Connecticut College Magazine · Summer 2012

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Former Dean of the College Jewel Plummer Cobb with Beverly Clark Prince '72 in Cobb's lab at Connecticut College. Photo courtesy of the Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives.

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Follow the leader

Follow the leader

Pam Zilly '75 is the new chair of the College Board of Trustees

by Beth Hamilton


Even though she was one of the first women to work on Wall Street in the 1970s, Pamela Zilly '75 doesn't dwell on the challenges she faced.

Zilly, who will succeed James S. Berrien '74 as chair of the Connecticut College Board of Trustees beginning July 1, is instead rather matter-of-fact about her career, which concluded in 2009 when she retired as senior managing director of The Blackstone Group L.P.

By the time Zilly arrived at Blackstone in 1991, where she became the first female partner in the firm's history, she had already logged years of ceiling-shattering accomplishments, first at a predominately male business school — Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University — and then at E.F. Hutton & Company Inc. and Chemical Bank.

“I wouldn't say it was easy,” says Zilly, who started her career in 1977 at E.F. Hutton. “I just thought being a woman wasn't a big deal one way or another.”
She admits, though, that men vastly outnumbered her for most of her career, a fact that remained true to the end.

“Sure, there were inequities, but I've always believed that if you can't stand something you should get out and find someplace else to go,” Zilly says. “I also believed that I would succeed as long as I did my job and did it well.”

Jamie O'Connell, a managing director in the Restructuring & Reorganization group at Blackstone, says his former boss is being modest if she downplays her role as a female leader on Wall Street.

“She was way ahead of her time,” O'Connell says. “She was a real leader, very hard working, really a ground-breaker. She was one of the few female partners on Wall Street, let alone at Blackstone.”

Zilly served as a mentor to him, O'Connell says, and many others at the firm.
“The level of respect she had for younger people on Wall Street was very unusual, almost unparalleled in this cutthroat environment,” O'Connell says. “She would give people a lot of rope and ultimately would be your champion. As a result, people here had a tremendous amount of loyalty to her.”

Zilly and her husband, John Schaefer, who retired from Morgan Stanley in 2006, divide their time between New York City, Martha's Vineyard and Palm Beach. In addition to their volunteer work — he sits on the board of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater — the couple make frequent visits to the ballet and theater while in New York. They spend summers on Martha's Vineyard, where Zilly is a self-described “beach bum who could sit on the beach and read and swim every day.”

But, she says, they are still “wrestling with the retirement issue”: How do you make a difference somewhere?

“After you work for 32 years, you're apt to describe yourself by where you worked,” she says, adding that she plans to incorporate more volunteer work, probably for not-for-profit organizations, into her retirement life. A big part of her new life will be her commitment to help lead the College, a process that began in 2005 when she was first elected to the Board of Trustees.

“I think I'm very fortunate to become the chair at the time I am because the College is in a tremendously good place,” Zilly says. “I see my role as continuing that momentum and working to make sure the College is in a better place at the end of my chairmanship.”

Berrien says he has no qualms about turning leadership over to Zilly, whom he described as the “exact right person for what has to happen next” at the College, which is in the final year of a $200 million fundraising campaign that is already transforming the campus and the student experience.

“Pam is strategic, smart, demanding, generous and very funny,” Berrien says. “She is gifted in her ability to weigh in at the right time in the right way. I'd call it a quiet confidence.”

One event stands out, Berrien says, when he thinks about Zilly. When the College was raising money for a new fitness center, Zilly made the final anonymous gift that allowed the $8 million project to go forward.

“It was a big number and it was her,” Berrien says. “At the time, she didn't want any credit for it. That's her. She works hard and quietly and is not doing it for the headlines.”

Zilly grew up in Barrington, R.I., as the youngest child of Ralph and Dorothy Zilly. Her father worked in administration at Brown University for most of her childhood, but the family moved to Pennsylvania when she was a junior in high school after her father got a new position at Penn State.

Zilly returned to New England after high school, following her sister Deborah Woodworth '72 to New London. She majored in economics and American history. The College had made the switch to coeducation by the time she entered as a freshman, Zilly says, but it still felt like women were “running the place,” a fact that gave her confidence later in life.

“The message to the men was, 'We welcome you, but don't think you're taking over in class or anything. And we're probably still smarter than you,'” she says, laughing. “I kind of liked that.”


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