12/22/2014 05:58 am ET Updated Feb 21, 2015

Women in Business Q&A: Tara Mashack-Behney, President, Conrad Siegel Investment Advisors

Tara is President of Conrad Siegel Investment Advisors, Inc., chair of the investment committee, and a member of Conrad Siegel Actuaries' business development committee. She specializes in investment consulting for all types of retirement plans including defined benefit pension plans, defined contribution retirement plans, and 403(b) plans. Tara works with private sector employers, tax-exempt organizations, large associations, and foundations, and is proficient in setting investment policy statement objectives and guidelines, investment selection, portfolio analysis and performance evaluation, monitoring and reporting, and employee education. Tara is frequently featured in publications including the Wall Street Journal, Fiduciary News, Central Penn Business Journal, The Patriot News, and on Fox 43.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
As a woman in the male-dominated field of investments, my experiences have led me to take challenges as opportunities and to work harder to overcome initial doubts from others. Prospective clients often expect to see men sitting across from them discussing their company's 401(k). Not long ago actually I met with a potential client by myself where a representative whispered to his colleague to ask, "Is she it?" While some businessmen are still surprised to see a woman alone at these meetings, these experiences remind me that I can take charge and control the situation instead of letting someone's initial opinion control me. In this particular meeting, the representative's colleague knew my work and responded, "Just wait until she opens her mouth."

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Conrad Siegel Investment Advisors?
Each job or position I've held has taught me something important. My first job in college as a bank teller taught me to be patient when working with others. I remember not appreciating the eye rolls and sighing when I was new and asked a question. Over the years, I've worked with a number of inspiring leaders as well as some whom I wouldn't want to work with again. I was able to learn from both types of leaders and realize the type of collaborative experience I wanted to create as President of Conrad Siegel Investment Advisors. The best leaders I worked with understood the importance of treating people the right way, motivating others to be successful and thinking about the long-term. Being successful in this industry is more than just about having 20+ years of investment experience.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Conrad Siegel Investment Advisors?
The biggest challenge for us starting out was to grow in light of all the competition that exists in the investment industry. Conrad Siegel Investment Advisors is not a household name and we are competing with easily recognized insurance companies and mutual fund families in the mid-Atlantic. Despite this challenge, we have a strong ability to adapt and therefore have seen tremendous growth in assets under management. Starting with $0 assets in 2002, we now manage over $2.5 billion.

At one of my first internal investment committee meetings I was given direction to stick with retirement plans, which made sense at the time since we are a wholly owned subsidiary of an employee benefits firm. However, we quickly recognized that we could expand even further by opening up our services to high net worth individuals, colleges and universities, and foundations and endowments. It's very satisfying to see something you are a part of grow the way the investment advisory business here has. It's very similar to watching my 8-year-old daughter grow and mature.

What advice can you offer women who are looking for a career in finance?
My mentor once told me that I needed to "find the stage on which to perform". The world of finance is so expansive; you can teach, conduct research or be a consultant. You can have an investment approach that is passive, active or one deeply rooted in alternatives. Each "stage" is very different and the key to becoming successful is finding the "stage" that's right for you. Once you see an opportunity in line with this, you need to go for it. After working for a few years in a bank trust department, a new bank opened that I was very interested in joining. So I called the president of the bank and told him why he needed to hire me. I had never met the president before and I don't even believe they were looking to expand their investment division, but I presented a convincing argument because I was interviewed and started my new position just a few weeks later. I had nothing to lose by reaching out for this opportunity so instead of second-guessing myself I decided to just go for it. For women in any field, it is important that they don't hold themselves back for fear of being rejected.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Managing everything that needs to be accomplished as a president, mother and wife is hard to do; it takes a lot of time and effort to achieve a balance you're comfortable with. What I've found helps me, sounds simple but is something I hear other women say they never thought of. Instead of having a work calendar and a personal calendar, I keep one calendar for all of my obligations and events. I block off my time at work for what I need to get done that day, which helps me stay organized and focused. Being able to see all of the different due dates and time lines I have in one place makes it a little simpler to plan ahead and that let's me be in the moment and enjoy the time I do spend with my daughter and husband.

It also helps to have a strong support system both at work and at home. My team at Conrad Siegel Investment Advisors is very accountable and motivated. At home, my husband does his share of chores around the house and with taking care of our daughter.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Many women struggle with confidence in the workplace and think they have to be someone other than themselves to prove their expertise. A few years ago, I had a woman ask me how I handle client meetings and what types of stories I tell to warm up a group. It's important to connect with your audience. However, I've always found that after a few pleasantries it's important to then be confident and take charge and focus on the purpose of the meeting. I don't believe you have to try to be someone's friend to gain their respect. I believe you gain respect by making the most of their time. Women need to recognize that it is OK to be the expert at the meeting, after all that's why you are there in the first place.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
If it weren't for my mentor I wouldn't be where I am today. I started out in a management training program at a local bank where my mentor led the investment area of the trust department. He called me a few months later to tell me he saw the passion I had when I was talking about investments and with his help, I transferred into that department. Not only did I learn a lot about investments from my mentor, but he was also one of the great leaders I mentioned earlier. From the beginning, he treated me as a member of the team and always gave me the opportunity to be at the forefront of opportunities. That kind of training helped me become comfortable leading clients and in turn, clients trusted me.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
My mother and my best friend are both fantastic leaders who have always worked towards what they want and have overcome many obstacles. My mom led our household and helped instill in me values that are essential to leadership. She taught me to always be direct and say what was on my mind while still being tactful, an attribute that has helped in many business meetings. My girlfriend is a business manager in the public school system, juggling her career with a family, and has overcome cancer. Whenever life gets hectic, she continues to amaze me by reprioritizing. These may seem like basic traits but I admire them tremendously because they are not very easily learned.

What do you want Conrad Siegel Investment Advisors to accomplish in the next year?
I'm very enthusiastic about the firm's growth as we expand our team and our product offerings to meet new demands in the marketplace. We've doubled our assets under management this past year and as a result are looking to expand our staff. As we grow, I want to preserve the team environment we have here. I believe one of the reasons we are so successful is because of the people who work here and the fact that they realize they are more successful as an individual because they are part of a team. The old saying that you are only as strong as your weakest link is very true in business. As we continue to grow, our goal is to target individuals who appreciate the team environment and can help meet new industry demands. We are also expanding our services to meet the needs of the retirement industry. The industry is moving towards creating solutions for income in retirement so that employees are not just given a large lump sum without any direction as they leave the workforce. At Conrad Siegel we are looking at this growing issue and developing our own solution for these retirees.