How Pamela Stross Became a Financial Services Executive Who Leads With Empowerment
In 1976, Pamela Stross was sitting in an interview for her first job. She was right out of high school and planned on working while simultaneously going to college. The woman she was meeting with asked a typical interview question, “Where do you want to go with this job?” Stross replied she’d like to grow with it.
The interviewer responded, “There is no room for advancement here at all, because I’m not going anywhere.”
At the time, Stross was taken aback by the interviewer’s comment.
With so few women working in banking at the management level at the time, it is easy to assume that the interviewer saw Stross as the “competition,” or thought Stross wouldn’t go anywhere because she’s a woman.
“Only recently did it hit me that she was trying to say she didn’t feel there was any opportunity for her to go anywhere,” Stross says, so it inadvertently came off like she was putting her down.
Stross ended up taking the job anyway. Being so young and without a lot of experience, she dug in and learned everything she could. Two years later she was sitting in that woman’s chair, running the department at age 20. The interviewer did in fact move into another role, freeing up the position for Stross, which she held for 15 years.
“Over that time period, I did see some changes in banking, but it was an old boys’ club for a long time,” Stross says. Her first position was in the executive suite, offering her more networking and advancement opportunities than many women had, and she had become a Vice President by the time she decided to look outside for a new role.
Through a connection she made at the bank, she was asked to come on as the CFO of Sembler Investments, a family office in the Tampa area. From that role, she transitioned to leading one of their companies, JurisPartners, a recruiting firm for paralegals and legal assistants. Stross ultimately purchased JurisPartners and ran it for five years before deciding she wanted to pivot.
She spent 11 years back in banking, culminating in a leadership role as the Chief Administration Officer and Senior Executive Vice President of Platinum Bank.
“I had the opportunity to learn and grow so much during that time period,” Stross says, but she notes that there were still relatively few women in executive management roles, especially in community banking. When the bank was priming to sell, she started to explore her options again.
She rejoined Sembler Investments as CFO and then became the President and CEO of TruClarity Management Solutions, which launched shortly after her return.
TruClarity Management Solutions helps financial advisors transition from traditional banks and wirehouses to independence, and then assists them with running their businesses—offering services like accounting, compliance, IT support, human resources, lease management, and more. Alternately, advisors can choose to “tuck in” to TruClarity Wealth Advisors, a separate RIA, if complete independence is not a good fit for them.
“We look at it as having the ability to offer options: do you want to be totally independent? Do you want to tuck in? Do you want to tuck in for a period of time, and then later become independent, and have our continued support?” Stross explains. “We offer a variety of solutions and, many times, help advisors navigate which option is best for them.”
While Stross and her team still serve a majority of male advisors, she notes that their first tuck-in was a young female advisor. She also sees women playing bigger roles as support people at advisory firms than she saw previously in her career. Firms are giving these vital staff members more prominent titles and expanding their responsibilities.
“If you work for a smaller firm, you have the ability to round out your career more, and become more effective in what you do,” Stross explains. She notes that those who have had a career solely on the support side of the industry are now able to think outside the box and broaden their career paths.
“It’s been a very interesting time period, and an interesting industry to be in, because you have seen how difficult it has been for women,” Stross says. “When I used to go to conferences, there were very few women there who weren’t in marketing. Now you do see more women moving into management, but it’s been a very slow road,” she says.
Stross feels like women will continue to grow in the industry if they’re more aware of finance-related career paths at the educational level, and if they continue to receive opportunities.
“It’s important to try and give those opportunities, because you never know what they will become,” she says, noting that she once had a female intern who is now one of the youngest CFOs of a community bank in Florida.
Due to her experiences as a woman in finance, and how she was treated in the past, Stross always tries to empower those working for her.
“Because of how I came into the banking world, starting with ‘you’re not going to go anywhere,’ I think it’s always made me very aware,” Stross says. “My philosophy is: I want you to come sit in my chair at some point.”
“And nobody ever wants it,” she laughs, tongue in cheek. “But I want them all to feel like they can learn to fill my shoes. Because of how I felt the day somebody told me you’re never going to go anywhere.”
Stross now has a team that she says is a tight-knit group. They love what they do and it really shows.
“It’s about really digging in and finding somebody that wants to get in and learn, and I have the most amazing people that I work with,” she says. “I love to watch them blossom, and change, and take on new roles. And they, in turn, do the same thing with the people that are working for them.”
She tells her team to think of an opportunity they were given, what it meant to them, and then to turn around and give an opportunity to someone else.
“I’m a big fan of paying it forward.”