Having a baby did not change her career plans. Morgan Stanley recruited Cruz directly out of school, and she went to work in the newest and smallest division at the firm, foreign exchange. The decision to leave her young child at home did not torment her. According to a colleague at Morgan Stanley, Cruz thought of herself as an “alpha female”—“If we spent our whole lives at home,” she would say, “our children would be tortured.”
Cruz was more “alpha” than most of the women she started out with at Morgan Stanley. She wasn’t oblivious to the fact that Wall Street, especially at the time, was dominated by men, but she was determined not to acknowledge it. She loved the game, and she was good at it—she didn’t see what her gender had to do with it. And her competitive zeal would soon have her leapfrogging over men who had once been her bosses.
She gravitated toward trading foreign currency, in part because a trader’s hours—the closing bell rings at 4 p.m.—were better for a working mother. But the trading floor also appealed to her personality. “I liked the markets, the energy, the noise,” she told Fortune magazine last year. “And I like trading because of the unequivocal nature of the report card.” Profits and losses were recorded in black and white. It was an arena in which a woman’s success could be measured objectively.
When Cruz arrived in 1982, the trading floor was a hurly-burly of aggressive men who marked turf with high-volume arguments, had pinup girls in their cubicles, and socialized on golf courses and in strip clubs. “When a trader walked around a corner, he assumed that you were a sales assistant,” says one former female Morgan Stanley executive. Three years into her job, Cruz was passed over for a promotion that went to a male colleague. It was a devastating defeat. She later told a group of students at Harvard Business School that she went home afterward to “cry [her] eyes out” but decided to “stay in the game.” She went back to work and told her supervisor that she did not intend to make a career out of being a low-level associate.
It did not go unobserved by her male colleagues that Cruz was a petite, attractive woman with large brown eyes and a big, dimpled smile. She bore a passing resemblance to the actress Juliette Binoche, and she spoke with the trilled r’s of a Greek accent. She could be charming and easygoing and funny when she chose to, but she was not one to rely on her feminine wiles to get what she wanted. In a testosterone-fueled environment where one trader legendarily slammed his phone down so hard he broke his hand, Cruz learned that she had to shout down her adversaries. When another Morgan Stanley division head, Patrick de Saint-Aignan, started buying currency options from a competing bank with better rates than Cruz offered in-house, she would “storm over screaming” at the bewildered Frenchman, accusing him of “crossing the line into her turf,” says a onetime colleague, who describes bystanders looking on awkwardly, relieved when she finally walked away. But her ferocity paid off: After several such episodes, she forced De Saint-Aignan to buy her higher-priced options, diminishing his profits but improving her own.
Cruz attributed her flare-ups to her “Mediterranean blood,” but they may also have been a matter of necessity. “For women to get to the top, they have to be so much more ruthless,” says another former colleague. “Whether it’s Martha Stewart or Donna Karan—the most bitchy people you’d ever want to meet in your life. But they had to be that way.”
Cruz’s brand of aggression seemed to define her more than it did her male colleagues, partly because she wasn’t very good at—or didn’t see the point in—smoothing over a relationship after a conflict. “A guy can say, ‘But you know I love you, right?’ ” says a female colleague who worked with Cruz in the nineties. “She can’t say, ‘But you know I love you, right?’ It’s the pounding-each-other-on-the-back stuff that men do. Maybe it’s because a woman is seen as too soft and nurturing in a man’s world. Women aren’t encouraged to do that.”
She might not have been liked by everyone, but Cruz was developing a reputation as a tough and savvy trader with quick and unwavering views on market positions. “Well, what’s your gut feel?” she would ask. And she trusted her own gut implicitly, often growing impatient with opposing views. A former Morgan Stanley executive who admires Cruz says her cut-to-the-chase nature was her allure, especially to clients looking for clarity amid market ambiguity. “When she walks out of the room, you know whether her view is up or down,” he says.