Rose Cooke grew up in New Jersey and she knew she’d be a veterinarian, because her father, a vet, made it clear that he expected her to follow in his footsteps. When he passed away during her final year of high school, Rose sought a career path that remained true to his legacy. She went to Fordham, studying chemistry and economics, intending to use the business savvy she gained in the process to help run her own veterinary business.
In fact, Rose did a year of vet school at Penn. But quickly, she realized that veterinary medicine was not for her; though she was compelled by her love of animals, she wasn’t ready to make the hard decisions that the profession required on a daily basis. Unsure what to do next, she landed a job at Salomon Brothers Asset Management, almost by accident (the hiring manager favored science graduates, for their critical thinking skills). “I went from being told what to do for the first seventeen years of my life to being independent in the big world of New York City,” she recalls.
She made the most of it, joining up with a sub-advisory group working with insurance companies to get Salomon Brothers funds onto the platforms of the insurance company annuities. “At the time, that was uncharted territory, though today, it’s an important part of most asset management businesses,” she points out.
To advance her career, Rose took advantage of various opportunities to gain licensing and credentials. “The business world respects credentials,” she says. “They give you leverage when you go into a meeting, and prove your discipline. In fact, whenever you took an exam at Salomon, you had to sign a waiver saying that if you failed, that was your last day at the firm. It was part of a policy called ‘One and Done.’ If I wasn’t already a gross over-achiever, I became one! I wanted to keep my apartment!”
She also had a boss whom she credits as a true mentor. “He took me on all of his sales calls, and I saw every level of the process,” she recalls. “I was fortunate to tag along and he let me do that.”
Rose got her MBA at University of Chicago, Booth School of Business. It was an eye-opening experience for someone who is, admittedly, intensely competitive. “Fordham was a small Jesuit school, and my class size was never more than 25 people. Then I got to Chicago and it was a whole different story! Everybody was the number one student, and everybody was a star. The playing field really got leveled.”
Joining Dimensional Fund Advisors, headquartered in Austin, Texas, where she works today, was like that too, according to Rose. “It keeps me in stretch mode,” she says. “I love working for Dimensional. It’s very fulfilling, intellectually. That’s worth more than money. A lot of jobs in finance have become commoditized; the products are interchangeable. Here, the business is philosophically aligned with what I want to do. We’ve been doing the same thing for the last three decades that we’ve been in business, and we improve on it, but it’s never a complete shift. You’ll never know everything. It’s an ocean of information that you take in, in a couple of glassfuls a day.”
So what advice does Rose have for those just starting out? “Make sure you’re constantly building your network,” she says. “The world is a tiny place. You never know whom you’re going to be on the lookout for in five years, or who might be your boss, or who might report to you. Networking is something I could never have appreciated, back in the day.”
She also credits plain old hard work for much of her success. She commuted to Chicago for her MBA, while working in New York, and time on the road has comprised between 20% and 90% of her time as she has built her career. “It’s hard to prioritize being away from home that much,” she says. “But I’ve been fine with it, because I love what I do.”
What mistake does Rose caution against? “Never take a job just for the money,” she says. “You have to like what you do. If you don’t, it’s going to eat away at you.”
Clearly, that’s the case for Rose. “I could work at Dimensional for the next thirty years and I still wouldn’t even have touched bottom in terms of the things I could learn,” she says, happily.