E. Lee Hennessee was once, and only once, on the receiving end of an angry tirade from legendary hedge fund manager (and philanthropist) Michael Steinhardt. But rather than cowering at the verbal assault that followed a difficulty in a trade she was handling for him, Hennessee simply hung up the phone.
"We got disconnected," Steinhardt told her, calling back. "No we didn't, and I don't want your business anymore," she replied. After a stunned silence – it was highly unusual for the billionaire to be spoken to that way – Steinhardt asked: "I'm sorry, what did I do?" "Nobody puts those words into my ears," Hennessee explained, and made it clear she expected more polite future interactions.
Hennessee laughs as she recalls that conversation from a few decades ago, and tells me she went on to form friendships with many of the Wall Street titans whose manners she corrected. Steinhardt – whom she calls "a great man and very clever" – even later sent his son David to help her with volunteer work collecting food for the homeless, and John Loeb Sr., another famed financier, sent her roses the next day as an apology.
While women who work on Wall Street are notorious for often trying to act like the stereotypical trader (complete with the expletives, innuendos, and inappropriate behavior), Hennessee – who today runs the Hennesse Group LLC (a hedge fund advisory group), and who a few years ago was labeled one of New York's 50 most powerful women – refused to ditch her southern upbringing and morals.
Instead of late night drinks she brought lunch to people's desks; she'd respond to sexual innuendos by telling the offending trader that "you have the manners of a field hand"; and those using guttural language were offered a dictionary. "Even on Wall Street I'm still a southern lady," Hennessee explains.