Since its inception, men have dominated the financial world. Watch any scene from The Wolf of Wall Street and it’s clear the debaucherous and objectifying whims of the brokerage elite have made it difficult for most women to get ahead. But alpha woman Jenny Q. Ta, pushed past industry limitations and became the first minority female to own a successful brokerage firm in the late 90s.
Don’t let her stature deceive you. While petit in size, it’s obvious from the first encounter, that Jenny’s quick-wit and unabashed nature packs a mean punch. And how could it not? She is a Vietnamese refugee who made it to America by the age of seven and became a self-made millionaire 20 years later.
MiLLENNiAL had the pleasure of sitting down with Jenny to learn her methods of survival in the cut-throat world of trading and how she turned that success into a new platform that is providing financial support for entrepreneurial women everywhere.
From Vietnam to Wall Street
Jenny isn’t your typical Wall Street tycoon. She landed in Fresno after escaping the Vietnam War with her mother and brother in the late 70s. She lived on welfare throughout her childhood, but took her education very seriously.
Completing high school one year early, Jenny went on to attend and graduate from Fresno State University within three years with a degree in Business Information Systems. By 21, she had entered the Wall Street arena as a clerk out of the San Jose office for Shearson Lehman Brothers, now Morgan Stanley.
Back in the early 90s, there weren’t a lot of female brokers. “There were women workers but we were in the cage. The cage was the operations department,” she tells us. Jenny recalls being the only alpha woman in the office, the others as she puts it, “would just sit in their cubicle, wouldn’t talk to guys, and would just do their thing.”
She was making $10 an hour in the cage but saw how much the best broker made – six figures per month. “I wanted to become him,” she says reminiscently. Noticing that he stayed late after everyone had left for the day, Jenny seized the opportunity as a way to get to know him.
“I decided to volunteer to stay later, and because I stayed late and kept the cage open, he would come by to drop off work for the next day. That’s when we began to talk.” He told her in order to become a stockbroker she would have to quit the cage. “He saved me a lot of time.”
She immediately began to build her client book. “I’d start at 5am, calling from the East Coast to the West Coast as the clock kept moving. In a day I would make like 1000 calls. Same pitch everyday. That’s when I became a broker.” Faith guided Jenny to Southern California where she became an independent broker and contracted out to various firms.
But again, being a woman and an Asian woman at that, in a white male dominated field, Jenny often battled being paid less than her male counterparts. Each time she was ripped off, she would leave the brokerage with her client list that she built from scratch and a new network of brokerage peers to add to her sphere of influence.
The Firm that Put the “T” In Jenny Q. Ta
One fateful weekend, Jenny set up a booth at a Vietnamese festival in Orange County where she could solicit potential clients. Coincidentally, the first and only Vietnamese broker at the time noticed her and was shocked to see not only a booth promoting investments, but that it was being run by a woman.
“He zeroed me in and asked me to come work for him.” She rejected him at first, but a year later he returned, right as she was about to leave another firm. This time when he asked, Jenny was a little wiser to the situation and the opportunities he presented.
Recognizing that this man was the only employee in his firm, she first insisted on becoming his Vice President. “That’s when I learned the value of a title.” She then set out to recruit a strong brokerage team for him under two conditions.
The first was that he was going to have to pay the brokers a much higher commission than their competition. If they were getting 50 percent at their independent firm, he was going to have to pay them 65-85 percent. And her second condition was that they would split the remaining commission. He agreed and within the first 60 days she brought in fifty sales associates.
By the time she was 25, life was looking good for Jenny Q. Ta. She had a big corner office, was making 95 percent of her commissions, and had a fully operating team of fifty brokers on the floor. But when it came time to collect her half of the company money, her boss ripped her off and cut her short.
Jenny admits her biggest mistake was not putting adding a clause to the contract that stated she had the right to inspect his records. “I was 24 when I signed the contract and I did not use an attorney.” But she was smart enough to take her closest friend in the firm to lunch and asked him how much he was making. Turns out he was making a lot more than the head broker let on. Jenny then asked for a copy of his 1099 as evidence to support her case.
She walked into the owner’s office, slammed the 1099 down on his desk and called him out for lying to her. But her accusation did not change his position. Instead of suing him, Jenny asked to work from home where she could discretely begin to obtain her broker’s license in order to start her own firm.
Dominating the Boys Club
Understanding the system, Jenny did everything she could to speed up her process. She flew to the various cities where the tests were being held so she could pass her exams quicker, instead of waiting for them to be held in her local region. She also didn’t wait the allowed 30 days for her back and forth correspondence.
Within six month she obtained all her necessary security licenses to open her own firm. And she was ready for retaliation. The broker also made a mistake in the original contract. He didn’t include anything that specified no back solicitation within a general area. So Jenny opened her firm in the next city over – Huntington Beach, and began to pull her associates over one by one. She was able to convince forty-five of the fifty brokers she originally recruited to join her.
Trouble in Paradise
Being the head of her own firm should have left Jenny feeling confident, but the company didn’t exactly get off to a smooth start. “For the first three months we lost a ton of money. At least 20k per month,” she admits. This sent her into a panic. Here she felt proud to have branched out on her own, yet she was losing more money per month than she had been making annually just a few years prior.
After some serious deliberation, Jenny turned to her mother for financial aid. Two months later, the accounts came in and she was finally able to make a profit to pay back her debt. “And that’s when I became a self-made millionaire by 27.”
Launching a Digital VCNetwork
Now in her mid 40s, Jenny is in a position to help guide her fellow alpha females in the world of finance through her new venture VCNetwork. “The VC world is going to change. It has been changing,” she insists.
Jenny points out that the VC’s in Silicon Valley “only want to fund the money inside their circle, that’s why wealth builds wealth. And I hate it because that means a lot of women, like you and me, will never get funded.”
As an answer to the disturbing fact that only 7% of women-led businesses receive funding, Jenny and her business partner Shinta W. Dhanuwardoyo, the woman responsible for bringing the internet to Indonesia in 1996, have created the first digital “shark tank” as a way for entrepreneurs to present their ideas to a network of venture capitalists.
For the first time, entrepreneurs have access to showcasing their product in front of a network of influential investors. The platform serves as a solution for those who don’t have the ability to turn to family and friends for money.
In addition to running VCNetwork, Jenny is also an active investor in women-led startups. To those interested, she says, “Have an awesome product. And if you can pass that, then you get first shot with me.”
Her advice to entrepreneurial women who are hitting a brick wall is to find an outlet that can help clear your mind. Sometimes it is a friend or in Jenny’s case, Selena Gomez music. “There is always something to bring us up…you’ve got to detox your bad energy.” She suggests understanding that failure is apart of success makes it easier to navigate troubled waters, especially if you understand how to pivot. “Never stop. You push until your last breath.”
Take it from a woman who is the true-life, Wall Street Cinderella. The classic tale of rags to riches, Jenny embodies the power and prestige an alpha female can have if she doesn’t allow anyone or anything to hold her back. As a final word of advice, Jenny adds, “Be true to yourself.”