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Ellen Pierce is the Mid-Atlantic market head for UBS Wealth management America.
Ellen Pierce is the Mid-Atlantic market head for UBS Wealth management America. (HANDOUT / Baltimore Sun)

Finance may not have been the most popular career choice for women when Ellen M. Pierce was growing up, but she knew it was the only option for her.

Pierce, now the Hunt Valley-based Mid-Atlantic market leader for UBS Wealth Management America, was fascinated by her grandfather, a stockbroker who worked through the Great Depression. She wanted to be just like him.

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"I grew up watching him," she said.

John Albert Sweeney encouraged his granddaughter to follow in his footsteps, but he knew that her path as a woman in a male-dominated field wouldn't be easy, Pierce said.

He told her to study hard, so she knew the market inside and out, and to constantly push herself to improve.

"Do it three times better than anyone else," Pierce recalled him advising her.

Sweeney passed away six months before Pierce took her first job in 1995 at the Morgan Stanley office in Delaware where he'd spent 54 years. But she felt his presence.

"This was when you were hiring people left and right — senior advisers never knew the rookies' names," she said. "While they were all hard on me, they would at least answer my questions because I was Sweeney's granddaughter."

Pierce climbed through Morgan Stanley's ranks for 12 years before moving to UBS, where she's worked as a business development coach, branch manager, market area manager and regional director. When UBS reorganized its markets from 12 to four, Pierce was selected to head up the Mid-Atlantic region.

Switzerland-based UBS is one of the largest private asset managers in the world, with about $1.7 trillion in assets under management. UBS Wealth Management, the division of UBS where Pierce works, advises clients with high net worth.

Pierce, who is based in Hunt Valley, oversees operations in southern New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.

The work she does has changed dramatically since her grandfather inspired her to get into the business.

"The business has totally changed — even since when I started," Pierce said.

Wealth management used to be all about stocks, bonds, annuities, maybe some precious metals, she said. But after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, investors became more cautious and grew even more risk-averse after the 2008 stock market crash.

"After 2008, people realigned their priorities," Pierce said. "They always thought they had enough money to retire — then all of the sudden they didn't."

Since then, financial advisers have taken on a larger role in helping clients plan for the future, not just make wise investments. Advisers at UBS take on fewer clients in the past because each needs more time and attention.

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"Really what we focus on is being able to take them through all the needs they have in life: insurance, banking, if they need credit lines," Pierce said. "Their overall investment picture — how to get through life with little concern."

Now health and long-term care costs are an expected part of the conversation UBS has with its clients.

"We are their center of influence," Pierce said.

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Ellen M. Pierce

Title: Mid-Atlantic market head, UBS Wealth Management America

Age: 50

Residence: Monkton

Education: University of Delaware

Family: Married 27 years to Greg Pierce; daughter, Lauren; son, Christopher

Hobbies: Golf, skiing, boating, spending time at Long Beach Island, N.J.

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