Type A enthusiasm energizes Barnard’s new board chair

At the end of the academic year 2009-2010, Jolyne Caruso-FitzGerald ’81 was elected chair of the board trustees of Barnard College—a position to which she’s always aspired, describing the College as the foundation from which she launched her career and formed lifelong friendships. A member of the board since 2000, it has been not quite one year since she took her seat at the head of the conference table. In a recent interview she discussed a range of topics including her unexpected career, the key initiatives she supports to spur the growth and recognition of her cherished alma mater, and her thoughts about the importance of women’s leadership to future generations.

From her vantage point, in a spacious new suite of offices in the Empire State building with the artwork not yet on the walls, Caruso-FitzGerald surveys almost 360-degree views of the Manhattan skyline and beyond. The offices are home to The Alberleen Group, which she, as its CEO and founder, describes as an “incubator for investment banking teams.” When asked for some clarification, she notes that it’s akin to “angel investing,” something she has been involved with on a volunteer basis as a member of Golden Seeds, a nonprofit organization that provides funds to entrepreneurial women.

Caruso-FitzGerald’s foray into Wall Street was something of a surprise, falling on one side of the debate about undergraduate college majors and, ultimately, whether they matter or not. The oldest of three sisters and a brother, she enjoyed writing at Massapequa High School on Long Island. (The school cited her for “extraordinary achievement” in her career in 2006.) She looked forward with much anticipation to the start of her first year at Barnard—she had visited the campus with her best friend, Nancy Pivnick Freeman ’81, whose older sister, Susan Pivnick ’78, was then a student. From that point, there never seemed to be another college to compete for her interest.

But at the end of her senior year in high school, while her friends enjoyed languid days at the beach before heading off to their new roles as college students, Caruso- FitzGerald headed for an office. Her father, who had forged a career in the financial world, got her a summer job at the brokerage Bear Stearns in 1977. She found that she loved the work—so much so, she continued at the firm on Fridays even as she attended Barnard. Caruso-FitzGerald studied English and creative writing, and served as an editor on the Barnard Bulletin, but ultimately her growing love of business won out.

Her timing could not have been better. After graduation, she went downtown full time at the start of a major bull market and found herself to be the only woman on the trading floor coming out of a recession. Keen to excel and aware that she lacked a degree in economics or an MBA, often seen as necessary today, Caruso-FitzGerald put forth a lot of extra effort. Sparked by her self-described “Type A” personality and perfectionist streak, she was determined to succeed among the men she worked with.At Bear Stearns, Caruso-FitzGerald rose to the position of managing director of equities, but was also known for her warm manner and ease when relating to colleagues.

In 1992, she joined JP Morgan and eventually became head of equities in the Americas and chair of JP Morgan Securities. While at Morgan, she gave birth to her two children, Christian in 1995, and two years later, Gabrielle, who aspires to go to Barnard just as her mother did. Caruso-FitzGerald admits her perfectionism reared its head with the raising of the children. Her husband, lawyer Shawn FitzGerald (“We were a ‘Columbia couple’,” she says) realized some changes had to be made after his wife was dissatisfied with three nannies in succession. “Ahead of the curve,” says Caruso-FitzGerald when describing his willingness to remain home with the children, but allows that he did use his home office to pursue investment andfilm production interests. Caruso-FitzGerald left Morgan in 2001 to cofound her own company, Andor Capital, which grew to a $10 billion hedge fund. Four years later, Lehman Bros. beckoned; she was appointed managing director and head of global absolute return strategies, also serving on the management committee. After leaving Lehman in 2006, she took a time-out, and turned her focus to her alma mater.

Caruso-FitzGerald joined chair emerita and trustee emerita Helene F. Kaplan ’53—a defining role model for the Wall Streeter—as cochair of the search committee for a new president of Barnard after Judith Shapiro announced her retirement. Both women expressed great enthusiasm for Debora Spar, who became Barnard’s 11th leader and seventh president in 2008. In her inaugural speech, Spar spoke of three major initiatives she wished to develop for the College; Caruso-FitzGerald outlines her commitment to their success.

The first of the three is the continued growth and strengthening of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies, which the board chair describes as

a “signature program” for Barnard. Devoted to enhancing, understanding, and developing women’s leadership roles in both the nonprofit and private sectors as well as in government, the center, under the direction of Kathryn Kolbert, has established a varied curriculum that considers the qualities distinguishing leadership as well as practical management and financial issues. Caruso-FitzGerald believes the center will have broad appeal—to both women and men—that can be used to stimulate and grow fund-raising efforts.

Raising the visibility of the College is another goal of both Spar and Caruso-FitzGerald. The excellence of Barnard’s liberal-arts education supported by an outstanding faculty; its relationship with a major university and the uniqueness of that relationship; and its location in a world capital are enormous strengths with which to lure topnotch students from around the world. Caruso-FitzGerald is quick to cite Barnard’s other advantages, such as the faculty/student ratio, class sizes, and unique majors. These advantages, she believes, only enhance the intellectualcuriosity, rigor of thought, and self- confidence of students. Concluding her assessment of the plusses of a Barnard education, she quotes her predecessor as board chair, author Anna Quindlen ’74, who memorably proclaimed at a recent Commencement, “I majored in unafraid.” Caruso-FitzGerald’s own career exemplifies these beliefs.

Finally and fittingly, the board chair is passionate about growing the endowment. Compared to its 31 peers that comprise the Consortium on Higher Education, Barnard’s endowment is the smallest. The reasons are often cited: Almost 40 percent of the student body commuted until the early 1980s and the magnetic attraction of New York City life led to fewer on-campus bonds formed among students; the erroneous belief of many alumnae that Barnard shares Columbia’s endowment; and many Barnard-Columbia couples give more to Columbia. Caruso-FitzGerald stresses the great need for more outreach to build closer relationships with alumnae, but also adds that there is a need to uncover those institutions capable of giving financial support to Barnard’s unique programs, such as the Athena Center.

Caruso-FitzGerald herself has been contributing both time and financial support to Barnard since she graduated. She first began as a volunteer for the alumnae association; worked on her five- and 10-year reunions, and joined the board of trustees when she was 40. In describing why she aspired to the position of board chair, she notes that since joining, she has served on six major committees: budget and finance, development, compensation, governance, investment, and executive. Her experiences as a volunteer, intimate knowledge of the workings of the College, and her willingness to expend time tackling issues with board members on an individual basis offer the makings of an exemplary chair. Taken together with her managerial skills and ability to motivate people, her tenure seems destined to usher in a period of great upward movement in the academic and financial trajectories of the beloved institution she is so proud to represent.

- by Annette Kahn
- photograph by Mark Mahaney