10/13/2014 10:51 am ET Updated Dec 13, 2014

Women in Business: Carolyn Leonard, DyMynd

Carolyn is a sophisticated investor who identifies opportunities and turns them into successes. Carolyn's business career began with Marsha Serlin, the current CEO of United Scrap, when they co-founded Innerscape Designs. There she built a private clientele consisting of trading firms, retailers, and law firms. After successfully exiting Innerscape, Carolyn embarked upon her career in trading with the mistaken belief that anyone could trade. As the third female independent trader to ever own a seat at the CBOE, Carolyn's 21 years in the trading pits gave her a ringside view into the emotional ups and downs of volatile markets and the fear and greed that drive them. Having developed a successful business, Carolyn cultivated countless relationships with the dominant players and decision-makers at the premier financial institutions across the US. DyMynd is Carolyn's third new business venture.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
In the mistaken belief that anyone could be a trader, I embarked on my career as one of the first female independent traders at the Chicago Board of Options Exchange (CBOE). At the time, I was going through a divorce with a senior partner litigator of a large law firm and I had two young children. My ex-husband's mantra was that "support was like feeding hay to a dead horse". I was broke and desperate, so with borrowed money I purchased a seat on the CBOE. I got licensed by the SEC, found a wonderful mentor to help me learn the business and made my first trade on my birthday for good luck. I had no fall back plan and no one but myself to rely upon. I had to make it work.

I became a leader out of my need to surround myself with very smart people who could teach me and help me become successful. The survival skills I learned in the trading pits are the very same skills that helped me become the leader I needed to be to run a successful company like DyMynd.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at DyMynd?
Trading, as a career for me, was an invaluable experience in learning to prevail when the odds are stacked against you. I came to understand that failure is part of the process. Trading taught me to be flexible and willing to try new ideas. Markets are constantly changing and you have to change with them or perish. You can't be stubborn. When asked how I learned to trade, I would say, "I had an out-of-pocket education," when money came out of my pocket, I was learning. As an entrepreneur, those lessons have been invaluable each step of the way.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at DyMynd?
The highlights are easy. It's the people I have the privilege of working with and getting to know. I am so fortunate to have found a "dream team". They are smart, industrious and funny people. We are incredibly diverse so I am always learning new ways of looking at issues. My learning curve has been straight up.

The challenge has been that DyMynd is at the forefront of a movement to change the way the financial services industry interacts with women. Being financially savvy as a social norm is not considered feminine. We have developed DyMynd Match and DyMynd Financial Identity from roundtable discussions with many diverse high net worth women. Our roundtable participants felt misunderstood, talked down to and their questions ignored. DyMynd is facing a serious challenge from financial institutions because we are looking to change their long held methods of interacting with women.

How is DyMynd making a difference in the financial industry?
We are making a difference through our relentless research and our Financial Identity Assessment. DyMynd is an independent third party researching what high net worth women would like to see changed within the relationships they have with their financial advisors. DyMynd is not selling anything to our diverse female roundtable participants, so the conversations we sponsor are unbiased and unfiltered. We at DyMynd believe that by using our assessments the client and advisor will have a deeper understanding on which to build a trusting relationship. DyMynd will help women and their financial advisors understand how they learn (visual, auditory, kinesthetic), make decisions, engage in relationships and how their values impact their investment choices. It is a holistic approach to investing, and a change women want.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business?
Female entrepreneurs need to develop an understanding of the various sources of capital available and realize that all money is not equal. Getting money from outside investors is valuable because with their check you get their commitment to help you become successful. Money from investors with expertise and their own networks is extremely valuable because it will validate your business ideas.

Friends and family, "angel" or VC money, comes with different types of obligations and strings. You need to understand what you are giving up for the capital. If you give up too much you can potentially lose control of your company.

The other piece of advice I have is to "fail fast". Failure is part of the process for most of us and we want to get as much knowledge as we can from our failures, then pivot from the learning experience.

By accepting failure as part of the process you find ways to overcome the obstacles and enhance your product or service. So my advice is you GO Girl!!

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
When I was younger I acted like a fireman. I would arrive to put out any fire or emergency regardless of where or when. As an entrepreneur, a work/life balance is always an issue. An entrepreneurial venture is similar to raising a child. You can always nurture it along some more; give it a little more of yourself. For me, it has always been somewhat of a juggling act. Today, I have a lot more balance in my life but that has occurred because my priorities have changed. My husband, once told me "on their deathbed nobody says 'I should have worked harder," so today even though work is fun and play, I make sure I play in several playgrounds instead of just one.

What do I think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think the biggest issue for women in the workplace is the lack of female leadership. We need to have more women in leadership positions, women on corporate boards and strong sponsors or mentors to help guide younger women.

When I started out as a trader, women were not pursuing that career. I didn't know that as a woman, trading wasn't meant for me. I went to work, found a mentor and made it mine.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Every year at the Oscars or Tony's we hear celebrities thanking the people who have helped them along the way. Professionals have people to thank for helping them on their road to success too. Very few of us are self-made. It takes a village to raise a child; it takes sponsors, supporters and mentors, not only in our professional but personal life, to help us navigate to successful, happy outcomes.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Sallie Krawcheck created a new fund, dubbed the Pax Ellevate Global Women's Index Fund, which seeks to measure and capture the contribution of gender diversity to business success. During the recent recession, companies that had at least one woman as a corporate board member and women in top leadership roles outperformed their peers. I admire her for supporting other women.

Madeleine Albright, Christine Lagarde and Janet Yellen are women who have broken through the glass ceiling, thus allowing other women to follow in their footsteps. They are all brilliant, feminine and tough "broads", what's not to admire and aspire to?

What do you want DyMynd to accomplish in the next year?
We want DyMynd to help facilitate change in the financial service industry instead of paying lip service. We want DyMynd to cause financial institutions to really listen and engage in a client centric relationship. Women don't want to be sold. Don't pink it and shrink it (we are not mini-men) and please, listen to us. I see DyMynd leading the change!