Business Hall of Fame: Alexandra Armstrong

A pioneer in financial planning

By: Leslie Milk

Success stories aren’t always told with bold type. Some of the most successful business leaders make their mark with quiet competence and unswerving commitment to their enterprise and their city.

The five business leaders to be inducted into the Washington Business Hall of Fame are just such success stories. As one of the honorees, telecom entrepreneur Jeong Kim, puts it, “I tend to say less and do more.”

The Washington Business Hall of Fame was founded in 1988 by the Greater Washington Board of Trade and The Washingtonian for the benefit of Junior Achievement of the National Capital Area. Each year Junior Achievement sends more than 1,000 volunteers into local classrooms to teach about business, entrepreneurship, and personal finance. The volunteers serve as role models for more than 33,000 kids from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The 2006 laureates will be inducted into the Washington Business Hall of Fame at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel on Tuesday, November 28. For information about the Hall of Fame dinner, contact Junior Achievement at 202-296-1200.

Alexandra Armstrong

Alexandra Armstrong was nine when her father died, leaving her mother with $10,000 and a small pension. Her mother prevailed on the nuns at Stone Ridge School to give Armstrong a scholarship so she could stay on at the private school. Armstrong credits Stone Ridge with developing her core strengths: Four years of math and debate nurtured the skills she’d use to become a success.

She also learned an important life lesson—that women need to know how to manage money.

After graduating from Newton College of the Sacred Heart, Armstrong worked briefly for a travel agency. She took a shorthand course, landed a job at the stock brokerage firm Ferris & Company, and caught the eye of Julia Walsh, the first Washington woman to make it big in the brokerage business.

Armstrong started as Walsh’s secretary but was soon a registered broker. “Before anyone knew what a mentor was, she showed me that you could be happily married, love your children, and love making money,” Armstrong says. In 1977, Walsh left Ferris to start her own company with three of her sons. Armstrong was the only non-family member asked to join them.

The climate was changing for brokers. Money magazine was launched, heralding a new interest in personal finance. Armstrong became the first certified financial planner in Washington. When the Walsh firm was sold, Armstrong started her own company. She’s been helping Washingtonians manage their money—and helping to grow the financial-planning industry—ever since.

To explain financial planning to the public, Armstrong gave two or three speeches a week. She was the first female president of the International Association of Financial Planning and a founding member of the Foundation for Financial Planning.

Her firm, Armstrong, MacIntyre & Severns, manages more than $700 million for clients. She writes a column for Better Investing magazine, and her book, On Your Own: A Widow’s Passage to Emotional and Financial Well-Being, is in its third printing.

A lesson Armstrong learned from Julia Walsh was the importance of community service. Armstrong was the only female president of the Boy Scouts of America, has served on the board of Reading Is Fundamental, and takes part in a program to provide pro bono financial planning for families of military members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Armstrong is proud to have been part of an emerging profession. “At first we were looked down on by brokers,” she says. “Now you can’t pick up a paper without seeing a financial planner being quoted. Hey, that’s terrific.”