Women is...: Working Assets' Laura Scher

Working Assets' Laura Scher

profession: CEO and co-founder of Working Assets Funding Service, a socially responsible long distance and credit-card company that donates a percentage of its revenue to non-profit organizations such as Planned Parenthood, Greenpeace, Children's Defense Fund and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

company's annual revenue: $80 million

the basic story:A rarity in the "get-rich" era of the '80s, Scher graduated from Harvard Business School committed to building a career that reflected her progressive values. True to her vision, she started Working Assets in 1985. Even before the company turned profitable, it consistently gave donations to non-profits. Now a leading spokesperson for socially responsible businesses, Scher says that Working Assets has both a bottom line (profit) and a top line (promoting social and environmental change). "Social change is our reason for being," she says. "Profit is simply a means to an end."
born: January 18, 1959. (Birthday gifts in the form of donations to worthy causes welcome.)

education: BA in economics from Yale, MBA from Harvard, studied international economics at the Institute for International Studies in Geneva

web site: With political action updates, recipes, a kids' corner, national farmer's market directory and more, this ain't your typical financial institution web site.

hometown: Clifton, NJ

the secret to her success: Being smart at business. "At Working Assets we combine our values with analytic skills and a clear understanding of our industry. You've got to embrace traditional business skills, tools and practices to be successful in building a socially conscious business."

second secret to her success: She pitches everyone she meets to switch to Working Assets -- and they usually do.

greatest challenge: "To believe in my own vision when others doubted it. It was very hard when we started to convince other companies to do business with us, that we had a market of people who were concerned with social values. It was hard not to give in and compromise."

on competing with the "big boys": Going up against AT&T, MCI and Sprint "makes for a very exciting business. Telecommunications is a chaotic industry. We all know how we'll be buying jeans in ten years, but no one knows how we'll be buying telecommunications. That creates a huge opportunity."
business goal: For Working Assets to donate $10 million a year to non-profit organizations (current annual contributions total $2 million) and to generate 2 million political calls and letters a year (current count tops 900,000).

tech savviness:"Way up there" on the scale, says her staff. "She's always e-mailing and using the Internet."

motto: "Never take yourself too seriously."

how she got so hip: From her parents. "When I was a kid, I met one of my closest friends under the kitchen table at a League of Women Voters meeting! The first time I met anyone very conservative was when I went to business school."

household: Husband Ian, daughter Alison, goldfish Shadow and O.J. (in honor of the fruit drink).

on balancing work and family: "It's a constant challenge. I've learned that you can't go back and change things, so I make decisions based on that. Once I rearranged an entire set of meetings at a conference so I could be at Alison's dance rehearsal. I knew I could always do the meetings over the phone, but I could never recreate the rehearsal."

favorite pastime: Traveling off the beaten path, especially with her daughter. "I love to immerse myself in new cultures."

travel spots: Cambodia, Bali, Eastern Europe, China, Burma, Thailand, Australia. Next on the list --Africa.

at age 70: "I'd love to be involved in international diplomacy. Perhaps be an ambassador. I love negotiating and traveling."

life goal: "To be able to look back and say we've changed the world."