Q+A: Maria Fiorini Ramirez

June 8, 2010

I sat down with Maria Fiorini Ramirez today after she joined us at the Reuters Investment Outlook Summit and asked her about starting her own company — the global economic consulting firm Maria Fiorini Ramirez, Inc — her advice for young entrepreneurs, and if women can balance a successful work and home life.

Where you were you born?
Naples, Italy

When did you come to the U.S?
1960. To East New York.

Did you go to high school there?
Yes, St. Michael’s. An all girl’s Catholic school.

Where do you live now?
Far Hills, New Jersey

Did you ever think that you were going to start your own business?
Yes. And a global one because I always liked geography and history.

Why a financial company?
I really like economics and how it affects life, people, and things in general.

What is the most important advice you can give to young people who want to start a business?
Without taking risk, you can’t have any rewards. Failure is not an option. You must keep trying and trying and trying.

What’s a good age to start a business?
When you’re young. In your thirties. It’s good to get some good grounding first. And to get some training and build friends and a network and learn from others who share what they know.

What do you think of young entrepreneurs who start a business right after they graduate or before they graduate?
You feel like you know everything when you graduate from college, but you don’t. Go live overseas. Experience things first. But sometimes it does work for some people. It depends on the individual.

Is there a downside to starting your business too early?
What’s the downside? That you won’t be able to give back the money you’re borrowing from your family? The upside is much bigger.

What are some of the sectors where it’s easier to start your own business?
In technology there are no barriers. I would think for women it’s easier to get into the retail fashion business. Finance is a lot easier than it used to be. It depends on the country and the culture.

When did you start your business?
I started a business 20 years ago when most people told me not to and I proved them wrong.

Did you find it hard to start your own business as a woman in the world of finance?
No. Anything that was hard for me was just a challenge to overcome. I never take no for an answer. When a customer says “no,” I say, “that is not an option.” You need to figure out a way to make it work.

Do you bring any Italian sensibilities to your work?
We always have to have food in the office. There is warmth. We try to create an atmosphere that’s relaxed and where you can feel at home.

What’s your favorite food?
Pasta. With mozzarella and tomatoes. And maybe pastries. I can make a meal in 10 minutes.

How long do you think you’ll be doing this?
You know, I was just talking with my husband about our future. But I am trying to avoid the issue of longevity. My life is rich with many varieties of things. I am blessed to have a good team of people who can do all the work now and I just try and learn from them. So I am free to do volunteer work. I can’t say no to it. You should be diversified in things you do in life as well.

What’s your favorite volunteer organization?
The More Project in Brazil. It provides housing, food, and education to children in poverty.

Do you have any kids?
No. I have kids at the More Project in Brazil.

Has it been hard to balance your own business and marriage?
No. My husband works with me. We have been married 37 years.

Do you think women can really do it all – run their own business, have a successful marriage and family life?
Yes, you can have it all. Husbands and wives work together more now so it’s easier. You see lots of men these days pushing strollers. It’s also easier now because technology enables more people to work from home.

Would you like to see more women starting businesses?
I think women are starting more business than men. In part, because they have to. It’s necessary to have a two income couple these days. The internet has unleashed infinite possibilities. But it is an individual choice. Not everybody can do it. Although countries like Japan are realizing that they have to make it attractive to keep women in the workforce.

If you are trying to save to start a business what’s the best place to put your money?
CDs. Because they’re insured and you can take the money out whenever you want to. Municipal bonds take a long time to mature.

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