# 390: BOOK OF THE WEEK — “Changing the Rules”

Siebert, Muriel, with Aimee Lee Ball (2002): Changing the Rules: Adventures of a Wall Street Maverick.

Story behind the Book Choice

Sometimes you start out as a maverick and then you end up crossing the finishing line last. I am afraid that might happen to me. And maybe that fear is the exact reason why it will not happen after all. I have been fooling around a lot when it comes to experiences, professional roles, topics. But there is one red thread, one continuous topic, which has been part of everything I have ever done since I was a teenage girl: women’s leadership.

Is it that simple?

Yes, it is.

That is how this book ended up in my shelf.

It has been sitting there for almost a decade, I guess. This was when I decided to write my next book about women and business leadership. This book never happened so far because another topic needed to be taken care of. That turned into my recent book. Now it seems, my Wanderjahre have finally come to and end. I have written about this several times before. I was sensing it. It all started with my self-recognition in St Augustine and al Ghazali. But only now, it is materializing. It is becoming tangible in the decisions I am making. I do not know what this should feel like. I am just glad it is happening.

I am supposed to be writing about books here, at least on Sundays, and now I am writing about myself. Actually, I think we are all writing about ourselves, even when we talk about things that sound very different, very factual. But I think it is just honest to admit how much we as human beings circulate around ourselves. Maybe it is better to start this process early, so you get used to it. And it takes you to some new place. I do not think it ever gets completed but I have been waiting for this point to finally arrive — the point when I can say: I know who I am, what I do, and where I want to get.

Muriel Siebert was the first woman on Wall Street. That is actually not correct if you remember that before, Hetty Green and a few others were there too. But that was long before the modern Wall Street existed, in the 19th century already. This book is not an autobiography as most people know them. This one is rich in business details. It is rich when it comes to the rhythm and speed. And it is extremely funny. I cannot tell what people who do not like or understand business at all will take away from it. If there is one thing, it will probably be that Siebert really walked her path without ever taking detours. Maybe that is something I am just noticing because I have taken so many. But detours are helpful, I guess, to really figure out what you want and if you really want it.

Mission completed.

At least for the time being.

Let us talk about Siebert

  1. Proust of Wall Street
Siebert 13

This passage is from the early chapters in which Siebert describes her first years on Wall Street. It mentions a minor detail about the job but for a writer, of course, it is something noteworthy. I think, many people from outside the business world never really think that people in business have any appreciation or even look for things like writing and storytelling. But the opposite is true. And especially people like the guy she is talking about here — the Proust — enjoy much admiration because of their talent to sell technical stuff in a language that is attractive and powerful.

A look at the page also reveals the density of the book. There are so many numbers, so many details, and everything is so fast-paced. I am sure this was not an easy job for the ghostwriter of Siebert. Or maybe she did write most of it herself. For the content and the message, it does not matter. What matters is that she did change the rules of business because she took one pioneering step after another. And she did so in such a determined and calm way. She never really mentions how pathbreaking this or that thing was which she achieved. But she writes a lot about how exactly she did what she did. This is helpful and I wish that more people in the humanities read and discuss books like this one.

Well, I will hopefully contribute to this.


Usually, things turn out differently in the end…

2. Management Education & Women

Siebert 42

Siebert had a remarkable eye for the practical things which were — and still are — holding women back. And the fact that so many people still do not study management and other business-related things is just not understandable, I think. Yes, you might argue now that on average, even more women study in business degree programs. But the truth also is that in other fields, especially in the arts and humanities, most women (and men) never attend any business course. I am not saying we should all get business degrees. Siebert never did. Still, knowing about this stuff is important.

What might also come unexpectedly to readers who have a very particular image of business women, especially in finance, is that Siebert did much philanthropy and public service. In fact, she spent some of her crucial years not in business but held remarkable jobs in the state government of New York. Here, again, she kept an eye on the things that were important to advance the rights and possibilities of women. And one of the most important quotes, if not the most important one, reads as follows:

“You create opportunities by performing, not complaining.” (Siebert 6)

Somehow this line is really hard to bear if you are in a valley of tears. But I would totally underline it. It is so true. As long as you complain, you will not change anything, let alone rules. You have to overcome this state of complaining. This means you have to overcome your anger and your frustration. You also have to overcome your own doubts. And you have to take a stance. Then you are ready to perform and that will create opportunities. It is always like this. Not waiting and seeing and praying brings you something. You have to start acting.

Yes, now I sound like some self-help guru with pretty plain messages.

There are many similar messages in Siebert’s book.

They are all helpful, simply because they are based on performance.

3. Motives

Siebert 73

This passage is noteworthy not just because of the motivations themselves. It is simply because of the high level of self-awareness and reflection. If you know about your motivation, it will take you to a different place because you can stand up for your own goals. You do not even have to talk about them. You can simply carry out your plans. And checking back with your inner agenda will strengthen you in times of hardship and potential doubt.

The motive which stands out among the three, at least for me, is: pride. I think, we are very much underappreciating this aspect because we associate the term so much with male pride or some ego issues. But pride can actually be something really positive, I think. For me, the concept connotes self-worth and self-value. The right form of pride can make you walk upright and spread an attitude of confidence. It is this kind of confidence which you earn, not by talking about what goes wrong but by implementing what is right. This is how you achieve things — how you change the rules for all women in the current and later generation(s).

Reflection Questions

1) Which image do you have in mind when thinking of successful women in finance?

2) If you think of your own field (business or otherwise) as a game — what are the most important rules?

3) What are your motives for doing what you are doing professionally?