Karen Strauss Cook, Goldman Trader Who Backed Moms, Dies at 61
Karen Strauss Cook, a pioneering female equity trader at Goldman, Sachs & Co. who helped other working moms stay in finance and will be honored next month by the group 100 Women in Hedge Funds, has died. She was 61.
She died at her home in Manhattan on Oct. 2, according to her husband, Everett R. Cook II. The cause was progressive supranuclear palsy, a neurodegenerative brain disease that was diagnosed in 2008.
Cook stood out on Wall Street from the day in 1975 when she paid an unsolicited visit to the headquarters of Goldman Sachs (GS), resume in hand, and drew the attention of then-general partner Robert Rubin, the future U.S. Treasury secretary, by refusing to accept a generic referral to human resources. She became the first woman hired in Goldman Sach’s Equities Division, and the firm’s first female trader.
“I remember those early days when she came,” Rubin said yesterday in an interview. “In those days it was a complicated role to have, being the first woman trader. She handled it very, very well. She was effective and gracious.”
Her departure from the firm -- which became Goldman Sachs Group Inc. when it went public in 1999 -- was noteworthy as well. She left in 1987 to spend more time with her sons, then 2 and 4, and later to cofound an executive-search firm geared to helping women find part-time work in finance.
In recent years, she worked for Michael Steinhardt at his hedge fund, Steinhardt Partners LP, which was wound down in 1995, and then for its successor, New York-based Steinhardt Management Co. In “No Bull,” his 2001 memoir, Steinhardt said the book “would not have been written were it not for the determination of Karen Cook, who, in addition to keeping a keen eye on my investments, managed to harass, cajole, humor and in general intimidate me into writing it.”
Cook’s husband will accept the award on her behalf, Amanda Pullinger, the group’s executive director, said yesterday in an interview.
“She was one of what we call our charter angels,” Pullinger said. “There were 60 women who each gave $1,000 in the early days. She supported us every year until she became too sick to do so. She also participated in education sessions and came to a number of our senior practitioner events, which we put on for senior women in the industry.”
Karen Mary Strauss was born on April 7, 1952, in Yonkers, New York, to Anthony J. Strauss, an engineer at CBS television, and the former Marion Hanney, a fifth-grade teacher. She graduated from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.
Accepted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, she deferred admission to gain experience on Wall Street. She was working as a floor clerk at the New York Stock Exchange (NYX) when she decided to deliver her resume in person to someone on the Goldman Sachs equities desk.
In a chapter for “More Than 85 Broads,” Janet Hanson’s 2006 book on women who have worked for Goldman Sachs (which once had its headquarters at 85 Broad St.), Cook described her standoff with a receptionist who wouldn’t divulge the name of anyone in equities to whom she could send her resume:
“She’s not budging and now neither am I. For several minutes we go round and round, until I notice someone pacing back and forth in the hallway just behind us. He finally stops, turns to me, and asks, ‘Who are you and what is it that you want?’”
It was Rubin, who interviewed her on the spot. Two weeks and 11 interviews later, she was hired as an equity trader by Robert Mnuchin, who became co-head of the firm’s trading and arbitrage the following year.
During her 12 years trading blocks of stock -- an activity that boomed following the abolition of fixed commissions on May 1, 1975 -- Cook gave up on Wharton and studied for her MBA at night at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
“My typical day consisted of waking up early, working on the trading desk at Goldman, rushing out to evening classes at NYU, and going out on a date after that, sometimes ending up in the wee hours at Studio 54,” Cook recalled. “All I can say is that what I had going for me then was my age.”
Most nights, she dragged her co-worker, Richard Perry -- known today as founder of Perry Capital LLC -- to class with her.
“She was an inspiration, a role model, and a great friend,” Perry said yesterday in an e-mail. “She will be terribly missed by all who knew her.”
Cook earned her MBA in 1979.
By 1987, she was a Goldman Sachs vice president with a husband, two young sons, two dogs and a cat. With “no role models for me, no sage sources of advice, no policies or procedures for part-time,” she gave up her job for full-time motherhood.
“I sat on park benches for the next two years conversing with other women who had dropped out of the workforce -- many of whom, like me, had left successful careers on Wall Street because they couldn’t find a happy balance between work and family,” she wrote.
In 1989, she formed Alterna-track Inc., an executive placement firm for women in finance seeking part-time employment while caring for their families. Her partner was Suzanne Rinfret Moore, a classmate at Wheaton who had risen to vice president at J.P. Morgan Securities Co. before leaving to raise a family.
The firm was “a kind of sophisticated Kelly Girl service for Harvard MBAs, takeover lawyers and corporate accountants,” according to a 1990 Associated Press story.
Alterna-track’s clients included Goldman Sachs, which, following an embarrassing drama involving an extramarital affair, hired the firm “to devise and implement a system of part-time and flex-time positions for the firm’s women who also wanted to start families,” according to William D. Cohan’s “Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World” (2011).
After selling her stake in Alterna-track, Cook in 1995 went to work for Steinhardt’s hedge fund, which “needed someone to handle investor relations after a year of terrible performance in 1994,” she wrote. Steinhardt closed the fund after a comeback in 1995, and Cook ran the transition. She became chief investment officer for Steinhardt Management, an investment partnership, and managing general partner of Nepeta Partners LP, an affiliated fund-of-funds. She retired in 2008.
She served on the boards of the International Rescue Committee, the LiveStrong Foundation, Wheaton College and the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women. She also had, she wrote, “obsessive/compulsive athletic pursuits, some days playing 27 holes of golf.”
Cook’s husband of 33 years is co-founder and co-managing director of Pouschine Cook Capital Management LLC in New York. He survives her, as do their two sons,Everett III and Conor, and her brother Anthony.
A memorial service was scheduled for 11 a.m. today at St. James Church at 865 Madison Ave. in New York.
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