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March 1, 2004

Playing Shakespeare and Wall Street

By Ingrid Eisenstadter

Once upon a time, this trading executive wore glass slippers and danced with a prince.

Elizabeth Finkle is busy. She is CEO of Finkle & Co., a Manhattan research and trading firm that opened it doors just last January. Today Liz Finkle has her foot on the accelerator as she climbs mountains of paperwork for the SEC and NASD as her company gears up. She's armed with a Series 7 license, and 63, 144, and is now working on 24.

It wasn't always this way. Once upon a time, she wore glass slippers and danced with a prince. No, really.

Starring in a grade school play, Liz was cast as Cinderella and, at age seven, made her career choice. "I was in every school play after that," she said. By high school she was president of the drama club. During summer breaks, when there would be no conflict with rehearsal schedules-first things first-Liz did clerical work in her grandfather's firm, the original Finkle & Co., a Wall Street brokerage of the 60s and 70s.

The Lead Role

Through her years as a young adult she had the lead in more than a dozen plays and musicals, culminating at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London where she landed the role of Juliet, and, in case you just got here, the play is called Romeo and Juliet. That was immediately after graduation from Columbia University, "during the semester between college and reality," Liz said.

On her return to the U.S. in 1987, at age 23, Liz got ready to go to work. Her job skills were now finely honed: She could sing, dance and read Shakespeare in Middle English; all in short supply on Wall Street. But the Street was not her goal; it was an actor's life for her.

For most of the city's thespians getting a job means waiting on tables while preparing to hit the big time. "But I decided that instead of being a waitress I would work at a brokerage," Liz explained to Traders Magazine. The plan she secretly held in her heart was to call in sick once in a while to get to the good auditions.

Alan Greenberg was then chairman of Bear Stearns. A friend of the family, he agreed to find a spot for Liz. "What would you like to do?" Greenberg asked her. A golden opportunity. All Wall Street was at her feet.

"I want to be an actress," she replied.

She settled on a sales assistant position, arriving precisely in time for the crash of 87. It was a Monday and "everyone expected the market to come back" from a substantial Friday pullback, Liz recalls. In the chaos of that day, Finkle listened to her new co-workers trying to calm their clients: "We're buying now,'" they said, or, We're holding tight here,' but really no one knew what was going on and I thought Hey, this is not so bad. Everyone's acting.'"

Now, two decades after her market beginnings, she looks back on positions as a municipal bond trader, equity trader, retail broker and more, at Smith Barney, Citibank and Muriel Seibert.

Liz says she benefits today from her acting training because she "learned how to control my emotions as I speak"- she's hard to ruffle - and that "the same skills that apply to playing to an audience of hundreds apply in playing to an audience of one."

This spring, working with five partners who are co-investors in the reborn firm, Liz is interviewing applicants for additional analyst positions.

Finkle & Co. will specialize in under-the-radar companies with a market cap of $10 billion or less, but will also cover large cap "if legitimate contrarian recommendations exist."

At present, sector coverage includes energy, biotech and technology, with media, leisure, specialty retail and software to come shortly.

Phones Ringing

The company is off to a good start, headquartered in the swanky Helmsley building in the heart of midtown; the phones are ringing. Today, among her other considerable responsibilities, Liz has a three-year-old daughter, so the temptation to run off with an acting troupe is gone. Almost.