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Executive Decision
Susan Comeau '63
"In 1963 I was getting a job to pay the rent, not entering a career," said Susan Comeau '63 in her office at State Street Bank and Trust Company in Boston. But what a career it's been since she began working as a research correspondent in State Street's mutual funds division. Over the years mutual funds experienced "growth and opportunities," she said, "and a rising tide lifts all boats."
Today Comeau is executive vice president, Global Human Resources, a top-level position at State Street Boston Corporation, the world's largest custodian of mutual fund assets with offices and services worldwide. When she started in 1963, the business involved only stocks and bonds and no foreign investments. "Now we have a variety of instruments that people invest in," she said, "and you have to know how it makes money."
Partway up the corporate ladder from researcher to executive vice president, Comeau was asked out of the blue to head up the marketing division. Not knowing "the language" and having to rely on other people, she says, she felt she didn't have control. "In the end, it was best thing that ever happened to me," she said. "I found I can do anything now. It was important also for my management ability. It forced me to delegate, to learn whom to trust, to ask the right questions. I learned how to learn from the top down instead of from the bottom up."
Women executives contribute at the same rate as the men, Comeau says. It's not that women previously were toiling unrecognized, she says--they simply didn't see themselves in executive positions. "I think women have changed the perception of themselves. There's a new recognition of their value in the business world," she said.
Comeau attributes "a fair amount" of her career success to her time at Colby--to learning how to deal with people as much as with the academics of her economics major. Coming from Orono, Maine, she said, "My idea of diversity was meeting somebody from New Jersey. I felt as if I grew up at Colby."
She's helping Colby grow in turn. She established the Susan Comeau Scholarship Fund and the Susan Comeau Endowed Book Fund for the Social Sciences and contributed to the construction of Lunder House. Her work as chair of the Awards Committee of the Alumni Council from 1980 to 1982 and of the Alumni Fund from 1982 to 1985 was recognized with a Colby Brick in 1986. From 1987 to 1993 she served on the Board of Trustees. After the mandated year off, she returned for a third term in 1994 and currently is vice chair of the board.
"The more involved I was, the more I was impressed," she said of the College's strong presidential leadership and faculty. "It's valuable to me that Colby has become respected. It used to be, `Where's Colby?' Now it's a top-tier school. You want to give where you can make an impact."