Alumni Spotlight: Lynn Pippenger, A Testament to Perseverance
By Jordan Travis and Spenser Larsen
TAMPA (January 31, 2018) -- Lynn Pippenger, whose name adorns the Muma College of Business School of Accountancy on the University of South Florida's Tampa campus and the Kate Tiedemann College of Business at USF-St. Petersburg after making millions in contributions, is a monument to perseverance. She also is proof that the American Dream is a reality for those with the determination to make it come true.
The retired chief financial officer for Raymond James has donated millions to support business education. Not bad for someone who started out as a grocery clerk right out of high school and spent 16 years taking college courses to obtain a bachelor's degree while working a full-time job.
Just last fall, she was named Philanthropist of the Year by the Suncoast Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, capping a career that began modestly at Webb's City – the historic one-stop department store/pharmacy – in St. Petersburg.
"I started out as a grocery clerk," Pippenger says, "way before the registers we have today; then, you had to memorize the prices of everything ... It was an adventure."
She soon earned a reputation as a go-to person.
"Whatever needed to get done, I got done," she says. "Then they had me teaching classes to new employees when I was 18. I taught classes on how to run different kinds of cash registers because there were about five different kinds back then. And then I went to their accounting department.
"I worked in accounts payable – well, I worked in audit first," she says, "which (involved) people who counted cash and people who ran the cash registers and had tapes that showed what you did that day. Cash audit matched up the transactions to make sure it was balanced."
And that pointed Pippenger towards a career in accounting.
"One of my neighbors was an accountant, a CPA at the time," she says. "He taught me how to run an adding machine and another neighbor at my grandmother's house was a stock broker – or what we call a financial advisor today. One taught me how to read the Wall Street Journal, the other taught me how to run an adding machine. And that's what I've done most of my life."
When she took a class on investing with Merrill Lynch, she says, she noticed another obstacle. It was the early 1960s, after all.
"I had tried getting a job at several other brokerage firms at that point and they didn't hire any women," she says. "So when Raymond James came along, they had a job opening for a payroll clerk, so I qualified for that."
That was in 1969. Soon after that, she took her first college course.
"College took me a long time," she says, "close to 16 years to do four years, because I was working full-time."
She attended night classes, mostly, squeezed around her work schedule at Raymond James, but knew earning a college degree would propel her career. It's a familiar pattern with many USF students to this day: taking classes while working in the real world. This is part of what makes Pippenger so relatable to USF students because she understands the stress of balancing work and school.
At least in class, she saw little or no gender bias, unlike what she had encountered in the corporate culture of the time.
"No, but I always say I had an advantage," she says. "I grew up in a neighborhood of 20 boys, so it didn't bother me."
With a bachelor's degree, she was energized. And, she was just getting started.
"I just went back (to school) because I wanted to," she says. "I got interested in the Executive MBA program." She graduated from that program with honors in 1988 and still, there was some push back from her corporate boss. "Tom James used to say, 'Why do you want to do this?' and I'd say, 'You all have your MBAs, I want mine.'"
When she started working at Raymond James in 1969, the company was an unknown brokerage firm. Though she started as a payroll clerk, she ended up working alongside Bob James, Tom James, and several others to help build the company. She eventually served as chief financial officer and treasurer of the firm, handling numerous special projects as the company grew.
Pippenger created the firm's human resources department, launched an internal educational program now known as Raymond James University and she assisted in compiling the paperwork to take the company public. She formed the company's information technology department and was the architect for much of company's original technological framework – most of which is still in use today.
"I had to keep the computer system balanced," she says. "It was always an interesting thing and if you did everything right and nothing blew up at night, it was about an hour's job. Also, I taught classes on the brokerage business, so our employees had some idea of what the client needed, what the client's perspective was and what our financial advisors needed.
"I was responsible for building Raymond James for 20-some years," she says. "If Tom James needed something done, he'd say, 'Lynn, I need it.' And then off I'd go."
More and more women are following Pippenger's lead: carving out careers in what had been a male-dominated field.
"Study hard and understand what you're studying," Pippenger says to aspiring female accountants and investors, "because some of these financial products today are not easily understood ... (But) there are lots of opportunities ..."
Helping to support the missions of the business education in St. Petersburg and Tampa during her retirement isn't her sole interest.
In December she started the "College Promise Scholarship" at Andrews-Osborne Academy, a K-12 school in Willoughby, Ohio, a school Pippenger's ancestors founded more than a century ago.
"I'm very passionate [about education], but I don't know that I can really put it into words," she says, "other than to say, you need some!"