Irene Bann's tenure as a Smith Barney broker is full of lessons for the reps of today, but perhaps none is so important as her approach to overcoming adversity in her career and in life. “You just get on with it,” she says.
It's a philosophy that may be a bit simple, but it has stood the test of time. Bann is 98 years old and has practiced her special brand of brokerage stoicism for 78 years at Smith Barney and predecessor firms. She recently retired, after setting what may be some sort of longevity record for the brokerage industry. Her departure leaves her co-workers shaking their heads with admiration and affection.
“She's one of those people, she just couldn't give it up,” says Jack Mooradian, branch manager since 1997 of Bann's home office in Southfield, Mich. Mooradian says Bann functioned most recently as the designated client-services person in a team of three brokers handling 52 client households, many of them “more than 40-year relationships.”
“She's sharp as a tack, she's got a real wit and she says exactly what she's thinking,” Mooradian says. That directness is, in fact, what landed Bann in a Wall Street job in the first place — way back in 1926. She says she got into financial services simply because she “needed to continue to be able to eat and pay for an apartment.” The second of four children, Bann came to Dayton, Ohio, in 1911, at age three. Taft was president. When her father died three years later, Bann's mother began teaching her the lesson that would guide her life: Greet adversity with a lowered head and plow forward.
In her teens, Bann enrolled at Miami Jacobs Business College in Dayton. Upon graduating in 1926, she boarded a bus for Detroit, where Henry Ford's booming plant was offering $6 a day, she says. There she hired on as a typist and assistant telephone operator with H. Hentz, a commodity firm.
For 15 years she juggled phone calls and copy until World War II moved her into an office manager role. Then she decided to work towards her securities license. Mooradian recalls asking her what it was like with all the men gone, having to shoulder so much responsibility at such a stressful time. Shrugging it off, Bann replied, “It was just something that had to be done; you simply have to accept change — it's the most permanent thing there is.”
Bann says the name on her building has changed too many times over the years for her to remember each one, but it's a testament to the length of her employment to note that Smith Barney didn't even exist until 12 years after Bann joined H. Hentz. H. Hentz was bought by Smith Barney in 1973.
For modern-day brokers, Bann's recollection of her time under Smith Barney may come as a surprise. She says the firm's culture hardly changed over her tenure, even if the nameplates and faces did.
Officially retired, Bann says she will fight the urge to visit the office now and again, opting instead for “puttering around the supermarket, calling friends and watching the squirrels.”
It's is an abrupt change of pace, Bann says, but one she's already accepted as the new fact of her life.