Susan Wagner

Susan L. Wagner, '82, English & Economics, Founding Partner and Director, BlackRock; Member, Board of Directors, Apple, Inc.

Susan Wagner is a co-founder and director of BlackRock, where she served as vice chairman and a member of the Global Executive and Operating Committees before retiring in 2012.  Over the course of her nearly 25 years at the firm, Wagner served as chief operating officer, head of strategy, corporate development, investor relations, marketing and communications, alternative investments and international client businesses. She also served as Global Executive Sponsor of BlackRock's Women's Initiative Network, and as a director continues to support it.  The Wellesley Class of 2014 selected Wagner as its Commencement Speaker, and she was recently elected to the Board of Directors at Apple, Inc.

What's been your career path?

Prior to founding BlackRock, I was a vice president in the Mortgage Finance Group at Lehman Brothers, supporting the investment banking and capital markets activities of mortgage and savings institutions, including development of innovative products. Two years after graduating from Wellesley, I assisted in writing and editing Conversations with Economists, which was named one of the 10 best business and economics books published that year by both Business Week and Forbes. I earned my M.B.A. in Finance from the University of Chicago in 1984.

How did your English major prepare you for your career?

I declared my major at the end of my sophomore year. Mine was English, and my father was horrified! He couldn’t fathom how I would ever support myself. I was undeterred. I loved studying Shakespeare, Milton, Eliot, and Pound—treasuring the economy and beauty of their words, debating their meaning, researching historical allusions and social context, developing my own ideas and attempting to present them in papers worthy of my professors’ respect (or at least a good grade). My father was an accountant. It’s not hard to see why that seemed esoteric to him. But I loved it. 

That foundation—knowing how to ask questions and find answers, undertake critical analysis, and present effectively—was equally relevant across disciplines. I remember taking one Econ class in which we had to read an academic paper a week and write a two-page synopsis. The assignment required you to parse the prose and the equations, zero in on the central argument, dissect the author’s approach, and concisely present your analysis. Same basic skills, applied differently. 

And, of course, I used these same skills throughout my career. Think of this as applied liberal arts: reading broadly and listening well, analyzing trends, interpreting changes in the industry and markets, considering different perspectives, developing strategies, and negotiating transactions. My studies made me more interested in and sensitive to different cultures, which helped me work well with clients and colleagues around the world as we built a global business. (And I could write one mean memo!)

It has been my experience that the skills gained through a liberal arts education translate directly to any activity that requires working through arguments and considering multiple perspectives. Which is virtually anything you can imagine doing. I couldn’t know this while I was here, but I came to appreciate it over time.