In the 80 years since Rosenthal & Rosenthal was founded, women have been integral to the company’s longevity.
Senior vice president Cassie Rosenthal didn’t mince words in describing the early days, noting there was no mention of women in the company’s early days. While many understand the world of finance to be a male-dominated one, Rosenthal learned that years before most, having literally grown up in the business.
Through the years, especially early on, women who worked at the company worked in administrative roles but not in executive ones. That set-up is changing considerably under Rosenthal’s stewardship. Women now comprise about 54 percent of the firm’s 213 employees.
Having joined the company six years ago from the art world, Rosenthal said, “Before I even joined the industry, I was kind of a part of the industry because it was my family’s business. Whenever my grandfather or my father were honored, I would attend events. In a room of hundreds of people, I used to be one of a handful of women. But today and even since I first started, I feel that women in this industry and within their companies have much more visibility and much more of a voice than they ever have. Obviously, there have been some amazing pioneers who have definitely paved the way for more and more.”
In addition to Rosenthal, some key female executives are executive vice president Deane Davis; executive vice president and Western region manager Sydnee Breuer; senior vice president and Western region sales manager Maria Contino, and vice president of business development Ying Yang.
Most employees have at least 10 years of tenure and some have been with the company for decades. Nirmala Sookiram, a senior account executive in the New York office, has been with Rosenthal for 31 years. She started in the credit department as a collector and moved up to a credit analyst post before becoming an account executive in 1997. Rosenthal said, “It definitely has the environment of you’re coming home. I think that is conveyed on a daily basis. Our clients don’t really truly know it until they’ve been a client and experience it over time. I think when you meet any of us over time, you realize that we’re a close-knit bunch.”
To that end, two women are training to become business development officers. “I see more women wanting to advance and work hard. That’s very exciting. I can only see us hiring more women down the road,” Rosenthal said. “Our company, even though we’re only 80 years old and founded on some traditional principles, it’s inevitable that more women at Rosenthal will rise in the ranks. I see that as a definite trend.”
Rosenthal said, “Obviously there is quite a movement now in this country for women to speak up, and it’s nice to see. I think when women band together, they tend to feel more comfortable and gain more momentum.”
Five years ago, she started Women Helping Other Women for female commercial finance professionals. Typically 40 to 80 women turn up for the group’s quarterly events. In addition to networking, these events provide support, praise for achievements like winning an award, getting a promotion, or switching jobs. Aside from being “a nice outlet for women,” attendees are starting to give each other business more, support each others’ charities, share some stories and some moral support when they need it, Rosenthal said. “It’s a tough industry but women are definitely paving the way to more leadership roles.”
In 2016, 79 percent of women working in hedge funds, private equity, venture capital, investments, or private real estate funds said their gender made success as a fund manager more difficult, according to Catalyst’s “Quick Take: Women in Canadian, U.S. and Global Financial Service” report.
Before joining the family company, Rosenthal co-owned two art galleries in New York and Berlin for nearly 10 years. The switch to finance “was a little bit of a culture shock, coming to work every day and being the only woman in the meeting,” she said. “That was a little strange for me, but it never gave me pause to reconsider. It was somewhere where I absolutely wanted to be. It was just different.”
Energized by the uptick in more female-run companies in recent years, Rosenthal said, “I’m excited about it, because I think women are wonderful entrepreneurs, fantastic leaders and great multitaskers. They are for the most part really doing their due diligence in understanding as much as they can about financing options. They are very thorough.”
The visibility of a strong female leader at Rosenthal & Rosenthal relays a different message for the 80-year-old company rooted in a fairly male-dominated industry. “I’m definitely called to join meetings where there is a female owner. It’s like they want to ensure that people know that Rosenthal is pro-women,” she said.
But people are hired for their qualifications, she stressed. “My parents taught me to treat people the way that I wanted to be treated. That has definitely stuck with me. Especially at Rosenthal where people are coming in maybe a little vulnerable and they need money. Maybe things aren’t going as well as they would have hoped. It’s always good to be sensitive, to speak to them on their level and to understand what they’re doing is really difficult and challenging and it means so much to them. It’s their legacy we’re talking about,” Rosenthal said. “It’s important to always be down-to-earth and talk to people like human beings. And to not make assumptions about people, because you never really know them until you have spent time with them.”
With more than 30 years of experience in the industry, Breuer said, “When I was obviously much younger and showing up at a networking event, some of the older gentlemen in the group asked a colleague and I if we were the entertainment. I haven’t had that asked in a long time. ”
Encouraged by the progress women are making in the financial industry, Breuer said, “There is still a long way to go but there definitely has been an increase. The L.A. office is more than half made up of women.
“I hate to make generalizations because you can always disprove [those] with one person. But in general, my experience has been that women are better multitaskers. There is a different approach. Women having the history of being more nurturers, that comes through in a positive way in trying to get things done in the business world, in dealing with other people and trying to make things happen. Not that men don’t, but I think women have a different skill set that comes more naturally,” Breuer said.
As for what people unfamiliar with Rosenthal & Rosenthal might not know, Maria Contino said, “That we are aggressive lenders against receivables, inventory, e-commerce, POs and other assets, and that we can create more availability than typically banks can. We’re flexible and easy with fast turnarounds to service our clients and very relationship-oriented.”
Young female newcomers to the financial industry should “learn as much as possible and maybe find a female mentor who has been successful to speak to them and maybe tap into their experiences, and what made them successful,” Contino said.
Yang said working with many interesting companies and entrepreneurs early on in her career was motivating. “Now that I’ve been in the front office for the past few years, there’s never been a dull moment,” she said. “The retail climate is certainly difficult and evolving. There is certainly an uptick in e-commerce as brick-and-mortar continues to suffer. As a finance company and a lender in the retail market, supporting brands, manufacturers and importers, we have to evolve as well and think outside of the traditional lending box. Our flexibility as a lender has certainly evolved and strengthened. We’re constantly discussing internally what we can do to create meaningful financing programs for our clients and prospects.”