My first meeting with Mary Ann Spencer was “arranged.” I knew of Mary Ann Spencer and her success at a leading investment management firm, and hoped our initial encounter would lay the foundation for a networking relationship between us, and also in some way help our students. The timing could not have been more perfect because Mary Ann was retiring and looking to share her time and talent. That meeting was almost ten years ago, and today she is still a strong supporter of Bay Path, serving on the Board of Trustees and chairing the investment committee, among others. Yet, Mary Ann will always be known in the annals of Bay Path for the passion she has for the Professional Image Program. In 2013, Mary Ann took an idea and made it reality by partnering with DressBarn to provide professional outfits—from head to toe—for our traditional, One Day, and The American Women’s College undergraduate women. In Mary Ann’s words, “They are often very nervous when they walk into the store. Some have never worn a suit or tailored outfit. They try on clothing they would never have tried before, and they say to themselves, ‘Wow! I look good, and I feel good.’ Often, it gives me goose bumps.” As primary underwriter for this program, Mary Ann and the Bay Path team have helped over 200 students dress for their interview or first day on the job. And Mary Ann never misses an opportunity to accompany the students when they go to DressBarn. Many have sent her thank you cards and Mary Ann keeps every single one. The Professional Image Program is now part of the fabric of Bay Path, and an endowed Professional Image Fund has been established to continue the good work begun by this incredible woman. Please enjoy the interview with Mary Ann…Carpe Diem!
Could you share a bit about your life journey and career?
My parents are from Canada, but my father did his medical residency in the United States. When I was five, we settled in Springfield, and at the age of 13 then moved to Longmeadow. I am almost a lifelong resident of the town! And therefore I have a strong alliance to BPU! I went to Cathedral High School (now Pope Francis High School), and earned my degree at Boston College, majoring in finance and economics. I received an MBA from Babson College, and eventually obtained my CFA designation. I started working at MassMutual in their Investment Management Division, which later became Babson Capital. My career spanned over 28 years. I worked my way up, starting as an investment analyst to becoming a managing director senior portfolio manager. In 2009, I retired from Babson Capital, in part to take care of my family.
What are you most proud of in your career?
In my career, I am most proud of the fact that I was one of only a very few women in the investment field. This was in the early 1980s when I started out. In the beginning, I was a shy, and, not a very confident person but I did have an independent streak. I am proud that I thrived and survived in a very male-dominated work environment. I would look around the room at meetings and be awed that I was often the only woman in a room of approximately 50 or more men. I loved my career and felt that I was able to maintain, for the most part, a good work/home life balance.
What is one regret that you have in your career?
My one regret is that I did not stay working to see the workplace change to become more accepting and welcoming to women. Women come to the workplace with many different skills and successes versus men. And the workplace model has changed to embrace these differences. It is a slow change, and one that is still being developed and designed. Salary is only one small factor in these differences. I will say that my bosses worked very well with me, and I was able to successfully pursue my career and raise my family. But I felt I was very lucky, and my experience was rare at the time.
What advice would you give to students at Bay Path who are setting out on their own life journey?
My advice to Bay Path students is to be true to yourself. Have confidence that you can do it! Always pursue teachable moments while learning something new every day. And never allow someone in your workplace to make you feel unworthy or uncomfortable. Work hard, do the right thing, and always, always stand up for yourself!