Chief Investment Officer , Bessemer Trust

Even for someone as accomplished as Rebecca Patterson, there are times when a little encouragement is helpful. That's why she keeps a book of quotations from Eleanor Roosevelt by her bedside.

"Here is a woman who was an unusual first lady at an extraordinarily challenging time for the country and world, who had an unusual marriage, and who grew up unconventionally," said Patterson, who is the chief investment officer at Bessemer Trust. "To me, she embodied resilience. Whenever I have a tough day, I read a few of her quotes and feel inspired anew."

One of her favorites: "Women are like tea bags. You don't know how strong they are until you put them in hot water."

There isn't much question about Patterson's strength. As the first woman to rise to such a senior position in the history of her 110-year-old company, Patterson has proved herself many times over managing an 87-person team that guides the investment strategies for $60 billion in client portfolios.

Patterson also makes a point of mentoring other women in finance and, more broadly, helping to push for greater diversity in the senior ranks. As an in-demand speaker as well as a member of high-profile international organizations such as the Council on Foreign Relations, Patterson is in a unique position to serve as a role model to younger women in the industry.

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Patterson has no illusions about the difficulty that some women face in finance, where many companies still harbor a "boys' club" ethos. She advises "candid conversations" to deal with an internal culture that needs updating.

That might seem like it is easier said than done, but Patterson said women in finance tend to be able to stand up for themselves effectively.

"I think most women in finance build resilience over time, if nothing else because it's a demanding, intense field," she said. And when they need a boost, there's always Eleanor Roosevelt.

Rob Garver

Rob Garver has been covering the intersection of public policy and the private sector for more than 20 years.