Taking Control: 2021 Savvy Ladies Annual Gala Highlights

By Savvy Ladies Member Dawn Drzal

What a Night!

Savvy Ladies lit up the night at their virtual Gala on November 18th to celebrate 2021’s unprecedented Year of Successes. The funds raised during the evening will allow the organization to support over 1,400 women in 2022 through its free financial helpline. The helpline, which provides complimentary access to unbiased, independent advice by financial professionals to women of all ages and all backgrounds, is the centerpiece of an organization dedicated to empowering women through financial knowledge. 

A Year of Successes

After a lively session of networking on Bramble (these Savvy Ladies show how it’s done!), Founder Stacy Francis and Executive Director Judy Herbst took the floor to welcome the Gala guests attending on virtual platforms and in-person watch parties. Emcee Sharon Epperson, CNBC Senior Personal Finance Correspondent, then introduced Executive Board Vice President Lisa Zeiderman, who delivered a powerful summary of the Savvy Ladies Year of Successes in 2021. Foremost among these was quadrupling the number of women who received one-to-one financial guidance in 2021 and tripling the number of volunteers on the helpline. Lisa also welcomed three new board members: Nichole R. Schier, Fiona Philip, and Precious Williams. After sharing Savvy Ladies’ 2022 goal of reaching 1,500 women a year through the helpline, she introduced Margery Hannah of Savvy Ladies’ Partner Dress for Success, who presented the Savvy Lady Woman of the Year Award to Maxi Delrosario. 

You Don’t Have to Do This Alone

Following Maxi’s moving account of her journey from financial confusion to financial empowerment came Principal and Associate General Counsel at KPMG Fiona Philip, who introduced the inaugural recipients of The Stacy Francis Founder Awards for Excellence in Mentorship. The honorees were Fran DiSarro, Deputy General Counsel and Principal (Retired), and Rahsheila White, KMPG Office of General Counsel Executive Assistant. Their frank and touching exchange about their long and mutually beneficial relationship led seamlessly to the presentation of the inaugural Male Ally Award. Introduced by board member and financial industry consultant Suzanne Siracuse, the honor was presented by Kristi L. Rodriguez of the Nationwide Retirement Institute, Nationwide Financial, to John L. Carter, the President and COO of Nationwide Financial. Kristi praised him for his indefatigable allyship in support of her career and his authentic commitment to encouraging empathy in the workplace.

Inspiring Women

The Sarya Fischer Lebenthal Excellence in Finance Award was next presented to Manisha Thakor by financial advisor Alexandra Lebenthal, the granddaughter of the Wall Street legend and female role model in whose honor the eponymous award was established. Manisha, the galvanizing CEO and Founder of MoneyZen, shared that “money gives women voices and choices.” Her speech was followed by Precious Williams, CEO and Founder of Perfect Pitches and last year’s Inspiration Award Honoree, who introduced this year’s inductee, the truly awe-inspiring Grace Vandecruze. In her riveting acceptance speech, the Founder and Managing Director of Grace Global Capital encouraged us to “Challenge your limits; don’t limit your challenges.” 

How to Climb a Mountain

The first discussion session, a conversation between Suzanne Siracuse and John L. Carter on the importance of Male Allyship, stressed the importance of trust, authenticity, and the importance of establishing clear expectations in the ally or sponsor relationship. The next discussion, also moderated by Suzanne, was entitled “Building Wealth, Shattering the Glass Ceiling, and Having a Voice at the Table.” Featuring Manisha Thakor and Grace Vandecruze, it was a veritable primer on how to negotiate from a position of strength, raise your profile, and embrace boldness. As an avid mountain climber who has scaled more than 25 peaks on three continents, Grace recounted learning the philosophy of “poli poli” from a Swahili guide while she was scaling Kilamanjaro. “Poli poli,” she shared, means “step by step,” and “focusing on making your next step your best step” is the way to get to the top of any mountain, whether literal or metaphorical. Asked for tips on how to make your voice heard in the boardroom, Grace offered a single word: Interrupt! Manisha, asked for her advice on how women can increase their influence, replied, “Pay it sideways.” Awesome and pithy guidance from two dynamic women!

Build an Empire…and Take Other Women with You

Next came the three Change Maker of the Year Awards, a pair of which were presented by Sheena Gray, Diversity and Inclusion Executive Director at J.P. Morgan Wealth Management, to Jeanne Sun, the GM for Inclusive Investing, and Jennifer Zuccarelli, Head of Marketing & Communications. The third award, movingly introduced by Stacy Francis, was conferred upon Heather Ettinger. Heather, the Founder and CEO of Luma Wealth Advisors, one of the mere 1% of female-owned financial management firms in the country, accepted with a truly rousing speech that nearly “broke the chat.” Coming to us via Zoom live against a backdrop of bookshelves and a poster quoting Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s “Never underestimate the power of a girl with a book,” Heather’s deeply moving and inspirational words emphasized the themes of relentlessness, scrappiness, and a specifically woman-tailored brand of financial advice that transcends pure money management to embrace life-building. 

Sometimes you Need a #girlposse

The last discussion event of the evening, which featured this year’s Change Makers, was moderated by Jean Chatzky, AARP’s Personal Finance Ambassador and a past Savvy Ladies Change Maker Award recipient. Expertly framing the question “Are the Golden Years Truly Golden?” Jean elicited a “gold mine” of brilliant advice from the panelists. Jeanne Sun counseled, “Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress. It’s never too late to get started. Silence helps keep us paralyzed. Pluck the low-hanging fruit, whether it’s $10K or $100K, and invest it now.” Jennifer Zuccarelli observed, “Communication is key. You don’t have to do this alone. Sometimes you need an advisor. Have a long-term plan, and update it yearly as your goals change.” And Heather stressed that sometimes you don’t just need an advisor, you need a team. The future of advising for women is not only about managing money but also about building networks and managing life. 

Poised to Accomplish Even More in 2022

The evening wrapped up with Stacy Francis and Judy Herbst sharing the grand total raised and reiterating both Savvy Ladies’ remarkable victories in 2021 and how much the organization is poised to do next year. Who better to sign off with than RBG? Since it’s for a good cause, we’ll take a little liberty with her famous quote: “Never underestimate the power of a woman with a checkbook!”

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