In the 1990s, women in record numbers looked to Wall Street as a great place to build successful and lucrative careers. What many of them found there was no meritocracy, but an industry living by the rules of a 1960s fraternity, with the money and legal clout to silence any challenges. Award-winning columnist Susan Antilla broke the story of shocking sex discrimination at Smith Barney and other major brokers. Her disclosures in the press were a rallying cry for class actions challenging the sexual hazing and outrageous disparities in pay that shackled professional women on Wall Street. Taking its title from the infamous basement party room of Smith Barney’s Garden City, New York, branch office, and representing years of extensive research, Tales from the Boom-Boom Room traces the story of the lead whistle-blower, Pam Martens, the crusading broker who put an entire industry on the defensive, then found herself at odds not just with her local bosses and with powerful figures like Travelers Group president Jamie Dimon, but with her coplaintiffs and attorneys. The women’s employment agreements forbade them to sue, and only an ingenious legal strategy circumvented that virtual gag rule and brought the scandal out from behind the closed doors of arbitration. This is a riveting human, legal, and business drama of women and men in the financial institutions on Wall Street and around America.
About the Author
Susan Antilla has been investigating allegations of sexual harassment on Wall Street for the past seven years and broke several of its first major stories. Currently a columnist with Bloomberg News, she launched the weekly investing column in the Saturday edition and the “Between Main & Wall” ombudsman column at The New York Times. She was bureau chief of the Money section of USA Today and financial bureau chief for The Baltimore Sun. Antilla was twice selected as a finalist for a Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism.
Read an Excerpt
Tales from the Boom-Boom Room
Garden City's Party Spot
- Patti, a former bond trader
Wall Street never could help itself when things got good, and in 1982, at the dawn of the greatest bull market in history, it was inevitable that the industry would be gearing up to repeat old mistakes: firms would be hiring too many people, building too many offices, putting on too many fancy parties, and leasing too many stretch limousines.
In the midst of this rush to expand, though, was a brokerage firm known for an adroit management that could grow its number of offices while somehow controlling its expenses per employee. It was Shearson/ American Express, an empire of investment banking and brokerage operations that was constantly bucking the trends of excess despite a payroll that stood at 14,480 employees by the end of 1982.
Essential to the profitability of this standout among spendthrifts was its nationwide 352-branch network of retail stock brokerages that fed commissions back to New York headquarters. Investors all over the nation knew the name Shearson and entrusted their money to the company's brokers, who sold them stocks, bonds, commodities, and mutual funds. And a half-hour train ride to the east of New York City, amid a row of brokerage houses in the Long Island town of Garden City, was one celebrity office whose output was among the highest in the system. Lori Hurwitz and Pamela Martens were to receive their harsh introductions to the world of women on Wall Street in the Garden City branch.
The leading man in Garden City was branch manager Nicholas F. Cuneo. He was from the old guard of Wall Street's retail sales: loud, direct, demanding, and frequently crude in the office, he was accustomed to managing men like himself. Cuneo, five foot nine and slightly overweight, with a little potbelly, had a salt-and-pepper beard to match the salt-and-pepper hair that had largely remained atop his head even as middle age -- he was fifty years old in 1982had bared the pates of his peers. He wore a suit and white shirt each day, removing his jacket as soon as he arrived and not replacing it unless a VIP visited the office or he was leaving for lunch.
When it came to women, Cuneo possessed a combination of personas. Cuneo the old-fashioned gentleman might show deference to someone who stayed home to tend to her house and her children -- roles he sometimes described approvingly to a male broker who reported to him. But Cuneo the manager, suddenly faced with the arrival of women in his workplace, was not so anxious to be deferential.
Even the setting of the Garden City office seemed to mock the handful of females who worked there, at 901 Franklin Avenue. They came and went each day across the street from a discount ladies' dress store whose sign read "Pay Half." Cuneo had been known to tell women, with more than a little bravado, that they should not expect to be paid as much as the men, some of whom made significantly more than they. Further, they should not even consider trying to sue him. Many had tried and failed, he once bellowed.
Considering the industry's record, Cuneo could hardly be singled out for underpaying women. Shearson's rival Merrill Lynch had settled a lawsuit in 1976 brought by a woman who'd graduated with honors from Wellesley and had an M.A. in economics from Stanford. Helen O'Bannon, a former college economics instructor whose résumé leading up to her application at Merrill included jobs at the House Banking and Currency Committee, the Treasury Department, and the Comptroller of the Currency, was rejected from the broker training program. O'Bannon took a personality test as part of the application process, answering questions that assumed the applicants would be male.
"Which quality in a woman do you consider most important?" it asked: "1) beauty 2) intelligence 3) dependency 4) independence or 5) affectionateness?" O'Bannon, who answered "2," got it wrong, because no points were given for intelligence or independence, while two points were given for dependency or affectionateness, and one for beauty. "Dear Mr. O'Bannon," a subsequent letter from Merrill began. "We regret we are unable to take more of the men who apply." Another woman applicant, who also was rejected, had a master's degree, had been director of a business school, and had significant sales experience. The four applicants who did make the cut all were male. None of them had earned more than a bachelor's degree. One had dropped out of college because of his poor academic performance. Another previously had worked as a gas station attendant. And two of the four had flunked Merrill's aptitude test.
So Nicholas Cuneo of Shearson was not alone in thinking that men needed the jobs to cover their big mortgages, or that women should be home with their children. Brokers who worked for him said that Cuneo -- like many other Wall Street managers -- probably wouldn't have hired women as brokers at all if he had had his way.
He did, however, distinguish himself by his tendency to be a little louder, a little more vulgar, and even a little more arrogant than his peers in an industry already long on hubris. And he clung to ancient dress codes for women -- no pantsuits -- even as First Lady Nancy Reagan was wearing knicker pants to the American Embassy in Paris.
Cuneo was, in short, the king of his branch of Shearson/American Express. Settled on the western end of Long Island, just seventeen miles from Manhattan, Cuneo's office regularly ranked among the top 40 branches out of the more than 400 that Shearson had in those days. With profits fat, his brokers were living the good life, with luxury homes and country club memberships ...Tales from the Boom-Boom Room. Copyright © by Susan Antilla. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Table of Contents
Preface. Prologue. 1 Garden City’s Party Spot. 2 From Appalachia to Wall Street. 3 Wild Times for Wall Street. 4 Nick’s Way with Women. 5 Martens’s Disorienting Orientation. 6 Martens Snaps. 7 That Was Happening to You, Too? 8 Dear Mr. Dimon: Martens Fights Back. 9 Getting Lawyers, Getting Fired. 10 Attacking the No-Court System. 11 Going Public. 12 Momentum: Merrill’s Women Sue. 13 Martens without Martens. 14 Settling the Settlement. 15 Pariah or Visionary? 16 Arbitration After All. Epilogue. Notes. Index.
What People are Saying About This
In the midst of the recent revelations about the brokerage industry comes a book that details yet another aspect of its 'dark side.' In the tradition of movies such as Wall Street and Boiler Room, Susan Antilla keeps the reader enthralled as she uncovers how some on Wall Street finessed rules and regulations to keep its harrassment secrets under wraps.
Director, Alabama Securities Commission Former president, North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA)
I'm not sure whatever happened to respect for one's colleagues -- men and women alike -- but the word 'gentlemen' would be quite out of this place in this timely and important book. But all is not lost; perhaps the 'Tales' told by Susan Antilla -- as shocking as they are well documented -- will help lead to a renaissance of decency.
Founder and Former Chairman, The Vanguard Group
..Tales from the Boom-Boom Room: Women vs. Wall Street written by veteran business journalist Susan Antilla, discusses in juicy detail the sexual-misconduct furor that shook the Street in the late 1990s...The book, which tells the tale of the primary whistleblower, Pam Martens, may have the makings of a Wall Street version of Erin Brokovich.
“A gutsy, important book.” —Kate Jennings, The Financial Times, December 5, 2002 “At last, a book that shows what a really good investigative reporter can do with the hot topic of sexual harassment.” —Lucy Sussex, Sunday Age (Melbourne), November 24, 2002 “Meticulously researched . . . a work of compelling Wall Street anthropology . . . Tales from the Boom-Boom Room does a tremendous job of working the reader into a low, steady rage. . . . Ms. Antilla’s book is an occasion to put an entire institutional pattern of behavior on open display.” —Stephen Metcalf, The New York Observer, December 2, 2002 “Comprehensive and sharply written. . . . The author turns up some outrageous details.” —Heather Timmons, Business Week, November 25, 2002 “A powerful and startling indictment of the sexist behavior of stockbrokers working for Wall Street and its offshoots. . . . This skillfully written book reads like a fascinating novel, so graphic and dramatic that it is more like a screenplay than a report.” —Rolf Dobelli, getAbstract, December 31, 2002 “An explosive new book that has scandalized Manhattan’s financial district.” —Sarah Baxter, Sunday Times (London), November 17, 2002 “A startling new book. . . . A catalogue of long-suppressed abuse of women.” —James Langton, The Evening Standard (London), December 5, 2002 “A compelling combination of investigative journalism and social-corporate analysis. . . . As riveting as anything on the best-selling fiction list if not for the sobering reminders that these are actual women fighting for justice against tremendous odds.” —Angele McQuade, Better Investing, March 2003
Susan Antilla's Tales from the Boom-Boom Room is, unfortunately, not a tale at all, but a startling reminder of the war women have been forced to wage on Wall Street. While women have come far, when it comes to the brokerage industry, Antilla shows they have even futher to go in what today is still a good ole boys' club.
Senior Columnist, TheStreet.com
Susan Antilla has done a remarkable job in researching and telling this story. I find it astonishing that the events she describes took place as recently as the 1980s and '90s.
Chairwoman and President, Sibert Financial Corporation
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Antilla's narrative is very well-written, offering chilling stories of incredible misbehavior in the investment world. The boy's club attitude made it very difficult for women to operate or succeed in the brokerage business. There is evidence that this type of behavior has been greatly reduced, yet much of what has happened remains an industry guarded secret. There may be too many details for some readers, but this well-documented, unsettling book tells the story in a manner that makes the book a page turner.
Susan Antilla presents a powerful and startling indictment of the sexist behavior of stock brokers working for Wall Street and its offshoots, specifically Smith Barney¿s Shearson/American Express office in Garden City, Long Island. Women struggled to be hired, and then found that the men in charge of their careers practiced all sorts of sexual harassment and intimidation, from jokes to displays of sexual prowess, physical contact and threats of rape. As she describes, the bosses sought to bar women or trap them in low positions. While painting the broader picture, Antilla focuses on whistle blower, Pam Martens, who revealed the situation when she sued for damages. This skillfully written book reads like a fascinating novel, so graphic and dramatic that it is more like a screenplay than a report. We from getAbstract believe it will draw intense interest from everyone affected by this issue: female executives who face glass ceilings and harassment, male executives who must determine their own philosophies toward their female colleagues and human resource professionals who are charged with watching out for them both.