When Gail Perry-Mason was adopted at the age of three, she was considered hard to place because of special needs. The adoption agency told her parents she would never walk or talk. Today, Perry-Mason is 52 years old and she walks and talks just fine. In fact, the Detroit native and resident is downright inspirational. And it began with the love and nurturing she received from her adoptive parents, she says.
“A doctor came over to my mom’s house one day after I was adopted and she told him I wouldn’t stop crying,” Perry-Mason recalled. “He said, ‘The only way to stop her from crying is to take those braces off her legs, and love her, hold her and talk to her.’ That’s what she did and now I never ever shut up.”
Perry-Mason has scaled the heights of the industry to become a respected authority in the financial industry, working as a senior director of investments at Oppenheimer & Co. Inc., one of the nation’s largest investment firms. She made the achievement despite being told she would fail because, well, she was a Black single mother.
“I was working as a secretary at a brokerage firm at 26 when I told my boss I wanted to be an investment adviser and she said, ‘No, you can’t,’” Perry-Mason said. “She was like, ‘You are a Black, single mother, just no.’” In the face of that challenge, Perry-Mason, whose spark for life was evident during the interview, studied mornings, nights and weekends and passed the test to become a licensed investment broker. She hasn’t looked back.
Perry-Mason, now a mother of three grown sons, says her value system is built around love because that fuels everything, including her work. She loves her job, which involves overseeing the management of multimillion-dollar investment portfolios. “I wanted to teach women and people who looked like me about the different opportunities out here,” she says. “And to teach them that our money doesn’t control us. We should control our money and we can invest. That’s been my goal ever since.”
She loves mentoring and grooming the next generation of financial wizards. Each year, she hosts “Money Matters for Youth,” a one-week camp that teaches children financial literacy, instructing over 6,000 young people in the Detroit-Metro area and mentoring more than 25 young women who are now professionals in the financial industry. She is also conducting a program in the Detroit Public Schools that teaches financial literacy and outlines the steps to entrepreneurship. Additionally, she served as chairperson for the Tavis Smiley Youth to Leaders Program in Detroit and was honored for her work with Smiley at a benefit in Los Angeles.
While juggling her demanding career in the financial industry and public appearances, Perry-Mason found the time in 1996 to write and publish her first book, Money Matters for Families, which served as a manual for the employees at DaimlerChrysler on managing finances. In 2004, she published her second book, Girl, Make Your Money Grow, with co-author Glinda Bridgforth.
“The reason I work is to serve people,” Perry-Mason said. “This is my passion and I’ve been fortunate enough to turn my passion into payment. I’m passionate about letting people know there are other opportunities out there and that money is not your master; you can master it.”
She is also the proud mother and mentor to her sons, Brandon, 30, a graduate of Wharton Business School; Dexter, 24, who recently received a master’s degree from Georgetown University; and Scott, 21, a senior year at Lake Forest College, who is a Google ambassador and studying abroad in Japan. “I’m their cheerleader and I want my children to be better than me,” she said. “I want my kids t22o have more financial literacy and a better credit score than I do. I also want my children to have more opportunities and fewer obstacles than I did. That’s why I work.”
View more stories of inspirational people at the Why I Work hub.