Erin Callan dubbed Wall Street’s alpha female

By Carol Eisenberg

March 27, 2008 at 3:15pm

Erin Callan doesn’t look like a master of the universe in her crocheted dresses and bright-red leather jackets.

But the new chief financial officer at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc (NYSE: LEH). is the most powerful woman on Wall Street and the only one with a shot at someday running her firm, according to Conde Nast Portfolio magazine.

The daughter of a New York City cop and a homemaker, Callan is a tax attorney who started in the fixed-income department at Lehman Brothers, and who became an adviser to hedge-fund billionaires like Ken Griffin of Citadel Investment Group and Steve Cohen of S.A.C. Capital Advisors.

In recent years, she has led some of the most important initial public offerings in the financial world, including those for the Blackstone Group and Fortress Investment Group.

“I did not have a single female client at any level of these organizations,” she acknowledged of the hedge-fund world in which she once worked. “This was a 100 percent male-dominated industry.”

But she believes she was able to turn her outsider status into an advantage. “I think people may let their guard down more with me than with others. Being different - being a woman - was helpful,” she said.

Callan was promoted to chief financial officer and executive vice president of Lehman Brothers in December 2007. She is also a member of the company’s executive committee.

To the wider world, she has become known as a no-nonsense talking head on television news programs like CNBC explaining the spreading financial crises on Wall Street.

But Callan, who attended Catholic schools in Queens before going on to Harvard and New York University Law School, dismisses the notion that her gender might play any role in any future CEO selection.

“You know what? Dick [Fuld] is not going to care that you’re one of the most successful women on Wall Street if he’s not happy with the way you handled something,” she said of Lehman’s chairman and CEO Richard Fuld Jr. “It’s not really going to make a difference.”

No woman has ever been named to head a Wall Street firm. One of the most highly regarded female executives, Morgan Stanley co-president Zoe Cruz, was pushed out last fall after the firm posted a $3.7 billion loss from mortgage-related securities.

Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearnsand Citigroup all underwent CEO searches recently, and no women appeared on their short lists.

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