Life After Chase: Peggi Einhorn

CFO and Treasurer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Margaret (Peggi) Einhorn didn’t take much time for her transition to “Life After Chase”.

After 24 years with Chase – beginning at Chase Manhattan – she retired as a senior vice president on May 31, 2004. The next day she reported to work as chief financial officer and treasurer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), which has some $7.5 billion in assets, generating grants approaching $400 million a year to "address the nation’s most complex health and health care issues”.

She was recruited for the Foundation through a Foundation colleague she had known from her civic involvements and activity on not-for-profit boards. She helped found and was former chair of the Board of The Brooklyn Children’s Museum, the world’s first museum for children, and is currently a trustee and chair of its Strategic Planning Committee.

“I had great years at the bank – a lot of fun,” she said, “but you need to keep your options open, and if you want the not-for-profit side, you need to have invested time in it. I would not have gotten this job at RWJF if I hadn’t a deep not-for-profit experience.”

Her Chase experience was also strikingly varied.

“I was a bit unusual in that I had a lot of jobs –14 or 16 different jobs, everything from being a relationship manager, having come through credit training into the corporate bank, to marketing and strategic planning in Wholesale, with a brief stint in retail. I was in investor relations for two years before the Chemical merger and two years after, and then spent most of my time in Finance and Corporate Treasury,” Einhorn explained.

“The many jobs are a reflection of my interests evolving, taking opportunities and being asked to take opportunities,” she continued. “I was able to orchestrate my move from relationship manager to all the planning jobs. I was out on maternity leave for four months…I stayed out long enough that the relationship manager job wouldn’t be there waiting for me.

“The planning jobs coincided with my children being young, and I had both a male and working mother boss who were both supportive. In those days, flexibility was attitudinal, and a compatible attitude made all the difference.”

Einhorn’s son and daughter were adopted from Colombia, and she and her husband, Michael Lasky, an attorney, have traveled there a fair amount and have a number of Colombian friends. “Colombian roots are a piece of my children’s lives, their heritage. Our approach as a family is that we all have different roots and respect them.”

A graduate of William Smith College, with an MBA from Columbia, Einhorn was a 1999 recipient of a David Rockefeller Fellowship from the New York City Partnership, allowing her to join with 12 other executives in examining key issues in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors of New York City.

She said she went after the fellowship during a time when she felt a new boss, in the aftermath of the Chemical merger – a time she recalled as “ugly” – was trying to keep her down. “Who was I to be sponsored? I was just a managing director at the time. But I put a package together, and I was also chair of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.”

“One of the things I got known for doing at Chase was going into an area and taking a fresh perspective,” Einhorn offered. “I knew how to go into an area, listen and gain a perspective on what it was about, the strengths and weaknesses. And in several roles it was clear I was being asked to come in and figure out how to fix things.”

“When I came to the Foundation, there were some things that needed to be looked at differently,” she recalled. “I had a lot of great training from the bank. Some of the disciplines we took for granted at Chase, like forecasting, were novel at the Foundation.”

Einhorn ensures that RWJF fulfills its financial obligations as a private, tax-exempt foundation, and is a good steward of the private resources entrusted to it in the public’s interest.

Her area of responsibility has three dimensions. She oversees accounting, tax and financial audit, but is happy to have a great comptroller. The second area has to with planning, establishing how much the Foundation can spend vis-à-vis its payout requirements. The third area is on the financial side of program work. “We make not only grants but also loans to projects, where there is more of a financial dimension,” she explained. “I get involved in more complicated grants.”

Was there anything she had to learn for her job at RWJF?

“Yes,” she said. “The academic culture. The business issues are very similar or analogous to situations I’d seen at the bank or museum, but the Foundation has a different culture of decision making and interaction at its core. There are a lot of academicians here, and their decision making process is collaborative and consensus oriented.”

She also had to adjust to a different kind of commute.

In good traffic, her drive from Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn to Princeton, NJ, takes an hour and five minutes, the return an hour and 15 minutes. She works from home one day a week.

“It’s a straight highway drive, little traffic, and there’s the payoff at the end,” Einhorn said. “The place is so beautiful and atmosphere so collegial. My office looks out at greenery, with deer cavorting.”

“Despite the commute, it’s a manageable job,” Einhorn said. “There’s a clear cycle, geared to four board meetings a year. I don’t take work home at night or work on weekends.”

En route, she listens to audiobooks. “It’s actually wonderful to have that time,” she said. “I actually get to ‘read’ more. No question. I can’t read more than five [paper] pages at night without falling asleep.”

She’s also enjoying "just relaxing". She had a lot of family obligations through last spring, and is first getting to enjoy “time for what I want to do,” which ranges from swimming in NYC public swimming pools to life drawing.

She had been heavily involved with the care of her father, a physician who died just short of his 101st birthday two years ago, and her mother who died a few months after at 90, and she’d been very involved as well with her son’s college education. She’s first reestablishing her own pattern.

One thing that seems not to figure in her choices is her having epilepsy. “I’ve had it since my early 20s, but all told, I’ve had maybe seven or eight seizures. The last one was eight years ago and counting, but I wasn’t on meds then and now I am. It doesn’t stop me from driving or running.” Her daughter wrote a telling and touching account of her reaction to that seizure, which can be read online.

“I had a good experience at the Bank and worked with some really great people,” she concluded. “Clearly the bank rewarded me well and gave my family a stability that I don’t take lightly. Had I not stayed as long as I did, I wouldn’t have had skills to transfer to this kind of a job. But it is important to have more than one thing going and keep options open. When things got hairy, I had civic engagement as a source of strength. I knew I was valued, and when I was being underutilized at bank, I was using full capabilities outside it.”