seat, driving her around with me. I was a waitress. I would shovel snow and cut lawns. I would clean houses. I did whatever it took to try to earn money and save for college one day.”

Over the next several years, she married, had another daughter and began working in a local bank. It changed her life. “My boss told me to go back to school. He said, ‘As your boss I could give you a 2% raise and tell you that you are doing a good job and keep it up. As your friend, I need to tell you that we can’t promote you without a college degree so you better just quit and go to school.’” She explained there was no way she could afford college. He told her there was no way that she could not afford not to go.

Learning to Lead with Her Heart

She started attending Suffolk Community College on Long Island, and met Jan Parker, a professor “who was the first person to believe that I could make something of myself. She believed in me when no one else did.” When Professor Parker told Garnick to sign up for her class in Money and Banking, Garnick was thrilled. “I couldn’t believe that a professor actually wanted me in her classroom.” Garnick continued, “She paid me the greatest honor ever of telling me that I am the reason that she came to teach and she’s happy that she finally had the chance to get a student like me. I was truly touched.”

She laughs when she recounts her attempt to sign up for that infamous class Parker invited her to take: “When I tried to enroll, the woman I spoke with said that I had to be ‘matriculated.’ I started to walk away, really disappointed, that my dream could not be realized. I was a first generation to go to college, so these terms she threw around confused me. Before I walked away, I mustered up the courage to ask what ‘matriculated’ meant. When she told me that it meant I only needed to pick a major, I opened up the course catalog, which was in alphabetical order, saw accounting near the top, and chose it. I often say that I was a mere two inches away from becoming an architect.”

After earning an Associate’s Degree, Garnick transferred to Hofstra University and earned her B.A. in accounting. Her first job after graduation was in the derivatives pricing consultation group at Deloitte. “It was so close to Wall Street and yet so far away. Wall Street would say they had earned $1 a share; Deloitte’s job was to say whether $1 a share was reasonable.”

Garnick says she worked really hard while at Deloitte and learned from the work ethic of people around her as well. “I realized that the true secret to success is not the type of family you are born into or the type of privileges you may or may not have. It is really more about your work ethic and how much heart you put into your job. I think that is what people really mean when they say s/he has a lot of integrity – how they lead with their heart.”

After two more years with Deloitte, the then newly-qualified CPA joined Merrill Lynch’s global equity derivatives research group. “I was very fortunate,” Garnick was quick to note, “[The field of] derivatives was just coming of age so the question was not who had been around the longest, but who could learn and figure it out the fastest. We were a team of three analysts competing against a team of 40 at Goldman, 30 analysts at Citigroup and 25 at Morgan Stanley. The three of us ended up becoming the top-ranked derivatives team.”

Garnick helped launch Merrill Lynch’s global pension initiative, where she came to recognize her true calling in life. “I thought to myself, if I really focus on pensions, then I can start to help all of these people who work their whole lives, counting on their pensions to be there; in other words, giving financial security to the masses, rather than just a small group of people who were probably already rich.”

Searching for an Encore

In 2004, after a divorce and a move to Boston to work as the Chief Strategist at State Street Global, Garnick took some time off from the finance sector to be with her children. “I relaxed. I had fun. I traveled. I went to a lot of baseball games. And my youngest daughter had an awful lot of time with me. So much so that, in 2007, at her Sweet Sixteen, she said, ‘I love you and you are great, but please go back to work.’” Laughed Garnick, “I often say that the toughest job I ever had was being a stay-at-home mom and I was fired for micromanagement.”

Although Garnick had always planned to return to Wall Street, she found herself up against conventional wisdom that such a move was impossible. “People all around me said that women cannot leave Wall Street and come back. They said that it just doesn’t happen, especially for senior woman. And I thought that was a bunch of malarkey. I set out to find a senior woman who left to take care of her kids and who came back so that I could make her my mentor and call the whole thing done. My search for the woman with an “encore” career began. I didn’t find anyone who did this successfully at the C-Suite level in any industry. This was very disappointing.” Garnick continued, “I felt a responsibility to pay it forward and be a senior woman who could have a senior job, leave to be with her family, and then come back to Wall Street.”

She did just that when she joined Invesco in 2007 as their Investment Strategist. Today, in addition to pursuing her goal of financial security for all, Garnick spends much of her time on philanthropy, giving back in recognition of all those that helped her along the way. She is a part of the Legacy Program with the Robin Hood Foundation and volunteers with the Doe Fund, an organization in New York City which helps homeless and former inmates transition back into mainstream society. She also works with kids in the 10th and 11th grade through the Council for Unity to help transition inner city youth out of gangs. Her philosophy is: “If you don’t have $1 million, give $1 and it will come back to you one million times.”

“Surround Yourself with Positive Energy”

Her life philosophy has been forged through her experiences. “The most important thing to realize,” Garnick said, “is that the things that are truly necessary for success, even the things that are necessary for satisfaction in life, have everything to do with the kinds of people that are around you.” She continued, “When I was growing up, a woman who lived on my block used to share this wisdom, but with a different twist when she would explain, ‘If you hang out with dogs, you’re gonna catch fleas.’ So if you are trying to survive a bad marriage, a bad family situation, a bad boss, a bad company, or any of life’s obstacles, the most important thing to do is to surround yourself with people who can fill you with positive energy. They are your lifeline.”

“So,” asked Garnick, “why don’t more people do that? It’s because they don’t believe it is possible to get out of their situation,” she answered. “If you are in an environment where the people around you who are all negative, you can’t help but emulate them. We are all born with a predetermined family, but the moment you become an adult you can select who your friends and mentors are. If you want to know how you are doing in life, look around at people who are closest to you: they are mirrors.”

Garnick firmly believes that the barrier to success for women in any industry is themselves. “The only thing that limits you in life is what you think limits you.” She also believes people are less successful when they get stuck on achieving their big goals without breaking them down into manageable steps. “I think that is the difference between people who are successful and people who are merely big dreamers. Without achievable steps, people don’t execute. The biggest mistake people make is that they come up with one gigantic dream, then fail to give themselves small, short term, achievable dreams. For example, when I wanted to be recognized as an industry leader in global equity derivatives, I identified one little step that I could do to support that—go speak at a conference—and then I made that happen. At the conference I realized that everyone was handing out research papers, I made that my next goal. It would have been overwhelming if I’d only remained focused on my end goal, but I just cut it into as many small pieces as possible to make it both manageable and achievable. It is all about adding things.”

Garnick will be adding more to her schedule come June, when she starts her Executive MBA program at the University of Chicago. She will be the only person to attend one Top Ten MBA school while simultaneously teaching a course—entitled “The Fine Art of Failure”—at another: MIT. She chose the University of Chicago because “that is the school that focuses on financial security for countries. “I know I will have a lot on my plate, but it is a dream I’ve had forever. The true upside will be having an in depth knowledge in areas that I’ve never had the luxury to focus on, like business strategy.” She added, laughing, “I waited until both my kids grew up so this is, in many ways, the mid-life crisis that I’ve always dreamed of. This is so much better than a young guy or a red car.”

After she earns her MBA, her goal is to be the “go to” resource for pension funds around the world. “I’ve been all around pensions my whole life and, after my MBA, I want to make a meaningful difference in coming up with a ‘top down’ global pension solution. The timing couldn’t be better because it is going to coincide with baby boomers getting ready to retire.”

On the secret of her success, Garnick points to her ability to continue to learn new lessons from past choices, “People need to constantly strive to improve, especially by looking back to their past failures and trying to learn more from them. Some managers spend most of their time thinking about how much return they got from investments they already made, but really good managers go one stop further and ask themselves about the stocks they didn’t invest in and how well those did. Failure hides itself when we only look at what we have done, and not what we have not done. If I had ended up working in the bank and eventually made my way to a supervisor teller, people would have thought I was successful because I started out as a teenage mom. But it doesn’t account what I could have done with my life. People sell themselves short by not thinking of all they could do.” One of Garnick’s favorite sayings is: “If your palms aren’t sweating, your game’s not big enough.” She certainly is one woman who practices what she preaches.

14 comments

  1. Martha Post

    Well written article. I am a fan of Diane’s after hearing her speak at recent MBA Corps panel. Diane, great wishes for your MBA adventure and thoughtful related plans thereafter.

  2. Natalie Kaminski

    Wow, what a story! I saw Diane speaking at Debating Transparency and Valuation breakfast a couple of days ago, she is indeed an impressive and positive individual! Good luck to you and your family!

  3. Kathleen

    What a great story! I’m inspired to do better and be better. Thanks.

  4. Kumar

    Vow, this is quite a story. Dianne is courage and a can-do-attitude personified. Quite a role model.
    And I can somewhat relate to her as I try to make a comeback to the Street one day, having left a good position to address pressing family needs.

  5. bongo charm

    This woman is completely insane.
    I’ve seen her speak. I’ve heard her story.
    And it was like watching a marionette perform,
    like listening to a Chatty Kathy doll with a
    slightly more extensive vocabulary.
    There is not an idea of real substance in anything
    this woman has to say. Watch the video. Look at
    her body language, her facial expressions, her
    mannerisms. Every muscle this woman moves is a
    burlesque. Who programs people like this?
    PENSIONS? Is she kidding.
    She sees a future for pensions?
    So we know she’s blind. We know she’s fabricating
    a tomorrow based on yesterday.
    She’s nuts.

  6. Uihf

    My son and I met Diane about a year at a shelter. She helped me see how changing my life could really help him.

    Today I’m a freshman at Manhattan Community College putting my life back together. I hope I can make a difference in people’s lives one day too. Diane is very inspirational.

  7. Margaret

    Di became my mentor at Invesco. She has always spent time with me, even though I’m only an associate analyst. I wish there were more women like her who were willing to spend time with new employees.

  8. Elizabeth

    I was 17 years old when I had my first son. By the time I was 21 I had 4 kids (2 are twins).

    I never met a teenage mother who turned her life around like this. Do you think it’s because she’s smart or do you think it’s because of her attitude to get things done?

  9. Social Networking for Grown-Ups » The Glass Hammer

    [...] may have started out as a diversion for teenagers and college students. But, in recent years, as Diane Garnick, Investment Strategist at Invesco Ltd. (and noted social media practitioner) explained: [...]

  10. Social Networking for Grown-Ups » The Glass Hammer « ANDYWERGEDAL

    [...] may have started out as a diversion for teenagers and college students. But, in recent years, as Diane Garnick, Investment Strategist at Invesco Ltd. (and noted social media practitioner) explained: “Social [...]

  11. Wanyette

    Di helped me begin the business that I run from my house now. She helped me to get started and now I dont even need checks from the government. In April of 2011 I will pay taxes for the very first time. I know this seems bad, but thank you Di for helping need to pay taxes rather than get free money. I like myself so much better now.

  12. Debating Transparency and Valuation « Articles, Commentary, News and Press Releases

    [...] Investments, Virginia Volpe, CFA, Director of Hedge Funds, Global Transaction Services at Citi, Diane Garnick, Investment Strategist at Invesco, and Mara Topping, Partner, Investment Funds Group, D.C. Office [...]

  13. Elizzia

    Professor Garnick is my tutor for Elements of Business at Harold Washington Community College. I not only learned about business, I am learning about life. I wish their were more like her to go around.

  14. MIT Course on Failure « I Blog

    [...] Apparently Garnick will be the only person ever to study at one Top Ten MBA school (University of Chicago), while teaching at another. Too cool. [...]