A 92-Year-Old Millionaire Remains at the Helm of Her Company and Refuses to Retire. Her Secret? Being a David Among Goliaths

  • Self-made millionaire Joan Payden refuses to let go of the reins of the company she founded in 1984.

  • With a fortune valued at $700 million, she’s the second longest-lived millionaire on the Forbes list.

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The U.S. has the largest population of millionaires in the world, making it statistically easier to become a millionaire here than anywhere else.

However, it’s generally more difficult for women who aren’t born into wealthy families to achieve this status and a seven-figure bank account. Despite these obstacles, at 92, Joan Payden has become one of America’s oldest self-made female millionaires.

According to Forbes, her fortune is valued at about $700 million, making her the second oldest female millionaire on the U.S. millionaires list. The only person ahead of her is Alice Schwartz, 97, who, along with her husband David, founded Bio-Rad Laboratories and amassed a fortune of $2.1 billion.

A Self-Made Millionaire in a Male-Dominated World

As reported by Forbes, Payden embarked on her journey to success by investing all her retirement savings to establish the investment advisory firm Payden & Rygel, where she continues to serve as the chief executive officer.

Payden holds a degree in mathematics and physics from the Trinity College (now Trinity Washington University) in Washington D.C. Despite her academic background, she initially pursued a career in engineering and was among the few female engineers capable of constructing an oil refinery in the 1950s. However, her engineering career was short-lived when she was caught up in significant layoffs at the company.

Following this setback, Payden sought to redirect her career back to mathematics and subsequently joined Merrill Lynch. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1999, Payden revealed, “I was hired at a 25% discount because I didn’t know the difference between a bond and a stock.”

Two years later, Payden moved to California and joined the investment firm Scudder, Stevens & Clark. She faced challenges in her career due to the male-dominated business environment.

“[The company] held [its] annual meetings at a very large prestigious golf club in the East and, of course, they wouldn’t let women in, so I sat on the porch,” she told students at University of Notre Dame in 2011.

In 1983, feeling tired of having to constantly prove herself in order to advance, Payden decided to start her own company. She resigned from Scudder, Stevens & Clark and, using her pension fund ($401,000) as capital, invited her partner Sandra Rygel to join her in launching a new financial consultancy: Payden & Rygel.

Since then, her company has positioned itself as one of the most important consulting firms in the U.S., managing more than $162 billion in assets, with offices in Los Angeles, Boston, London, and Milan.

Discreet by nature, the self-made billionaire is rarely gives interviews and tries not to publicize her charitable contributions. However, she shows great commitment to philanthropic initiatives like The Salvation Army. Payden also supports to her alma mater with donations for its facilities and speaks at student graduations.

At 92, Payden has no intention of retiring from the helm of the company she founded. It's not surprising. After all, she gambled all her retirement savings to create it. The gamble paid off handsomely, and her $700 million net worth is proof of that.

Image | The Salvation Army Southern California Division

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