By Dana Cook Grossman
Rebecca Lilly Brooks ’98 was a teenager when she decided what she wanted in life.
“I laid out a plan when I was 18,” she says, “just after I’d started at Tufts. I wanted to have a great, long career as well as the opportunity for a defined period of time to make raising a potential family my primary focus.”
“Perhaps it is from my Midwestern background,” she adds, “but I thought it had to be an ‘either-or’ decision. The plan was to major in economics, work, go to business school, work for a bunch more years, get married, take a full career break to have kids and be home with them when they were little, then go back to work. I was hoping that if I’d stacked enough experience behind me, I’d be able to re-enter the workforce post children, not just in a job but in another meaningful career.”
In addition, she adds, “I always have on my mind, ‘How am I going to give back?’ I wanted to do that in my spare time, with my own money, not incorporate it into my profession. I knew I wanted to work in the private sector.”
At Tufts, she double majored in economics (with a focus on development economics, mindful of her interest in giving back) and art history, then set out to execute her plan. First, she parlayed her art major into a job selling art for Sotheby’s.
When it came time to apply to business school, “Yale SOM fit into the thread I had going in my life about how to give back and be a businessperson. Yale was the place that just resonated with me.”
She especially enjoyed courses on strategy and governance. “SOM gave me a broader view of the world,” she says, including insight into how “finance can be directed to social good. That concept of blending is fundamental to SOM.”
The marriage part of her plan fell into place, too—again thanks to SOM. She and her classmate Cameron Brooks ’98 collected their MBAs on May 25, 1998, and walked down the aisle in June of that year.
Next came stints as a management consultant in the healthcare field, then as director of advertising and PR for a luxury goods company.
When her first child was born in 2000, Brooks stuck to her plan and stepped out of the workforce. During her career break, she was active with her kids’ schools, coached youth soccer, co-founded a children’s nonprofit, and served on several boards. “I thought that period of my life would be five or six years,” she says. Instead, it lasted twice as long as that (and included three kids). But like any good tactician, she tweaked her timeline while staying true to her goals.
“In 2013,” she says, “my husband went into a job transition. My kids were growing up; my youngest was in third grade. I’d had this intention since I was 18 years old, and I needed to put it into place.
“I unwound myself from a whole bunch of volunteer positions,” she continues. “Then my first call was to SOM.” The Career Development Office referred her to a career transition service in New York City and recommended that she attend a conference called iRelaunch, both of which helped her put a résumé together, and get on LinkedIn.
“Immediately being able to network with people who knew me from SOM was amazing,” she says. She also reinforced her Yale connections in person, attending events and meetings of the SOM New York Alumni Chapter and her class’s 15-year reunion.
Months later, she was invited to join the Goldman Sachs Returnship program, which helps people restart their careers, and five months after that she landed her current position, as a private wealth advisor at Morgan Stanley.
Today, many threads of Brooks’ past intertwine. She works with high-net-worth individuals, like those she interacted with at Sotheby’s right out of college and while marketing luxury goods after SOM. She uses both her finance skills and her economics training to help her clients diversify their portfolios. She’s gotten very interested in impact investing and the ways in which business practices can lead to financial return and a better world. She also maintains a close connection with Yale SOM; this year she co-chaired the Class of 1998 Reunion Giving Committee with her husband and two very good friends from Yale SOM, Sabrina LeBlanc ’98 and Matt LeBlanc ’98.
And Brooks is applying some implicit lessons from her own past interactions with financial advisors. “I never thought they were speaking to me,” she says frankly. “I thought they were speaking to my dad or my husband or my brothers. But I never felt they spoke my language.” So, she says, “part of my mission here is to help educate people—maybe it’s women, maybe it’s millennials—whoever feels they could be more organized financially.”
To that end, Brooks explains, she helps her clients “look at where they are today and where they want to be in the future, understanding that it’s a long road between here and there.”