Misty Gruber is president and managing director of SIWA Capital Group, LLC, an investment and financial consulting firm with offices in Chicago, Illinois and Tucson, Arizona. Prior to forming SIWA in 2007, she was a corporate finance attorney, most recently having served as the Co-Chair of the Life Sciences Group Dykema Gossett PLLC. During her 29-plus years of legal practice, Ms. Gruber’s practice was concentrated on initial and secondary public securities offerings; structuring of consolidations, mergers and acquisitions; corporate governance (including counseling compensation and audit committees) and general business and venture financings and consultation.
You’ve accomplished so much in so many fields, from accounting and law to energy and entrepreneurship. What was your dream when you were a teen?
I was planning to be a scientist, a chemist. But I had vision problems so I became a lawyer and an accountant and ultimately partner in a law firm. Now I’m the CEO in a privately held biotech company that my husband and I own.
When did your life plan change from science to law?
When I was an undergraduate at the University of Arizona.
Was it hard to accept that you’d needed to adjust your career plans?
No, actually, I think most people find that if they push in one direction and if that has to change then they push in a new direction. It’s not a matter of making decisions; it’s a matter of continuing to move. If you stop too long and worry about it, you’ll miss the next opportunity.
For example I became an accountant, a CPA when I worked for the state of Arizona, I was an attorney and a regulator for them, and one of my clients was an accountant who had to be a CPA. She was about 60, so I said it can’t be that hard. We both spent the summer studying for it on our days off and we both passed. Not anticipated but something that turned out to be beneficial. You just push to make things happen.
You keep looking for new options.
What else has helped you in your career?
What’s helped has been a willingness to do hard work. You don’t get anything without long hours and a long commitment. And finding ways to make things interesting. I always tell people that work, by definition, isn’t fun all the time. You just keep pushing.
I don’t know what else you can do.
Well, how much of your success is due to who you are and how much has been external, a result of luck or being in the right place?
The best thing that happened to me was that I got scholarships, both merit- and need-based. Without them I wouldn’t have made it. We didn’t have mentoring when I was young. You were basically on your own.
It’s changed and for the better. I was one of two or three [female] partners who were corporate finance attorneys with state firms in the country. I knew the other two women. It was a small club, partly because it required so many long hours.
Was it a bit lonely to a member of a three-woman club, or was it energizing to feel that you were pioneering?
Oh, we were all too busy to think about it! One of the others was a woman with two kids, one of whom was an asthmatic. I used to say, “How in God’s name does she do it?” She was a role model. If I thought I had it hard, I’d look at her.
There’s a lot more people women can share notes with now. There were no networks when I was starting. To be honest, I got my first job as a regulator because I knew calculus. I had gone to work for the State of Arizona on some utility issues and then I moved into corporate finance, partly because I was good with numbers. It was fortuitous, but I just kept moving.
You did build a career at a time when women often were held back or passed over. Did you ever feel that doors were not open to you because you are a woman?
Oh, of course. Absolutely. At one of my firms, I was called upon to do the structuring [of investment products] but I wasn’t invited into the meetings. I’d speak with clients by phone. Clients finally started to say, “Just bring her to the meeting next time.” I remember a meeting was scheduled and I was told, “OK, you have to be there.” I said “Fine. But the meeting’s at a club I can’t get into because I’m a woman.” I got on the phone with the client and said I’d be happy to be involved by phone but I couldn’t attend because of the club rule. I said it wasn’t an issue for me, so he shouldn’t worry. And he said, “Your damn partner picked that place!” So we changed the meeting place and I took part.
And corporate life progressively became easier?
Things change slowly. There was a point where things changed [for me], and it was when things changed externally. Because then they had to be acceptable internally. But still, in finance, there are very few women. I think that’s true in part because it does require a mathematical background of some sort. There’s an issue still of women going into sciences.
By their choice or because the sciences don’t seek them?
I think there’s a lack of knowledge about what you really might want to do. People get told that these are the areas where you might enjoy yourself and want to be, and they don’t really consider all the options. I was lucky. My father was a scientist and any time he was around, he ask questions about this and that [in science] and you had to know. If not, you’d feel stupid, which you didn’t want to do with him.
I think that’s important that the expectations are there; that it’s not “You should do this” but “You can do this.”
Is that true of many fields for women? That they are not presented as many options as are men?
I think that’s part of it. Women still tend to get saddled with home and family responsibilities. I used to have arguments about bringing women in as partners at law firms because the minute they made partner they would come in and tell us they were going to work part-time. I would get pointed at and told, “This is your fault”!
The deck is stacked against women in many ways. Unfortunately, if you’re not willing to figure out how to make [the system] work, it’s self-limiting. If you need 20 to 40 hours a week to handle family matters, then you can’t have an 80- to 90-hour-a-week job. And that’s just the way it is.
You end up where you end up, and you should do what you want to do. But at least everything should be open to you. I think if you push very hard, everything does open to you. There are hurdles and problems. You have to be aware of them and not pooh-pooh them. But really if you push hard you’re pretty much able to do what you want to do, if you’re not looking for extra benefits. You have to play the game the way everyone plays it.
Do you think the greater amount of mentoring and networking available has helped younger generations prepare better for the workplace?
I think the networking is better and has helped. In terms of mentoring, I had three male associates who I mentored and they were very good. But I mentored them in terms of, “No. Come back with more,” “No. Tell me what the issues are,” “Come back with this.” Mentoring is a matter of paying close attention to what needs to be done. It doesn’t have to be male or female.
The more important thing in the networking to find out what’s available, who’s doing what, what the expectations are, how people work in the industry.
Given all that you’ve done and been involved with in your career, what would you say has been most satisfying for you?
Well, first, I have to tell you that I’ve always felt that work was a means to an end. My husband and I are art collectors and we travel a lot. We have many interests outside of our professional work. Being successful at work has been a nice way to ensure we could do those others things. Work was a driver for us and remains so for a lot of people, which is OK. It means you don’t have to be a happy camper every day you go to work. You just have to remember that there is a benefit to going to work.
People sometimes say to me, “Oh, I just don’t love my job.” And I say, “Yeah? So?” Even so, you try to find what’s exciting in a job. As I said, I used to love to do structuring [of investment products]. It was like putting games together. But it was a hell of a lot of work. And I wasn’t always in the best of environments. There were conflicting personalities and animosities and high-strung people.
It all worked out, but if there’s one thing about being successful that I try to drive home, it’s that it takes hard work. Success doesn’t just come to you because you’re smart or because you’re rich or any other reason. You’re going to have to sit down and do the work. That’s really the best information anyone can get.
Getting back to satisfaction, does your feeling of achievement come both from having been professionally successful and from also being able to enjoy your other interests?
Yes. I think you should never let one thing take over your life. The career was great, but it wasn’t the only thing in the world. You need to be open to life, but bottom line you need to work hard.
One of the reasons I retired was that I saw the young generation believing they could be brilliant lawyers on a 9-to-5 basis. And that just doesn’t do it. It would be nice if it did, but it isn’t so. You have to roll up your sleeves.
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