Her Shopping List’s on Ticker Tape

Blazing trail through the male mysteries of high finance Helen Cleveland of Bay St. sells stocks and bonds to wives, widows and business girls. Her secret: She can turn window-shopping into a signature on the dotted line

GERALD ANGLIN November 15 1950

Her Shopping List’s on Ticker Tape

Blazing trail through the male mysteries of high finance Helen Cleveland of Bay St. sells stocks and bonds to wives, widows and business girls. Her secret: She can turn window-shopping into a signature on the dotted line

GERALD ANGLIN November 15 1950

Her Shopping List’s on Ticker Tape

Blazing trail through the male mysteries of high finance Helen Cleveland of Bay St. sells stocks and bonds to wives, widows and business girls. Her secret: She can turn window-shopping into a signature on the dotted line


HELEN WARFIELD CLEVELAND sells upward of a million dollars worth of stocks and bonds a year to women clients by

calmly and reassuringly showing them a lighted path through the ticker-tape jungle in which men conduct the mysterious business of high finance.

Women with money to invest—widows, housewives, business girls—often reach her desk in Toronto’s Wood, Gundy and Company miffed by the abrupt treatment their enquiries have received from male securities salesmen used to quick decisions.

The pleasant Miss Cleveland, who is a slim five-foot-six with pale blue eyes and light-brown hair, looking trim and efficient yet not too formidable in her neat blue suit, chats easily to smooth ruffled feathers, then simply explains the difference between bonds (“You’re lending your money for a fixed rental”) and stocks (“You’re buying part ownership in a company to share in its profits

—or losses”). She warns bluntly that what goes up may come down, but points out that “good eggs are good eggs even if the price drops from 62 to 61 cents a dozen.”

She gives commonsense advice like, “If you’re a worrier stick to government issues.” Above all she tries to make her clients read up on any company in which they are considering investing, then decide for themselves to buy or not to buy.

Her hundreds of customers show themselves more than grateful. One elderly woman, a new client, asked hesitantly, “May I call you my broker? My friends are always talking about their brokers.”

Some brokers on Bay Street, though fully aware of the important place held by women in the investment market (more than half the shareholders in, say, Bell Telephone, are women), see the situation from another angle.

“Women ask your advice, buy something else,

then blame you when

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the stock goes down,” complains one.

“You waste an hour on a dame before you discover she’s just looking, thanks,” moans another.

“Women naturally don’t have the same chance as men to learn about business matters and they deserve special consideration,” explains a senior salesman. Then he confesses hastily, “Myself, I avoid ’em!”

Thus it took almost a pioneer’s courage for Wood, Gundy to launch a women’s department back in 1927. Helen Cleveland observes candidly today, “I think Mr. Wood and Mr. Gundy considered women clients a nuisance and were happy to shove them off on me.”

But the partners were probably also shrewd enough to realize that women were becoming a more and more valuable nuisance in the securities market and deserving of special attention. Because women outlive men by an average five years, and because most wives are younger than their husbands in the first place, the natural process of death and inheritance tends to funnel stocks and bonds into feminine hands.

A recent study of 15 large American firms showed that among individual shareholders women outnumbered men four to three.

Moreover, by 1927 the career woman had already established herself in business and the years since have seen more and more women earning their own money to buy their own bed, board, stocks and bonds. As just one indication, women today sign for a quarter of all life insurance written in the U. S. and a fifth of that sold in Canada. Men still buy more securities than women and male executives control the buying of the big insurance and trust companies which gobble up new issues in million-dollar lots.

But even if Wood and Gundy were primarily interested in freeing themselves to stalk bigger game they made no mistake when they turned the women over to Helen Cleveland. For, in addition to selling them stocks and bonds, she has made a lifetime crusade of educating women in the sacred male dominion of high finance. Her educational efforts were climaxed last year by a series of lectures for women sponsored, at first, rather hesitantly, by her firm.

The lectures filled Toronto’s 450-seat Museum Theatre five times. Three Wood, Gundy experts gave talks at each session, after which Miss Cleveland summed things up. Every member of the audience carried home a balance sheet listing a housewife’s financial status in such terms as fixed assets (house, car, furniture), current liabilities (telephone, light, doctors’ bills) and funded debt (mortgage on house).

'The show later went on tour with performances in Montreal, Ottawa, Galt, Sarnia, Kitchener, Hamilton and Oshawa, while the firm’s branch offices in Winnipeg and Vancouver staged similar lectures with local talent.

Bay Street’s Miss Cleveland is also well known for her accomplishment in other sectors. Some years back Zonta, a U. S. women’s service club, decided to organize a branch on foreign soil and Helen Cleveland was elected first president of the Toronto Club. Almost before Zonta knew what was happening to it the new Canadian recruit was off on a self-inspired whirlwind tour to spread the gospel throughout European capitals—an air tour, although that, was in 1929 when air liners still flew with their wheels down.

Next year she became Zonta’s first international president and today she remains one of the most active of the 7,000 members of all Zonta’s 200 clubs.

During World War II Miss Cleveland was often loaned by her firm to the Victory Loan Speakers’ Bureau and spent so many hours on the phone arranging rallies all over Ontario that her left ear developed its own dial tone. Even today she still has sometimes to switch the phone earpiece over to her right ear when buy-and-sell orders come flooding in from her clients. She handles as many as 40 such orders a day.

In her normal working day she also handles a steady stream of enquiries from past or potential clients, many of whom queue up in the waiting room to see her exclusively. She must also read an unending flow of business summaries, ..nnual reports and financial journals, and keep a running check on the cross-indexed holdings of her extensive clientele, which are stacked high on her desk in loose-leaf notebooks. These chores overflow into a good many

of the evenings she doesn’t devote to Zonta, the Health League of Canada, or the Second Mile Club, the last an organization which operates a community centre for Toronto oldsters.

In spite of all this Helen Cleveland manages to enjoy to the full the kind of life made possible by $8,000 to $10,000 per year, her earnings being hitched directly to her sales. She pays about $120 a month for a furnished threeroom suite in a flossy apartment house on St. Clair Avenue West. She drives about 20,000 miles a year and hops off on week-end air trips to New York, Washington, Montreal or Chicago. She has friends all over the continent whom she visits on vacation trips to Florida or California. When on holiday she can’t resist visiting ranches where she can wear dungarees and get back on a cow pony such as she used to ride in the unfettered years before she was 12 on the rangelands around Prescott,

The professional career, extracurricular interests and past history of this

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ex-tomboy reveal her as a paradox of ladylike orthodoxy constantly threatened by spontaneous combustion. On Bay Street Helen Cleveland is in the conservative end of a conservative business. Her firm vies with its chief Bay Street rivals—A. E. Ames and Dominion Securities—in the matter of ethics and dignity as well as sales. Basically a bond house floating only the most respectable securities, Wood, Gundy didn’t even hold a seat on the stock exchange until 1949, its 44th year in business, and it still won’t sell stocks on margin (the customer pays a percentage, the bank lends the rest). The portfolios of most of Miss Cleveland’s clients are loaded heavily with solid respectable Dominion of Canadas, International Nickels, Imperial Oil debentures, and those lovely, lovely Simpson Class B commons.

Yet just being a saleslady on Bay Street is almost as radical a departure today as it was when Helen Cleveland pioneered the field 23 years ago. There is only one other woman marketing securities as a full-time career in Toronto—Helen Sparling, of McLeod, Young, Weir & Company—perhaps one or two in Montreal, and two or three others throughout the rest of the country.

$400 on a “Pure Fluke’’

Even more revolutionary has been her campaign to explode the legend that all Bay Street’s female clients are bewildered widows and spinsters putting blind faith in some white-haired investment counselor who reminds them of their departed husbands.

“When they start giving me arguments against my investment suggestions, I know they’re learning something,” declares Helen with relish. “Perhaps 15% of my clients today are women in business with a good grasp of business procedures. Yet more than half of them are older women dependent on their investments for their income and they also show a real interest in understanding their holdings.”

Perhaps the keenest interest is shown by the other 25% of Cleveland clients who are married women handling the family finances for husbands who are busy executives. “They come to see me to get all the information they need, then they go off home with it and husband and wife decide together.”

In spite of the sober advice she gives most of her clients with fixed capital resources she isn’t above taking a flier herself on a bouncy gold stock like Eldona, on which she recently made an overnight profit of $400 when it jumped 60 cents. She hurriedly explains that this was a pure fluke, but the incident also demonstrates the fine blend of sage caution and let’s go on which her success is based.

The breezy impulsiveness hidden by the dignified exterior sent Helen Cleveland scurrying in 1924 to buy herself a Model T when women motorists were something more than rare.

In 1928 Helen read that air ace Billy Bishop had landed an amphibian on Toronto Bay to inaugurate an air service to Buffalo. She immediately booked a seat for the first scheduled flight, liked it, has been flying ever since.

She was born in Minneapolis but was soon taken to Arizona by her mining engineer father. He gave her a burro when she was 6; later she rode ponies 30 miles a day to “call on the neighbors.”

“I’d stay overnight at whatever ranch I happened to be visiting when the sun went down, and sometimes be away a week,” she recalled recently, and her wistful gaze roamed far beyond

the old walnut-railed corral that fences her in at Wood, Gundy’s.

When she was 12 her father’s mining interests brought him to Ontario and Helen was tom from the wide-open West and clapped into Havergal College, Toronto, where she found she had to be signed in and out like an in-

One day the young firm of Wood, Gundy & Company was startled to have a Havergal girl turn up and declare she wanted to learn the business from the ground up. “I think they hired me while they were still dazed,” she has since concluded..

She started at $10 a week, worked through the finance, accounting and direct mail selling departments before settling in investments. She learned that gold is where you find it, even at Bay and King. This was after a stubble-chinned character walked in smelling so strongly of horses as to rock even an old cowhand like Cleveland, and nonchalantly bought $400,000 worth of Alberta bonds.

From Wall Street she borrowed the idea of a department devoted exclusively to women clients and, as soon as the partners consented, women immediately started beating a high-heeled track to Helen Cleveland’s desk.

For two years the new department boomed like everything else in the giddiest bull market ever known, then in October and November, 1929, came what Helen calls “the two worst days of my life.” All in all, she insists, her clients rode out the big crash with remarkable calm and only one stormed in to announce that her husband was going to shoot Mr. Gundy.

Miss Cleveland, like a good many other people, found her own “marginal position severely overextended.” More simply, she’d bought a flock of speculative stuff for a fraction of its worth, borrowing the rest from the bank and, as prices plummeted, she had to “cover” to the sum of $10,000, or lose everything.

She calmly pointed out to the venerable Bank of Montreal that if it sold her out, neither one of them would ever get their money back. “But I said if they’d cover me I’d pay them every cent, no matter how long it took, because I was convinced my stocks would all come back some day,” says Helen now. “So the bank covered me and I paid off $10,000 over the years, five and 10 dollars at a time. The stocks rose again eventually, as I knew they would, so we all ended up on top.”

Once a month Wood, Gundy salesmen from all over Canada are flown to Toronto for a Saturday morning bull session over new issues and current problems. “Anyone who has something special to contribute may be called on,” says sales manager Ned Ely, “but Helen is called on almost every meeting to report how her women clients feel about things.”

Just after the Korean invasion took the stock market for one of its worst downhill jaunts since ’29 she told 50 gloomy salesmen, “Women don’t scare easily. My clients are calling to say T see the market’s gone down—what’s a good buy?’ ”

Helen Cleveland has made her mark in a man’s world by deftly penetrating the frustration that blocks the male securities salesmen who moan that women take up their valuable time when they’re “just looking, thanks.” She says, “Women like to chat away about the stocks and bonds they’re interested in but it isn’t just windowshopping. Their chief weakness is that they underestimate their b isiness knowledge—this is often the only reason they lack the confidence to make their own decisions on what to buy and sell.” ★