Donna Winn – President and CEO of OFI Private Investments

President & CEO, OFI Private Investments

A mother of college-aged sons, the head of OFI Private Investments has made helping parents learn how to save for their children’s educations a priority – for her and the company.

By Taylor Mallory

As president and CEO of OFI Private Investments, a subsidiary of OppenheimerFunds, Donna Winn is responsible for separately managed accounts, 529 funds (for education), charitable giving services and creating investment products and packages that serve the affluent market. As a mother, she’s responsible for making sure her two college-aged sons get the education she’s always wanted for them.

A passionate advocate of higher education, Winn has taken a personal interest in a recent OppenheimerFunds study, the first-ever national research exploring women’s role in the college planning and saving process. “We found that American women are deeply involved in their children’s educational lives,” she tells PINK. “Yet, for all of their support both in and out of the classroom, many women take a backseat when it comes to the saving and investment part.”

While women are more likely to say it’s “very important” that their children obtain a college degree (74 percent vs. 66 percent of men) and are more likely to take the lead in helping them with research and admissions, men are more likely to take the primary responsibility for the financial planning (85 percent vs. 65 percent of women). What’s worse – only 10 percent of women says they “have a good plan” that will allow them to save for retirement and college.

Enter, Oppenheimer’s online resource center for parents prepping for higher education – for themselves or their children. (Plus, check out Little PINK Book with tips on saving money painlessly.)

Here, she talks to PINK about refocusing the business, New Year’s resolutions and being 70 percent perfect.

PINK: What do companies need to do to keep up and remain relevant as we move out of the recession?
Donna Winn: Profitability is what’s most important right now – and to retain the most valuable employees. We’re carefully watching costs, but we’re growing our business by going after a higher market share in areas where we’re strongest and most competitive – like mutual funds. In areas where we’re not as competitive, we’re backing away. On the retention side, I’m communicating with everyone and trying to make them feel like part of the solution. Instead of standing around waiting for someone to tell them what to do, they have decision-making authority. And they know we’ll listen to their ideas and that their opinions count. But as an employee, you have to understand that everything isn’t a straight line up. There are times when everyone needs to take a step back. It’s a bad time in the marketplace; that doesn’t mean your organization is a bad company. You may still have the potential to rise up and earn more in the future. But the company can only pay out as much as they earn, so if they’re not making great money right now, you won’t either.

PINK: What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?
D.W.: Not to take things personally – which I still do, by the way. It’s business first. It’s not about you; it’s about making the business run. When I know I’m taking something personally, I try to count to 10 before I say anything. Then, I might change my mind or someone else might say something, and I won’t have a chance. (She laughs.) And I also try to walk away and sleep on it. If it’s still an issue the next day, then I say something about it.

PINK: What’s your leadership style?
D.W.: I try to keep people engaged and moving forward, rather than stopping when times are bad. I’m 55-years-old. I’ve been through a lot of bad times, seen people laid off and scared. But I try to help them understand that this too shall pass and focus on the fact that we need to be ready and well positioned when things turn around. To keep people motivated, I try to find out what they’re good at and let them run with that, rather than focusing on improving on what they’re not good at. If you work on it, you can only be great at what you’re naturally good at. Then people can do what they like, and that’s really important. To be successful in anything, the workplace or whatever, it has to be one of your priorities. You can’t just be going to work; it has to mean something.

PINK: What are your success secrets?
D.W.: I’m persistent, and I don’t give up when things are tough. We were located in the World Trade Center on 9/11. We were lucky not to lose any people, but we did lose our office and had to start over. We had to go to work the next day, not sure where we were even going to go and needing to keep everyone motivated and moving forward. I just had to say, “I’m not going to stop; I’m going to keep going.” I worked for Merrill Lynch for 22 years before coming to Oppenheimer, and I commuted 70-miles each way to work every day. Sometimes that was four hours out of my day. But I just told myself it was important and that I wasn’t going to quit. It’s not that I have these great brains, just that I keep going when other people stop. And I see possibilities in everything. My son recently asked me, “You think rules are just guidelines, right?” (She laughs.) I just have a different way of looking at the world; I always think, “We can do it this way. It will work out!” And you can’t be afraid to speak up and add value. It’s easy to be one of the 1,000 people standing there waiting to be told what to do. But those people don’t get promoted. People who just do it do.

PINK: How do you manage your Life/Work balance?
D.W.: I’ve been married for 32 years (that’s that persistence thing) with two boys – ages 19 and 22. That’s why the cost of college is such a scary thing for me. I don’t think anyone with a really successful career has a lot of balance in her life. You try to do as much as you can. If you want both a career and family, you’ll probably only be about 70 percent perfect at either. When you’re at work, you’re probably going to feel guilty for not being at home, and when you’re at home, you’re probably going to feel guilty about not being at work. But my boys turned out OK. When my husband and I aren’t traveling, we all have dinner together. And I prepare meals for the week on Sunday, so they’ll have a home-cooked meal every night whether I’m there or not. I haven’t had time to give back to the community. It got pushed to the side, so I could focus on my career and family. But I’d really like to do something eventually, probably around education. Some people can’t move forward with a college education for lack of money or guidance. Some of my sons’ friends didn’t have guidance, either because their parents didn’t go to college and didn’t know or worked so much they didn’t provide that support. They had to do everything on their own.

PINK: What do you do to relax and rejuvenate yourself?
D.W.: Most of the time, my relaxation time is being with my family, taking vacations together or just hanging out at home on the weekends. We like to go to Florida in winter and usually places that are pretty local. I like to travel; they don’t so much. I’d like to play more tennis. Someday, maybe I will. Hopefully, my joints will still work when I have the time to do it. (She laughs.) I also knit and make costume jewelry.

PINK: What are you doing to strengthen your financial security in the New Year?
D.W.: I’m going to convert all my IRAs to Roth IRAs, review my will again to make sure everything is right and begin to plan what I’ll do in my retirement. And I’m going to make sure my kids hurry up and graduate from school, so I can stop supporting them.

PINK: What’s your New Year’s resolution?
D.W.: To put together a folder with all my important financial information. I have done all the right financial planning, but if something happened to me or my husband, I am not sure my kids would know where to find what they need. I usually set a reachable goal. Last year, it was to try a martini. I always plan to exercise and be more organized, but you should have one fun goal too. I had three martinis in 2009 – including a lemon drop, which I love.

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