At 92, Joan Payden Is One Of America's Richest Self-Made Millionaire

From her early days as a pioneering woman in engineering to leading one of the largest private money management firms in the US, this is Joan Payden's story.

Ishika Thanvi
New Update
Joan Payden

Image: Outlook India

Joan Payden's journey to becoming one of America's richest self-made women began in the 1950s when she was one of the few women working in engineering. She was employed at a New Jersey-based company that specialised in building oil refineries. Despite her groundbreaking role, Payden faced a setback when she was laid off after three years.


Transition to the Financial Sector

Undeterred by the layoff, Payden decided to pivot her career towards finance. With a strong background in math and physics from Trinity College in Washington, D.C., she secured a junior associate role at Merrill Lynch, albeit at a 25% pay cut because she lacked financial knowledge. Her determination and adaptability soon paid off as she gained expertise in the field.

Payden's career took a significant turn when she moved to Los Angeles and joined Scudder, Stevens & Clark, a prestigious money management firm. Her persistence and skill led her to become the firm's first female partner, despite facing gender-based challenges. Notably, she missed out on at least one promotion because she wasn’t allowed to participate in a men-only golf meeting, highlighting the gender biases of the time.

Founding Payden & Rygel

In 1983, driven by a desire to advance beyond her current position, Payden took a bold step by founding her own firm, Payden & Rygel. She recruited her colleague Sandra Rygel and used her 401(k) savings as seed money. Despite initial fears about attracting clients, the firm quickly flourished.

Today, Payden & Rygel manages over $161 billion in assets and employs nearly 240 people across multiple offices. As the majority owner, Payden’s personal net worth is estimated at approximately $700 million. Her success earned her a spot on Forbes' 2024 list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women.


Overcoming Gender Stereotypes

Throughout her career, Payden has been keen not to let her gender define her professional identity. She insisted on being recognised for her abilities rather than being labeled a "good woman financial advisor." This perspective allowed her to build a reputation based solely on her competence and achievements.

Legacy and Advice to Entrepreneurs

Reflecting on her journey, Payden encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to take risks without fear of failure. Her advice, based on her own experience, emphasises the importance of seizing opportunities despite the inherent risks. "When you jump in the lake, you can’t think about drowning," she told Trinity’s alumni magazine, representing the necessity of bold decision-making in achieving success.

Joan Payden’s story is a testament to resilience, adaptability, and the power of self-belief. From her early days as a pioneering woman in engineering to leading one of the largest private money management firms in the U.S., Payden’s journey is an inspiring example of what can be achieved through determination and innovative thinking. Her legacy continues to inspire, showing that the risk of 'not doing' often outweighs the risk of 'doing.'

Payden & Rygel Joan Payden America Richest Self-Made Women