north of neutral dialog

April 1, 2010

by anne lueneburger

Janet Hanson, CEO of 85 Broads, Greenwich

When Janet Hanson and I speak in early 2010, 85 Broads counts 22,000 members. I ask her whether she, as the CEO, still personally screens every single application that comes in, as she had during the network’s early days. When I joined, I remember being impressed to receive a personalized welcome message from Hanson.

Her answer is affirmative: “I very much enjoy reading about these impressive women’s backgrounds. It is inspiring how candidly they share their most intimate personal and professional milestones.”

The role

Janet Hanson, describes 85 Broads, in her own words as “a trailblazing women’s network” that she founded in 1999. Originally thought to be for current and former female executives of Goldman Sachs (hence the name, a play on the firm’s address on 85 Broad Street in Manhattan), 85 Broads quickly expanded its membership to other accomplished women who wished to connect with like-minded professionals.

For the majority of the past eleven years since launching the company, Janet Hanson has personally invested significant amounts of time (often in addition to other high profile jobs) and her entire net worth – almost $7 million – to build the network to its today’s impressive scope. With over thirty chapters worldwide, members working, living and studying in more than eighty different countries with prestigious institutions and firms, the network is ever expanding.


Hanson graduated from Wheaton College in Massachusetts and Columbia Business School to join Goldman Sachs in 1977. Janet Hanson thrived in this fast-paced environment. “It was as simple as that: I was good at what I did and I had fun,” she explains. In 1986 Hanson was promoted to co-manager of money market sales and became Goldman’s first female sales manager, then Vice-President and one of the largest producer in the division.

When Janet Hanson met her husband Jeff at Goldman, she was 35, and “wanted to have a family.” She had her daughter and son at 36 and 38 respectively, and while she sees her children “as the biggest joy and accomplishment of my life,” she vividly remembers how she struggled with parenthood and staying home from work, “It was an abrupt change. All of a sudden I was no longer the ‘big hitter,’ there were few adult conversations, and I found myself feeling disjointed from the world that I knew. This is when I decided that down the road I would start a network that would prevent this from ever happening again, to me or to other women.” She returned to Goldman after two years, this time in the firm’s asset management division.

In 1995, she founded Milestone Capital, the first women-owned institutional money-management fund in the U.S, managing at one point over $2.5 billion in assets for large institutional investors.  Parallel to running her own business, Hanson made her vision reality and launched the first-of-its-kind network, 85 Broads, as the “vanguard of social networking.”

Running and building 85 Broads has been an integral part of her life ever since. Even when she accepted a role as managing director and later senior advisor with Lehman Brothers from 2004 to 2008, she was firmly dedicated to growing the network.  “I am a workaholic”, Hanson laughs when I ask her how she could manage a ‘big girl career’, being a devoted parent and wife, as well as a public figure in addition to growing 85 Broads.

Janet Hanson can look at many ‘trophies’ in her life, and she has been profiled in the New York Times, Money Magazine, Working Woman as well as Business Week and on CNN. When prompted during her interview with CBS anchor Katie Couric on her best investment, Janet Hanson did not hesitate:”I invested in other women.” In 2008, she earned the Work Life Legacy Award.

Moments of pause

But Janet Hanson has also experienced life’s low points.  In 2002 she was diagnosed with breast cancer, “I did not want to turn 50, only to learn three weeks after my 50th birthday that I had an aggressive form of breast cancer.” Hanson did not let that diagnosis stop her. ”I freaked out and told myself I better do a whole lot more living,” she recounts. Reflecting after a moment’s pause she ads, ”Maybe I should have told myself to calm down.”

With the collapse of Lehman Brothers a few years later, she lost the majority of her restricted stock and her consulting contract with the firm.  However, the loss most prominent in her mind is the devastating breakup with her husband of over 18 years in 2008.”Jeff and I were an amazing team, both in business and in life. For whatever reason, he decided to quit the team and move on. It doesn’t get any more tragic than that.”

Next steps

“Come New Year, I always feel this sense of optimism. We are gearing up for a number of new programs at 85 Broads. One of these initiatives involves the launch of a ‘20/20 vision conference’ with a focus on ‘where smart women are investing globally’, be it professionally, financially, or personally.”

Hanson mentions also the introduction of ‘Media Rockstars’ which offers 85 Broad members the opportunity to share their publications with others in the network.  2010 will also mark the first year that men can join this exclusive women’s club as honorary members.” We believe the next decade will usher in an exciting new era of male/female ‘co-investment’ and collaboration,” she explains.

North of neutral pearls of learning

Social connectedness, as research shows, is key to an individual’s well-being. We are wired to be with others, to exchange, to bond. According to the American Psychological Association, having relationships that offer care and support, be it within or outside the immediate family, is the single most potent building block of resilience when it comes to facing adversity, in professional or personal life.

A recent study on happiness by Harvard sociologist Nicholas Christakis and co-author James Fowler of UC San Diego offers further evidence that “being at the hub of a large network of people” makes it more likely to become happy.

Setting aside Janet Hanson’s natural inclination to “be a fighter,” her strong bonds with others over the course of her life, whether professional mentors, 85 Broads or family, ultimately helped her “overcome losses and feel optimistic about the future.”  Hanson adds: “People often tell me that I am a ‘strong’ person. I believe a better definition is ‘determined’!”

Reciprocal mentorship

Further, happiness as the result of forging strong social networks stems equally from giving and receiving support. Having mentored and supported others and serving on the board of charitable organizations is the corollary side of Hanson’s perspective of meaningful life. Janet Hanson openly shared her cancer diagnosis with friends and peers, resulting in an outpour of positive responses and sharing of others’ survival stories.

The latter inspired her book, ‘More than 85 Broads,’ published in 2006, which contains her own story as well as that of 95 other members of 85 Broads, covering a broad range of how these women overcame life’s challenges. When prompted, Janet Hanson’s sums up the core message of her book, “Partnership is everything in life.”

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