I've always been surrounded by business and numbers. My dad ran an accounting practice that his dad had started, and I worked there during the summers. That job gave me a lot of practice with math. Over dinner, my family often talked about business. We were always coming up with ideas. I got comfortable with numbers and risk because that's what I saw in my family.

We lived just north of Boston. In the summer of 1987, when I was 20, my brother and I built a pushcart business and sold wooden plaques at Faneuil Hall. Thanks to that business, I was clearing $700 a week in cash when I was at Boston University as an accounting major.

Over time, I realized that being on the front lines of a business, interacting with customers and giving them something they really want—like those plaques at Faneuil Hall—was much more appealing to me. So I changed my major to marketing. I began my career as a stand-alone insurance agent with no clients for the Equitable. I had to make my own way during the two years I was there. Then I worked in insurance at Kidder Peabody for five years. When Paine Webber bought the company, they wanted me to work in Weehawken, New Jersey, but I loved New York and didn't want to leave.

Around that time, a colleague referred me to someone at Merrill Lynch. I hadn't considered Merrill as an employer, but the woman I spoke with convinced me it was a good opportunity, and here I am, 18 years later. I've stayed because I love the responsibilities I've been given at Merrill—from national sales manager for Merrill Lynch Investment Managers, to head of sales and marketing for the Trust Company, to head of sales for four groups. I was also in charge of product management for annuities and life insurance. My current position seemed a natural next step.

Some people have a master plan for their career, but I never did. I love sales, but people I respected made me think about leadership. I joined Merrill for the same sorts of reasons that I chose to attend Boston University. Merrill is big enough that if I wanted to learn more, I would surely be able to find something there that attracted me. That's exactly what has happened.

As Told to Pat Olsen