Making Way for Women in Finance

Sara Snider headshot summer 2022

Sara Snider Gresham (BS; MS, Finance, 2015) loves her job. Earlier today, she sat across from a client and was able to encourage them to take a big international trip with her kids and grandchildren. In fact, she got to tell her that they could afford to do it every year for the next ten years. As a wealth management professional, she strives to provide an exceptional client experience and adds, “we want to be there for clients not just in their financial lives, but also to celebrate weddings, retirements, and all the milestones that life has.”

A Family Tradition

For Gresham, who is a director at Merrill Lynch, a career in wealth management always seemed inevitable — and something of a family tradition. After all, her father has been with Merrill Lynch for a jaw-dropping 43 years, and all three of her siblings are at the company as well. But Gresham’s father, Harvey Snider, saw something special in her and encouraged her, as early as 9th grade, to follow his career path.

Though Gresham grew up in Atlanta, she explained that her family were “always Alabama people.” Her parents met at the Capstone, and they had season tickets to Alabama football games from before she was born. She remembers a weekend from high school where they were in Tuscaloosa for a game and she met the late Dr. Billy Helms, who was chair of the Economics, Finance, & Legal Studies department at Culverhouse. Helms sold Gresham on an accelerated course of study at UA, where she could finish her undergraduate and master’s degree in finance in just four years. “I remember being in awe that the Crimson Tide is playing in a few hours and this important person is taking time to meet with me and give me advice about what I could do and the path I could take,” she said. “I remember that meeting with him 15 years later.”

Feels Like Home

While in college, Gresham joined and was active in a sorority. She also became a Culverhouse Ambassador, even serving as president of the highly-selective organization for a year. She enjoyed giving tours to prospective students and parents and relished the challenge of finding ways to get them excited about Culverhouse. “Learning how to talk to strangers, build rapport, and to sell them on the university was a professional skill that helped prepare me for the real world,” she said. “I wanted to reinforce that coming to Alabama feels like home, and you’ve got people just like me who are available to you and can make it feel like, within a large university, you can get plugged in and have a community. And the business school is one of those ways.”

Unexpected Opportunities

Joining a business trip to New York with her father during college proved a career-shaping experience for Gresham. While there, she shadowed her father at some meetings, and coincidentally met the woman who ran the Merrill Lynch summer internship program, who just so happened to have gone to Auburn and whose parents lived in Prattville, the same Alabama town her mom is from. This introduction led to a ten-week summer internship with Merrill Lynch between her junior and senior years in New York City. She could not have imagined that a trip would turn into an internship and then ultimately launch her career. “I was a sophomore at Alabama, which was not a target recruiting school,” she explained. “But the master’s in finance came into play big time too, because that set me apart, a sophomore who’s starting their master’s degree. No other sophomores are doing that, right?”

This serendipitous experience shaped her mindset early on about future opportunities. “It’s great to have a plan,” she went on. “You need to have some thought of what you would like to do and where you want to be. But you always need to leave room for the unexpected opportunities that are going to come your way. And you’ve got to keep an open mind because like I said, I didn’t even know that was what I wanted to do.”

Gresham returned to the Big Apple and Merrill Lynch after she graduated, beginning her career in a rotational program between various groups and divisions. After a year and a half, she landed in the retirement division. When asked to create a unique original project to present to the team, she focused on the opportunity with women and wealth management, noticing a wave of women creating and inheriting money and what opportunities that might present to Merrill Lynch. The managing director of the team listened and ran with the idea, bringing Gresham along, and became a mentor to her over the coming years. “As that leader’s success bloomed, I was incredibly well positioned on her coattails and it led to unbelievable projects and experiences for me,” Gresham said. “That leader ended up building a team to focus on how Merrill can do more and better with not just women clients but also with other diverse communities.” And that led to more opportunities for Gresham to lead teams and initiatives within the company.

Giving Back

Now, as an Associate Board of Visitors (BOV) member and 2024 chair, Gresham comes back to campus frequently, and enjoys talking to Culverhouse Ambassadors, students who are in the role she was once in. “You don’t have to wait until you’re retired or financially successful to be give back to Culverhouse or UA,” she said. “Sometimes giving back means writing a check to name a room in Hewson Hall, and sometimes that’s spending time with students in mentoring or on campus interviews. Or whatever it is that we can give back in our stage of life and experience.”

And Gresham is inspired by the gains women are making in business. “The fact that we have a female dean (Dr. Kay Palan) of our business school is really unique and incredible,” she said. And she also credits her father for his help in launching her career. “As a young woman, to have a man believe in you in an industry that’s not very diverse…was very empowering. It mattered to have a mentor who happened to be my father, and with decades of industry experience, to believe in me,” she said.

“My dad is the best person I know.”

Authored by

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