A Winthrop degree launched her business career

Vivian Carroll, a retired financial planner and 1973 Winthrop University alumna, and her husband, Larry, had discussed making a huge donation to Winthrop's College of Business Administration. But she was surprised to find out during a luncheon last month that Larry Carroll had gone ahead and donated $1.25 million for a new trading center.

A new building with a 195-seat auditorium, computer labs and classrooms will be called Vivian M. Carroll Hall. Inside, a trading room with a 12-foot electronic ticker board, four large displays, two television monitors and an adjoining conference room will be called the Carroll Capital Markets Training and Trading Center.

The gift, which was one of the 10 largest in Winthrop's history, will be used to pay for electronic trading equipment for the center and to create an endowment for operation and programming costs and future equipment upgrades.

Vivian and Larry Carroll both are Rock Hill natives who were the first in their families to attend college. Vivian Carroll retired from Merrill Lynch in 2001. Larry Carroll is president of Carroll Financial Associates in Charlotte.

Herald reporter Jessica Schonberg talked with Vivian Carroll on Wednesday about her experience at Winthrop and her career in business. Here is what she had to say. Her answers have been edited for length.

Q: Did you always know you wanted to go to Winthrop?

A: "I knew I wanted to go to college. Winthrop was a great school with a great reputation, and I could afford it since I had to pay for my college myself."

Q: Did you know what you wanted to do business?

A: "No. Does anybody? When you first start college, you don't know what you want to do. I was good at math but I didn't particularly want to teach. After Larry and I were married, we lived in Tennessee for a few years, and I worked in Knoxville for one of the first certified financial planners in the country and got really interested in investments and the stock market, and that was really my introduction. I could have never gotten that job had I not had the college degree from Winthrop."

Q: What are some of your memories of Winthrop?

A: "When I was there, they took in 200 men on a trial basis, just to see if it was going to work. Prior to that, it had been an all-female institution. So there were just a few men on campus. That's certainly one thing, but that's changed."

Q: What did you like to do with your friends for fun?

A: "We shot pool in Dinkins, which everybody still does. That was a fun thing to do back then. But remember, since I was paying for my own college, I was working full time. When I think about college, I think about it being pretty difficult. It was hard to work full time and go to school full time."

Q: How did your education impact your ability to be successful in the business world?

A: "I couldn't have done it without the degree. It wouldn't have been possible to be hired. I mean think about, in the 1970s when we first moved to Charlotte there were very few women in the brokerage industry."

Q: How has the gender makeup of the industry changed since you first started out?

A: "It's still a very heavily male-dominated profession, but there's a lot more women in the brokerage industry now than there were back then. I was part of a group that started a women's professional association, called the Carolina Association of Women in Investments. That was our own little support group that we started, and I still maintain contact with some of those women."

Q: What advice could you give to women who are interested in math or business or accounting or those fields that are very traditionally male-dominated?

A: "I think you need to get it out of your head that they're male-dominated because women can be successful in business careers and women can be good at math. Math is such an important skill to have regardless of the industry that you are in."

Q: What did you think when you found out your husband had arranged this gift for the two of you?

A: "I cried, of course. I was touched. My husband is very generous. One thing that he has taught me over the years is that you can't give to every opportunity that comes before you. We want our gift to make a difference. This will definitely make a difference in the lives of these students and really in the Rock Hill and greater Charlotte community because the facility is such that businesses in the area will be able to use it for training purposes, not just the students. We both are excited about how that will stimulate other people to go into financial services careers."