You can learn a lot about Julie Goodridge, the CEO of NorthStar Asset Management, by asking her about her first job. "When I got out of college, I went to Philadelphia and then to Tampa," she says. "My job was to knock on people's doors and help understand what their concerns were in their completely impoverished neighborhoods." As an organizer for ACORN, she worked in low-income neighborhoods to improve access to community resources, such as public transportation. More than 30 years later, Goodridge runs her own wealth management firm. But she still sounds like a community organizer.

At NorthStar, she has pushed companies to address governance issues ranging from limits on political contributions to the treatment of migrant workers. "I'm very concerned about the impact that the companies that we invest in have on the greater world, so that's what I pay attention to," she says.

Working in the investment world wasn't initially part of her career plan, but she took a job at Merrill Lynch in 1983 because she needed to repay her student loans. Within six years, she was working as an assistant vice president at Dean Witter, which later merged with Morgan Stanley.

Goodridge recalls the moment she knew it was time to strike out on her own. She was in an elevator on the way to a sales meeting, and had a realization that she was the only female stock broker out of 125 in the office.

"Because I'm also a lesbian," she says, "it was particularly troubling to be the only woman there. I felt like I had to be completely closeted. I was completely different than anyone."

So Goodridge recruited her favorite clients and started her own company.

NorthStar has gained attention in recent years by using the proxy process to push for corporate policy changes. Goodridge began the practice 14 years ago, targeting Household International in Florida for engaging in predatory lending. Household was sending letters to low-income residents, notifying them they were "pre-approved" for a line of credit.

"Folks didn't realize that they were essentially giving away the equity of their homes," she says.

NorthStar filed a resolution linking executive compensation to ending the lending practices. The resolution failed to pass, but it brought the issue to the attention of the company's shareholders.

Goodridge says she's most proud of using the proxy process to negotiate a sustainable water policy at PepsiCo in 2009. Pepsi wasn't on NorthStar's buy list, but one of her clients had inherited shares. The company's bottling operations in India, at the time, she says, had come under fire for using too much water from a local aquifer.

After her second year of filing a resolution, she got a call from Paul Boykas, a vice president at Pepsi in charge of public policy, asking to work with her on the issue. Together, they drafted a policy outlining the global right to "safe, affordable potable water for personal and domestic use." Three years later, Pepsi won a Stockholm Industry Water Award for its work to reduce water consumption.

Her greatest public policy victory occurred in her personal life, though. She was the lead plaintiff in the Massachusetts appellate case Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, which resulted in the state becoming the first in the country to legalize same-sex marriage. The lawsuit is widely viewed as having set in motion other state battles over gay marriage, as well as the Supreme Court case last year that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.

Goodridge says she was motivated to file the suit one night while she and her partner at the time, Hillary, were reading a bedtime story to their daughter, Annie. The book was about love, so Hillary asked Annie to name people who loved each other. Annie responded by naming all of their married friends. "And she said, 'Well, if you loved each other you'd be married.' And even though we'd had a private ceremony — a commitment ceremony — before Annie was born, and we had chosen the same last name, she felt there was a connection between marriage and love." It was at that moment that Goodridge decided to take action.

With assistance from the legal rights group GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders), she and Hillary filed suit in 2001. Two years later, the state Supreme Court handed down a 4-3 judgment in their favor. Though she and Hillary later divorced, she's proud of their role in history.

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