NEW YORK — PEGGY FARLEY'S road to the world of Wall Street and high finance may seem slightly unorthodox. With two degrees in literature and a background as the daughter of a trade union leader, Ms. Farley aspired to be a journalist, writer, or educator.
As a young woman she says she abhorred United States involvement in Vietnam and evidences of what she then saw as "US imperialism" abroad.
Yet, today, Farley is the very symbol of modern global finance: She successfully oversees hundreds of millions of dollars in investment funds, a substantial amount of those assets coming from Americans.
And she says that global finance is helping to create jobs and build factories throughout the world, while also knitting nations together in beneficial objectives.
An articulate, soft-spoken woman, Farley is managing director and chief executive officer of AMAS Securities; AMAS is a global investment advisory firm located in midtown Manhattan.
She is also chief investment officer for AMAS, supervising all activities relating to management of the firm's financial portfolio. She has a track record for making profits.
"She is our star," says Khodadad Farmanfarmaian, chairman of the AMAS Group, which is comprised of securities firms in the US, Britain, Switzerland, France, and Austria. Dr. Farmanfarmaian is the former governor of the Central Bank of Iran, before the overthrow of the shah in 1979.
The climb to a prominent position within the financial industry, Farley concedes, has often been lonely. She is a trailblazer. Very few women occupy front-office ranks within investment firms, and only a handful or so manage investment-house or mutual fund portfolios.
"I've never really had any women mentors to guide me along the way," she says. "All of those who have recognized my abilities and promoted me have been men." Perhaps her ability to work well with men, she says, stems from having three older brothers and growing up in a family where ideas, scholarship, and assertiveness were valued.
Farley's father was president of a bricklayer's union in Philadelphia; her mother worked for a bank. Despite degrees from Barnard College and Columbia University, she found that jobs were not quickly opening up for her after graduation: "I had too much of an academic background and no real professional experience. And I was a woman. So all that made me suspect to major corporations."
But Farley says she had always enjoyed learning about other cultures. Thus, in the mid-1970s she traveled on her own to Greece and eventually landed a job there with Citibank, working with that bank's international accounts involving the Middle East and North Africa.
In 1978 she joined Morgan, Stanley & Co., an investment house. During her tenure with Morgan Stanley she worked extensively with the Bank of China, China's central bank. She also dealt with European and Japanese commercial banks and a number of major foreign corporations.
In 1984 Farley joined AMAS, which was established by the Hinduja family. The Hindujas, originally from the Indian subcontinent, but now mainly based in London, are one of the wealthiest families in the world. AMAS has offices throughout the globe, and is engaged in commodities, manufacturing, and financial services. AMAS also underscores the extent to which Wall Street has become internationalized.
In her skyscraper offices looking down on the spires of St. Patrick's Cathedral, and, to the west, Central Park, Farley says that she is absolutely convinced that more executive jobs on Wall Street will be opening up to women in the next few years. One reason, she says, is that global finance is oriented toward obtaining results, not the gender of the person who gets the results.
In her own case, she says, her deep interest in English, French, and Russian literature, along with her appreciation of other cultures, combined to develop analytical skills that enabled her to master the arcane details of profit and loss statements and corporate annual reports. Women, she says with a smile, may even be slightly more perceptive than men at seeing through the minutiae of an annual report, since they are often more skeptical about what they read.