From Okanagan College to Wall Street, and Beyond


When Jacki Hoffman-Zehner enrolled in Arts at Okanagan College she checked off the usual suspects (English, Math), and then added economics and psychology.

Little did she know she had hit her career jackpot.

Within six years, she was a rising star in the world of high finance at Goldman Sachs in New York City on her way to becoming the organization’s youngest female partner and one of the firm’s highest paid women.

That second focus – psychology – took a little longer to emerge but as she navigated through those male-dominated corridors of power she sought out ways to advocate for equity and diversity in the workplace. By the time she left Goldman Sachs 14 years later, she knew she wanted to do something that would help women.

Jacki is CEO of Women Moving Millions, which actively campaigns to have women philanthropists invest their dollars – a million apiece – into supporting women and girls. Today the organization has inspired 180 members to commit more than $260-million in funds to organizations of their choice that primarily serve women and girls. Though based in the United States they have nine Canadian members.

It’s all a long way from Jacki’s Okanagan roots. She grew up in Rutland as the daughter of a grocer who managed the local Cooper’s and later his own grocery store Four-Way Food Market where she worked as a cashier.

Jacki joined her sister Teri in becoming the first generation to attend post-secondary school. Choosing Okanagan College made sense: she could live at home, keep her job, tuition was more affordable, and she could keep up her training as a bodybuilder.

“Being at Okanagan College just seemed like the right step for me because I could figure out more about what I wanted,” she says. “What I realized at Okanagan College was the quality of teaching was great and it proved to be a great transition for me. It was seamless going from the college into university.”

Jacki did so well in fact, that she was easily selected to enter the Commerce Program at the University of British Columbia. She went on to be among the first dozen students to enroll in UBC’s new Portfolio Management Program. On graduation, she successfully interviewed with Goldman Sachs and from there things got more and more interesting.

“I saw that women were not represented in critical mass as you moved up the food chain and it bothered me. While I was enjoying a fast-tracked career what was true for me was not true for the vast majority of women and that bugged me. I became a champion and got involved with a lot of diversity issues.”

For her efforts she was rewarded and not only was the youngest women to ever make partner in the firm’s 100+ year history, but the first female trader.

“.I was very fortunate to be a partner when the firm went public so upon leaving Goldman my attention fully turned to how to use all my resources to advance women and girls.”

Jacki continues to have ties to the Okanagan, returning each year to help out at Hoffman’s Orchards, her parents’ farm in Kelowna with its 10,000 fruit trees.

She credits a supportive family, and a solid education, with her success. But she says there is something more that helps people get what they want out of life.

“It’s about following your instinct and not being complacent,” she says. “For me early on, I knew I wanted to make a lot of money, so that led me in certain directions and not others. It’s really about being in touch with yourself, and trying to develop as many skills as you can, notice what you’re good at, and what you like to do.”

Finally, it’s about finding that intersection between what Jacki calls the 3Ps: passion, purpose and pay.

“That’s your career nirvana. Seek that, go for that, because it exists. Not everyone needs to make a gazillion dollars. It’s what’s important for you that matters.”

For more about Jacki and her lessons from Wall Street, read her LinkedIn blog Class of 2013: Be a Superhero!, and her TEDxWomen 2012 talk.


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