Have you faced professional hurdles because you’re a woman?

I would not say so.

Why are there so few women heading local financial institutions?

There’s been a lot of research on this: Girls don’t tend to take the quantitative courses at the same percentage that males do, and needless to say, in financial services, really enjoying numbers is a pretty important part of this industry. There’s no question that women in the CEO roles are certainly not even close to a 50-50 mix, but one of the CEOs of one of our broker-dealer RIAs is a woman and there are women at very senior levels in our industry. I think that’s changing, but it takes some time to do that.

What are your responsibilities?

I am responsible for the strategy, the financial performance for the company, making certain that we deliver quality product to our customers, as well as good return on investment to our shareholders.

What made you want to work in this industry?

My father was a broker and then a regional manager for AG Edwards, so I was kind of raised in this business. I just think it is a very dynamic industry. It has a wonderful combination of being very intellectually challenging, but also providing products and services to Americans that they really want and need. I find that combination makes this a particularly interesting industry.

Any advice for women going into this industry?

People who are talented and add value in companies get a lot of opportunities.

What is the best advice you’ve received?

My father said to me, “Valerie, you cannot make a customer half-happy.”

If I hadn’t gone into finance …

I would have probably gone to health care. I worked at Bain and Co. early in my career – they are a strategic consulting firm. I split my time when I was with Bain between retail financial services and health care. I really liked that industry as well. I could have gone either way.

Ever do anything else?

I had a very strong affinity for math in high school and wanted a career that let me use my math skills, (so) I got a B.S. in chemical engineering. At the very beginning of my career, I worked at Chevron as a chemical engineer, helping in the production side, which is pumping for oil and exploring for oil.

What do you do for fun?

Downhill skiing, scuba diving, back-country hiking in the Tetons.

Something your colleagues might not know about you …

I learned to drive by driving semis at 6 years old. My father, who actually ran a bakery at the time that had distribution all over the state of Idaho, when he would get calls that somebody wasn’t showing up and he would have to drive the semi all night to deliver the bread the next morning, I would get up as a little girl and go with him. He used to let me steer before I was 7. I’m sure people following this big semi thought, what in the world?

VALERIE BROWN, 56

Chief Executive

Cetera Financial Group, El Segundo

RESIDENCE: Manhattan Beach

EDUCATION: B.S., chemical engineering, Oregon State University; M.B.A., Stanford University

YEARS IN INDUSTRY: 30

YEARS IN POSITION: 3

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