Sandra Pierce is known as "The Bag Lady of Bay Street." She has been providing investment leadership for nearly three decades and has an enviable reputation as an advocate for the empowerment of women. Her philosophy of investment management and wealth building is strictly gender-neutral. When she is not working or making appearances in the media she delights herself in philanthropic activities, theatre and travel. She is also one of the most stylish and creative financial executives you'll ever meet. Read Elle's conversation with Sandra to learn how she embodies Walk How You Want.
Elle: You were raised by two very accomplished and cultured gay men. I imagine when you were growing up it was not the most conventional family. How did your upbringing and your fathers shape you?
Sandra: No one has ever asked me this question. I’m so glad you did! They’ve been essential to my life, for close to fifty years. I owe everything I am today to them. They instilled in me the need to speak out, and when necessary to fight, for what one believes in. They led by example in so many ways but probably one of the most important is raising me to make a difference in the world. That’s how “The Power of the Purse” came to be. My fundraiser was created over twelve years ago to help women who have more power in their purse than ever before to make a difference, and to raise funds for causes that help empower young girls and women around the world.
They introduced me to Broadway and I’ve been hooked ever since. As well a love of reading and buying a lot of hardcover books. And I can set a pretty glamourous dinner table.
But with the good comes the bad. Dick couldn’t throw anything away, and I mean anything, and he was a bit of a hoarder. I confess I am the same.
Elle: You’ve been with your husband for 29 years and you just got married 4 years ago. Tell me about your decision to marry later in life and also what’s it’s like working with your husband. I’ve always enjoyed working with mine who is also an entrepreneur.
Sandra: It’s a bit of a long story. Five years ago “my parents” wanted to legally adopt me – which they did and then because they didn’t want me to be a ‘bastard child’ decided to get married. This past March would have been their 50th anniversary of being together. At their wedding I was the flower girl. I suppose Dennis was inspired to give me a wedding, having never been a bride. And 6 months later, on my 58th birthday, he proposed. It wasn’t something I was ever inclined to want to do but I must confess once I got into it I LOVED everything about it. And yes – I wore white.
From day one I’ve always enjoyed working with my husband. We started working together about a year after we first met. And we instantly made a perfect team. Research has shown that the best combination is the male and female brain working together – and that’s certainly been proven by our partnership.
Elle: There’s been a lot written about how you came to be known as The Bag Lady of Bay Street so I won’t ask you about that but I want to ask if you have seen any major differences with women and their relationship with money now compared to the last decade.
Sandra: Another great question Elle! And an insightful one. Because you are absolutely correct – there has indeed been huge changes.
For many women I don’t think we ever stop being concerned about the “will we have enough” question (Bag Lady Syndrome).
The women I have worked with for over 35 years didn’t literally believe they would be homeless but they shared their concerns about the future costs of health care or outliving their money or having enough discretionary income to live the life they’ve worked so hard for. They still all have this one thing in common -- wanting to know the answer to the question – Will I be okay?
Over the years I have seen women bringing much more confidence to the table. And demanding more of the financial industry than ever before.
Probably one of the biggest changes I’ve witnessed has been the increase in women being the major breadwinner of the household. According to The Economist magazine, women’s overall economic development is the biggest social change of our time—that millions of people (read women!) who were once dependent on men have taken control of their own economic fates.
You’ve heard that old nursery rhyme “the King was in his counting house counting out his money, the Queen was in the parlor, eating bread and honey”. Not anymore. Now the Queen is in there counting too. Another real game changer is how female clients are treated in our industry . The advent of the wealthy female client who comes to the table with significant money to invest has become a force to make the investment industry sit up and take them seriously.
Elle: Do you notice any differences between your male and female clients when it comes to managing their portfolio of assets? And how much money does a client need to have to be able to hire you?
Sandra: That is a question that appears to get different answers. Sadly the research that is often quoted says they do. I totally disagree.
I like to quote from one of my favourite writers, Virginia Woolf from her essay, “A Room of One’s Own”.
In one passage, she claims that for the true literary imagination: “It is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex …. one must be woman-manly or man-womanly… Some collaboration has to take place in the mind between the woman and the man before the art of creation can be accomplished.”
In other words, she morphs towards androgyny. Maybe this is the best way to address the nagging issue if women really differ from men when it comes to managing their investments.
It’s long been my experience that you can’t fit investors neatly into the typical feminine and masculine gender roles of society.
Actually we are all ambigenders where we engage freely in what is seen as masculine or feminine behaviours around money and investments. That we have a balanced identity that includes the virtues of both genders.
To answer your question about what one needs to work with us our minimum account size is one million dollars.
Elle: We spoke about getting to a certain age and being able to confidently express your point of view and no longer holding back. Fifty years of age was that point for you. What was it about turning fifty that did that for you?
Sandra: I’m not sure I could say there was any one thing. I’d heard other women say that when they reached their 50’s it was that best decade ever and I thought they were just making the best of a bad situation. But oh was I wrong.
Definitely with age comes an increase in one’s confidence in one’s career – by then I had two decades of experience. That’s when The Bag Lady of Bay Street was born and it was that financial avatar that truly led me to be my authentic self.
No doubt the female friendships at this stage of my life also greatly contributed to my confidence in expressing myself. I’ve heard it said that women are each other’s Wonder Bras. They are uplifting, supportive and make you look bigger and better!
Elle: To me, style is very personal and a reflection of your personality, mood and level of comfort when it comes to self-expression. We all have it but for some of us it comes more naturally than others. How did you develop your sense of style and how would you describe it?
Sandra: Well, that I owe all to my parents. Dick taught me how to accessorize! Nothing like a little bit of bling to perk up an outfit. And out of that advice came my love of big statement pieces – brooches and necklaces in particular. They both gave me a love of great shoes. And how they can make any outfit. My style evolved as my confidence increased, I become bolder in all my choices. Style became a way of expressing myself and as I got older I became more confident in standing out and being noticed – hence the red glasses.
One thing that if really important to me is to wear a bit of whimsy! Especially given the industry I’m in – where you are surrounded by a sea of men in dark suits.
Elle: At Zvelle, we believe in the idea of #GlobalCitizenry. What does it mean to you?
Sandra: No boundaries! And where we all have a responsibility to nurture each other. Be it directly or indirectly. It also conjures up for me a vision of world peace.
Credits: Zvelle shoes. Top to bottom image: Rayna flats (Purple Potion).