In 1986 at the age of 41, Sally Miller was a 19-year veteran elementary schoolteacher ready for a change. Her husband, who had died two years earlier, had been a teacher, too. "It wasn't the money as much as the difficulty in continuing the career we'd shared," she says.
That year, a family friend who managed a Shearson Lehman office half an hour from Miller's home encouraged her to try a career as a broker. She did, signing on with Shearson. She credits her manager with being very supportive. Thirteen years later, Miller is now a senior vice president at Ragen MacKenzie in Anacortes, Wash.
What was difficult? For starters, the scheduling. At the time, Miller's daughters were in seventh and ninth grade. "I left at the crack of dawn, and they had to get themselves ready for the school bus. I often came back for doctor's appointments and for softball and basketball games," she says. She frequently worked 12-hour days, but was amazed at how fast the time went.
Finance hadn't been part of her life until then. "As a teacher I had a backlog of experience and felt that I was on top of things. Suddenly there was so much to learn," Miller says, "and it took a lot of hard work."
The selling aspect of the job wasn't as much of a stretch as one might think. "I'm a real people person. As a teacher, I would look at each student as an individual and find a plan that works. I do the same thing in this business."
Miller's first clients came through cold calling and walk-ins. "Then the referrals kicked in," she says. She also taught a community college class in finance for several years.
Her training salary amounted to less than she had earned teaching. "It took about four years to catch up, then it escalated," she says.
>From Shearson, Miller switched to a firm that became Ragen MacKenzie, >which opened a satellite office in Anacortes. "Once we had an office here, >local people were at my door," she says. Anacortes has a population of >about 12,000, but attracts retirees from various parts of the United >States.
>From 1990 until 1996, Miller was alone in the office. Then, she and >another broker became partners and have worked together ever since.
Her daughters are now grown, and she has been remarried for almost five years. She and her husband, a local realtor, often trade referrals.
Miller believes that starting out in the business is more difficult now. Her advice to others: "Find someone who can be your mentor. I owe my success to working very hard and to the manager who hired me."