Tucked away in a wooded nature park just outside the small town of Greencastle, Indiana, sits a beautiful wood, stone and glass building that houses the Janet Prindle Institute of Ethics, part of nearby DePauw University. It was the first building in the state of Indiana to be Gold-rated and certified by the U.S. Green Building Council as a LEED building.
There’s a significant reason for that: When the Institute was built in 2007, its construction adhered to the same high environmental and ethical standards set decades ago by the woman it’s named after.
When Janet Prindle started working on Wall Street in 1962, she had few female colleagues and no female managers. That didn’t stop her from making her mark. After learning the ropes, she was determined to follow her ethical instincts to invest her clients’ money. She wanted to invest only in companies that valued their employees, paid them well and did not engage in discriminatory practices; did not sell tobacco, weapons or nuclear power; and didn’t harm the environment.
Her male colleagues told her she wouldn’t be able to make much, if any, money for her clients if she invested only in companies that met those criteria. In spite of their warnings, she convinced her managers to let her test her theory that good corporate citizens are good investments.
They relented—and she made a significant amount of money for them.
Today, it’s almost impossible to find an investment firm that does not have at least one investment choice that meets the criteria Prindle successfully tested in 1991, but when Prindle first started working on Wall Street, such funds were almost impossible to find. Investment firms designate such funds as Socially Responsive Investments, or SRI accounts. The firm Neuberger Berman started its SRI mutual fund in 1994, which flourished under Prindle’s management.
Neuberger Berman eventually made her a managing partner, the first woman to take the role in the company’s history. She retired from the firm in 2004, donated the funding to build the Institute at her alma mater, then committed an additional $10 million to endow its programming. She now spends her time keeping abreast of what the institute is doing and serving on the boards of several New York charities and arts organizations.
Prindle’s rise to her successful career didn’t happen easily or quickly. Not one of the career paths open to her when she graduated from DePauw University in 1958 appealed to her—but then, there were only three. She was told she could teach, go to nursing school or go to Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School. “I didn’t want to do any of those things,” she said, but her bachelor’s degree in history hadn’t prepared her for what she really wanted to do—work in the business sector as anything but a secretary.
Prindle started job hunting and found a job with Proctor and Gamble in the marketing research department. For about 18 months, she would “knock on doors taking surveys about different things,” and then she moved on to other jobs in the business sector and even took a few business and economics classes to beef up her resume.
During her job searches, Prindle was fired three times—once by a manager who told her she wouldn’t be able to succeed there because she’s a woman. At one point, she went on more than 80 interviews with no luck. Eventually, she landed a job on Wall Street holding portfolio management positions with Moody’s Investor Services, then with E.F. Hutton and Bessemer Trust Company, and then ultimately she ended up at Neuberger Berman. She had finally found the right place for her talents, so she stayed there for 27 years. She married New York attorney Charles Seidler in 1999, just five years before she retired.
Prindle learned from her own life experiences not to accept the status quo. In her advocacy for women and students, and in her work in ethics through the Prindle Institute, she advises students to succeed through perseverance. “Never accept no for the final answer, especially if you can see a better way of doing things,” she advises. “Trust your instincts.” Her unlikely career path is proof her philosophy works—and the Institute named for her is the result of her following that philosophy.
The Prindle Institute, one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country and the first and oldest ethics institute at a liberal arts college, has a uniquely national mission. Through two online ethics magazines and a podcast, its students and experts advance thoughtful and reasoned answers to quandaries as varied as the debate on nature versus nurture, the true cost of urban development to American people and culture, the #MeToo movement and printing 3-D guns. It fosters ethics education, dialogue and research locally as well, and provides K-12 teachers with tools and resources to incorporate ethics into their classroom lessons at the same time as it provides leadership development to businesses and organizations with a focus on ethics and moral reasoning training.
“I moved to New York knowing nobody,” Prindle said. “I grew up in Cleveland.” But it was her childhood there that laid the ethical foundation that has guided her throughout her adult life. What used to be the cultural norm in principles and behavior is a rarity in today’s America, but you can find it in a woods in Greencastle, Indiana, where students are learning high ethical standards—thanks to a woman who stood her ground when she saw a way to achieve her goals and live by her principles at the same time.