As a student at Lakewood High School in the 1960s, Margo Alexander showed signs that she might someday become a trailblazer for professional women.
The Class of ’64 graduate recently earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, which recognized Alexander’s pioneering career in the financial services industry and her subsequent efforts to help fight global poverty.
Long before the accolades, Alexander was pushing the envelope at Lakewood High. She enjoyed school but also helped to improve gender equity at Lakewood.
“In our senior year we were offered an elective from a long list of options," she said. "I chose Mechanical Drawing but was told that I couldn’t enroll. It was for boys only. My father went to the school and an exception was made. I sat at the front and absolutely loved that class!”
That experience is now one of Alexander’s many fond memories of high school.
“I remember happy school days at Lakewood,” Alexander said. “There were lots of activities, and I especially enjoyed being a cheerleader, running for school offices and social clubs.”
The recent honor from Berkeley, where Alexander graduated in 1968, was a big deal. The Haas School of Business was founded in 1898 and is the second-oldest business school in the United States. Alexander is the seventh person and first female to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.
The business school recognized Alexander as one of the first women to head a large asset management business, lead a top-ranked research department and oversee a major trading floor – all while raising two sons with her late husband, Robert.
“When Margo began her career, the behavior toward women in the financial services industry was appalling,” Haas Interim Dean Laura Tyson stated on the Haas website. “She was able to handle difficult situations, successfully working with men and always trying to mitigate inequities by hiring and supporting women. As she moved through the ranks, she was able to influence how organizations behaved in those arenas.”
A cover story on Alexander in a recent edition of Berkeley Haas magazine is titled “Fearless Woman of Wall Street,” chronicling her “keen business acumen and a focus on personal engagement.”
Alexander earned her MBA in 1970 from Harvard, where she was among only 3 percent of women in her graduating class.
Tyson commends Alexander for acting as a role model for younger women who even today are unsure whether they can balance the demands of a career and a family.
"I tell them to read up on Margo," Tyson said.
Aside from doing well, Alexander has done a lot of good. Since retiring in 2003, she has played key roles at Acumen, a global nonprofit that tackles poverty by investing in sustainable businesses, leaders and ideas. Acumen has invested $110 million to build more than 102 social enterprises in Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Pakistan, India, Colombia and the U.S., bringing basic services like affordable education, health care, clean water, energy and sanitation to more than 200 million people.
"Millions of people end up in terrible circumstances for unfair, unfortunate reasons," Alexander told Berkeley Haas magazine. "They have no opportunity to make the best of their lives. They're constrained in every direction."
Alexander’s commitment to equity has continued at Berkeley on the senior advisory board for the Center for Responsible Business. She worked to boost the number of female students at Haas, and she helped to create the Haas Institute for Business & Social Impact.
She credits public schools for preparing her well.
“I have nothing but good memories of my days at Lakewood, and for that matter, my entire school history – from Mark Twain Elementary to Hoover Junior High and then to Lakewood,” Alexander said.
“Continuing to benefit from California’s great gifts of public education I graduated from UC Berkeley. Once I met people in the wider world, I felt even more gratitude for the education I had received, with amazing resources, great teachers and terrific facilities.”