From Bullfighting to Finance

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I WAS born in San José, Costa Rica, the third of four siblings. My father left when I was 2 and my mother was pregnant. We moved to a town with no running water. When I was 7, we'd get up at 5 a.m. and walk to a farm where the farmhands would give us free milk from their cows.

One day, I complained about being poor, and my mother asked me what I was going to do about it. I said I was going to be a bullfighter, and she laughed and challenged me to fight a cow in a nearby field. I climbed the fence, and saw that there was also a bull. When the bull lowered its horns as if to charge, I ran back. It awoke something in me. I liked feeling that fear.

In the late 1950s, my mother's sister in California sponsored her so she could move to the United States for a better life for us. My mother brought me to America when I was 15, and we worked to save money and send for my siblings. We took whatever jobs we could get. When I was 16, I enrolled in Santa Monica High School and, after graduating, attended Santa Monica College for a semester. But my family needed money, so I left and worked full time again.

My passion for bullfighting was so strong that I found a man who trained Hollywood actors to perform stunts and took lessons from him. I'd take the bus to meet him every Saturday, and he never even had me pay for the lessons. He taught me how to handle the cape, how to predict a bull's actions, and how to pose and look professional.

When I returned to Costa Rica to look for bullfighting jobs, I visited a restaurant that had a bullring. I started fighting bulls and calves there every Sunday and soon got paid bookings. I had no phone, so I'd look in the newspaper to find out where I'd be appearing.

Then I traveled to Mexico, called a few bullfighters and asked for their help. All but one laughed at me, but thanks to that one man's advice I found jobs in Mexico City. I became even more popular than in Costa Rica, and even appeared on "The Steve Allen Show" in the United States.

I started living the high life. I grew a bit careless in the ring and started getting injured, so I returned to the United States and found a job as a T.W.A. flight attendant. I enjoyed car racing so much that in the early years I'd book flights to Spain or Italy on my free weekends just to watch a race. By the time I retired in 1987, I had risen to in-flight service manager.

I met my future husband, Thomas J. Feeney, on a flight and eventually joined him in his La Jolla, Calif., investment company, Marathon Asset Management. I felt that the trust market was underserved and that it presented a good opportunity, so I left and opened Mission Management and Trust in 1994.

We merged the companies this year, and Tom is now our chief investment officer. We specialize in investment management, trust administration and securities custody. I like to say we're a boutique company that caters to people who are conservative about their investments.

Books and experience have taught me what I didn't learn in school. For example, I learned about self-discipline in business from "Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?," about the career of Reginald Lewis, who was C.E.O. of the food company Beatrice International. He had plans and made them happen.

I'd like to think I've done the same. After achieving the success I've had, I'm passionate about helping others needing jobs, or sending the elevator back down so others have an increased chance at success. I arrived in this country with only a suitcase. In 2004, I was an Arizona delegate to the Republican National Convention and led the Pledge of Allegiance. I still close my eyes and relive that moment.

As told to Patricia R. Olsen.

employment

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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