Susan Scher, 44, knows what it's like to feel like an outsider. Educated at a New Jersey public high school, the Goldman, Sachs & Co. managing director recalls being intimidated when she arrived for her freshman year at Middlebury College in Vermont, where many of her classmates hailed from elite prep schools.
"If I hadn't found my group, I may have felt isolated," says Scher.
That experience helped attract Scher to the Posse Foundation, which identifies, recruits and trains public school seniors from urban areas for matriculation to top-tier colleges. Rather than send individual high schoolers to its partner colleges, Posse sends clusters of kids in multicultural pools of 10, forming a group who back each other up. The foundation pays the students' tuition in full.
Scher, who runs U.S. corporate coverage, liability management and relationship lending within Goldman's financing group, sits on Posse's board and acts as its liaison to Goldman. She got involved with it in 2002, through a Goldman program that links managing directors with nonprofit organizations, including Posse. The idea of working with Posse "rang a bell," she says, noting that Middlebury is a Posse school. "It just clicked for me that education is everything."
Through Posse, Scher helps her alma mater improve the diversity of its student body and helps top-flight students succeed at college and beyond. Posse scholars would likely have ended up in college regardless of the program, says Scher, but the foundation provides them with a better opportunity. Posse students have a graduation rate of 90%, higher than the national average, at some of the nation's top institutions. In addition to Middlebury, Posse partner schools, which commit to taking a group of 10 students per class, include Bryn Mawr College, Boston University, Oberlin College, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Wheaton College and Tulane University.
As a member of Posse's board, Scher is involved in helping the group's graduates find post-college jobs. "Not just jobs, but careers," she says. Recently, she found a position for a Posse scholar who had a job lined up at Lehman Brothers Inc., once a sponsor of the program. Scher also works to deepen the nonprofit's relationship with Goldman. "We have our own Posse interns," says Scher, toiling everywhere from investment banking to human resources.
Scher, who graduated from Middlebury in 1986 and Columbia Business School in 1991, started her investment banking career at Salomon Brothers. She worked at Merrill Lynch & Co. from 1995 to 1996, then moved to Goldman in 1997 in its capital markets group. She has advised major U.S. companies such as Procter & Gamble Co., Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., 3M Co., Schering-Plough Corp., United Parcel Service Inc. and Yum! Brands Inc. "I love that I get to talk to some of the biggest and best companies in the world," says Scher. "I get to have the pace and excitement of transaction execution with the long-term personal connection of client coverage -- managing relationships." She recently helped raise $6 billion for Altria Group Inc., quite a feat in this tough market, considering the tobacco company's BBB rating.
For all the good Posse does, Scher believes she has been the beneficiary of her involvement with the group. "Through Posse, I got reconnected with Middlebury," says Scher, who now is one of its trustees. And Posse fueled an interest in education, prompting her to join the board of her children's school. Scher has two children, ages 8 and 6, and lives in New York with her partner, Allison. She credits her outside activities for helping round out her perspective on life -- a boon during these uncertain times -- and for providing her with a long-term passion. "I know it's something I'll be doing and involved with 20 years from now," predicts Scher.
Most of all, she says, "Posse is kind of a gift." She tells of going to a Middlebury reunion where she was greeted by a Posse freshman with a hug. "It just put a big smile on my face."