April 11, 2016
Women In Business 2016

Maureen Cooper serves as Fiduciary Investment Advisors' 'backbone'

PHOTO | Steve Laschever
PHOTO | Steve Laschever
Maureen Cooper is the Chief Operating Officer for Fiduciary Investment Advisors

Chief Operating Officer Fiduciary Investment Advisors

By any measure, Fiduciary Investment Advisors LLC of Windsor is one of the fastest-growing money management firms in Greater Hartford.

The company began in 2006 at a Starbucks with no office space, no clients and no assets. Today, FIA represents more than 300 clients with $44 billion in assets and 60 employees.

Many say FIA's rapid success stems from an environment of warm, relaxed professionalism that has been carefully crafted by Maureen Cooper, chief operating officer. It's a culture where team harmony is valued more than individual achievement. It was Cooper who built the FIA infrastructure, incorporated the company, registered it with the SEC, negotiated leases for office space, set policies and procedures and hired every employee that has ever worked there. She also oversees the company finances and manages the staff. To say Cooper is the backbone of FIA would be an understatement.

Upon meeting her, she is genuinely friendly, self-effacing and very comfortable in her own skin, which probably explains why FIA was named one of the Best Places to Work in Connecticut by the Hartford Business Journal for six consecutive years, and one of the Best Places to Work in the nation by Pension and Investments Magazine.

"I think the key to my success is having people be comfortable with me when they come in," she says. "We spend a lot of time together, so we have to respect and trust each other. Some of the smartest people in the world are not people you would want to spend your day with. Some egos are too big to be part of our system."

Not surprisingly, Cooper faced many challenges on her way to the top of a male-dominated field, beginning with her first entry-level job at a brokerage firm in her hometown of Stamford.

"I started right out of college," she says, remembering that she was dating her husband, Johann, at the time. "A few months later, I asked my manager if I could take my Series 7 exam to become a registered broker and he said 'women don't do that; they have babies and they stay home.' So I challenged him and took the exam; and as soon as I passed, I left the firm. If I knew then what I know now, I probably would have had good grounds for a lawsuit."

From there, Cooper went to the former Kidder, Peabody and Co. and remained there for 22 years as it transitioned into Paine Webber and Co. and finally into UBS Financial Services. Her supervisor for much of that time was retired investment advisor Joseph Mitchell, who remembers nicknaming her "Mosi" after the late Mosi Tatupu, an iconic and beloved special teams player for the New England Patriots.

"One time, I had a heart attack and was in the hospital for a month or two," Mitchell recalled. "While I was gone, my clients did twice as much business with Mosi than they ever did with me because they loved her so much."

Before he retired, Mitchell says, he encouraged Cooper to work alongside Mark Wetzel, who joined Kidder after graduate school, and Michael Goss, another Kidder investment advisor. Together, they formed the three-person team that launched FIA. Wetzel is FIA's president and Goss is its executive vice president.

Along the way, Cooper found time to face another major challenge: balancing her work life with raising two daughters, Alison, 25, and Amelia, 16, and a son, Andrew, 23.

"A lot of the responsibility for raising a family falls on women, like being there when the kids are sick," she says. "I had my mom help me out, but not everybody has a support system. … I try to be sympathetic to that with our working mothers. If there's a Halloween parade in nursery school and they want to go, I think they should go."

Cooper, who lives in Portland, says the work-life balancing act can be a benefit in the corporate world. "Women feel things differently. They think more about the human aspect of the work," she said. As an example, she cites the numerous community-service initiatives that form an integral part of the FIA work model she established, everything from raising funds for nonprofit organizations to physical activities, such as finding apartments for the homeless, monthly food drop-offs at a local pantry and collecting used prom dresses for girls graduating from inner city schools.

"When I interview potential employees, it's what they hang on to the most," she says.

What are your keys to …

Maintaining business success:

You must surround yourself with the right people. I joined Mark Wetzel on the same day as Mike Goss, and the three of us became a team that day. Twenty years later, I am proud of the 60-person team that we call FIA. My experience has taught me to hire those people whom I like to be around. When a team works well together, that benefits the client and leads to greater success for the firm.

Maintaining work-life balance:

They say it "takes a village" and that has been my experience in raising my three children. We live in a small town and I have managed to form a network of wonderful mothers and fathers to support me. Countless carpools were arranged for rides to nursery school and after-school activities, all the way through high school sports. When my children were small, my parents were always there for us. All working parents should be blessed with friends and neighbors and flexibility to achieve this balance.

Keeping a competitive edge:

At FIA, we are never satisfied with the status quo. We always make sure that we are staying ahead of the curve. Networking plays an important role in keeping a competitive edge. We stay connected with our committees, the professionals who work with our clients, our vendors and our managers.

Read about the other outstanding 2016 Women in Business.

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