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Imagine working in one career field for more than 25 years, then shifting to something entirely different. In 2000, Jessica Bailey '69 deviated from a quarter-century journey in higher education to take on what she thought would be a short detour into the corporate world.
It's 10 years later, and Bailey is still working for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the largest independent regulator for all securities firms in the U.S.
Bailey serves as a senior regulatory analyst. She played a front line role in launching TRACE regulations in 2002, and she "pores over" U.S. corporate bond transaction data and analyzes market activity to recommend sanctions for those firms or individuals who are not complying with FINRA rules and the federal securities laws.
"It is constant analysis of market activity to promote investor protection, and we have categories of red flags that we look for," Bailey said. "I have spoken with upper management of large Wall Street firms who are highly responsive, because to be found non-compliant is very serious. It is a fascinating world; nobody would believe I enjoy this job. Every day is like solving a puzzle."
Where did Bailey's circuitous journey begin? She was born in Barataria, Trinidad, and came to the U.S. in 1965 to study at Lakeland. She was introduced to Lakeland through a tourist visiting her country, and fueled by big dreams of adventuring away from home, Bailey applied and was accepted.
Her first year at Lakeland was a whirlwind of new experiences. She was hosted by Prudy (Thiessen-Smith) Casper '60 and her husband at the time, Palmer Smith '63, who were like family to her. "When I came to Lakeland," says Bailey, "I knew nothing about America. I had seven roommates in the suites and the Smiths who were the most wonderful, thoughtful and supportive friends. They taught me things about America, and took me into their homes for the holidays. They were just the best."
Bailey's favorite professor was Reinhard Ulrich. "I loved him. He was brilliant. He made me realize that all the lessons that my father had taught us were grounded in philosophical truths. I thought for a while that I would major in philosophy, but Professor Ulrich said, 'What will you do, philosophize?' I guess he realized I was destined to do other things."
Those "other things" for Bailey began with master of science in educational psychology (1973) and school psychologist certification (1975). She worked for 15 years in a succession of jobs in higher education that continually brought her into new arenas. For example, from 1981-85, she was the interim president and dean of instruction at Worthington College in Worthington, Minn. Bailey was the first female dean at the college, and one of the very few people of color in the town of 10,000. From there, she became the assistant to the vice-chancellor for instruction and operations for the Minnesota Community College System, and the executive dean at Portland Community College.
In the late 1980s, she returned to school and received a doctorate from the University of Minnesota in educational administration after which she completed the program for Senior Executive Fellows at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. From 1995-98, she served as assistant vice president at the University of Minnesota and worked as a volunteer co-coordinator for the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL), a Washington D.C.-based organization that identified talented teachers in high schools around the country and helped mentor them to move into other leadership positions as principals or superintendants. It was during this time as a volunteer at IEL, as she was approaching 50, that Bailey made the leap into her work at FINRA.
Asked what she would say to new graduates, Bailey said, "First, you have to know what you want. What is your purpose in life? What makes you happy? Once you know what you want, and what your purpose is, then you have to be flexible. You have to be open to change. It is through change that we grow."
Bailey admits that her professional life has taken many turns, but two goals always remained constant: to be a dean, and to work in the corporate world. As the goal shifted along the way, she found herself capable of seeing the connections between things that other people often did not see. "This is where creativity comes in. It is so important to see how things connect and how the lessons of one discipline can work in another."
As Jessica Bailey talks about her life, you see someone who seeks out and capitalizes when life opens new doors. You get this feeling that managing change is really what life is all about, and how important it is to keep learning, to keep growing and to keep managing diversity with each new experience. That is a message worth hearing, no matter where you are in life.