Like any true William & Mary student, Jeanie Walls Knigin ’73 remembers her time in college primarily by the number of hours that she spent in Swem Library.
“I spent a lot of time at Swem studying,” she says. “They have those cubicles and I would park myself there for the day. I love the library.”
All those long hours of studying paid off. Knigin is celebrating her 40th year on Wall Street and her 18th year at Morgan Stanley, where she works as a financial advisor. While Knigin has been formally working in finance for 40 years, her passion for the field started as a child because of a gift from her parents.
“When I was younger, mother would give us stock as birthday presents and Christmas presents,” she says. “When I was a young teenager, she showed me how to read the stock pages, and I had amassed more money than I thought existed in the world, which was about two-hundred-and-some-odd-dollars. I remember turning to her that day and saying this is what I’m going to do the rest of my life. It’s incredible that these pieces of paper can have value!”
Her drive and focus from such an early age led her to William & Mary, which she chose because she said it had “such a great reputation.”
“I thought originally I’d be a math major,” she says, “but since I knew I wanted to get into finance because of the experiences I had when I was growing up, that’s how I changed from a math major to an economics major.”
While her love for finance and business were already rooted in her when she first started at William & Mary, the people that she encountered during college solidified her choice.
“I was inspired to be an economics major because I had some wonderful teachers,” she says.
She continues to be involved in William & Mary’s finance program by occasionally giving presentations about her experiences. “I came down a couple of times and did lectures for the business school on business and finance and women in finance,” says Knigin, who is passionate about encouraging women to go into finance.
“I think that women have a real plus in personal financial planning since we build such good relationships with people, and that really is the key,” she says.
After graduating from William & Mary in 1973, Knigin went on to get her MBA in finance and investments from George Washington University before accepting a position at EF Hutton, a stock brokerage firm. This allowed her to move to New York where she has lived ever since. While working with EF Hutton, she briefly decided to venture out of her comfort zone and try her hand at management.
“I went out of working with individual clients and began working in the management area for EF Hutton,” she says. “So it was all the same sector but in a different role, and I just didn’t like it as much. When you’re a financial advisor, which is what I am, you build these wonderful relationships with individual clients, and that’s what I really enjoy.”
Knigin views the opportunity to connect with other people as one of the most rewarding parts of her job. While her naturally charismatic and warm attitude helps build these bonds, her choice to work with mainly women strengthens these relationships.
“I think that people are naturally drawn to people who are like them,” she says. “So my focus is either on women over 50 who are divorced or widowed, because I am both, or couples where the husband may be older and is looking for someone who he can trust for his wife to work with in the future. It’s really building that trust with people that are like you and you’ve had similar experiences to.”
While she has been thriving over the past 40 years career-wise, she hasn’t forgotten to stay connected with W&M by becoming a member of the Swem Friends of the Library Board. Through this organization, she not only got the opportunity to give lectures at the business school, but she also gained a special friend.
“Since I was involved with Swem Friends of the Library Board, I went to the fundraiser here in New York and one of the items that they were auctioning off was the chance to get a released seeing-eye dog,” she says. “I ended up getting the ability through a donation to the College to get a dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. I ended up getting a wonderful friend which is Casey.”
“The College has given and continues to give me a lot,” Knigin says. From a college degree to a retired seeing-eye dog, Knigin continues to reap the benefits from her time at William & Mary. And while she has had a long and fulfilling career, she is not done yet.
“I plan to work for another 10 years. My plan is to reach the 50th anniversary. I do believe that I will live to be over 100, so that will still give me lots of time to enjoy life after this segment is over,” she says.
Knigin knows how lucky she is to have discovered a career she is passionate about. “I’m fortunate that I found something long ago that I just love,” she says. And as for her key to a lifetime of achievement, she has a simple response: “Just keep going. Just enjoy life.”