Public Service Spotlight
Group Managing Director, Public Finance Department, Moody’s Investors Service
Gail Sussman is the Group Managing Director of the Public Finance Department at Moody’s Investors Service and just celebrated her 24th anniversary with the company. In her current role, Sussman is responsible for all rating and research activities for debt issued by municipal initiatives and nonprofits, including state and local governments, healthcare, higher education, cultural institutions, philanthropic organizations, housing, and infrastructure. She oversees a team of 140 people across five cities from New York to Boston, Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco. When asked about her career since receiving her degree, she points out that back then, it wasn’t common to plan out one’s career aggressively the way it is now – in fact, it wasn’t even common to go to grad school. But after spending twenty-five years in the field, she is still passionate about the business she is in. “It’s an environment that's filled with people who really believe in the work that we do,” she says.
Although Sussman has been with Moody’s for nearly a quarter of a century, she began her career working in housing. While a grad student at Wagner she had an internship with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in their New York City office. When she finished her degree she was accepted into the prestigious Presidential Management Internship program. Although her passion was in housing, she got assigned to the Social Security Administration, so she moved down to Maryland to begin her internship there. Sussman didn’t feel satisfied at the Social Security Administration, though, as she didn’t feel it was impactful enough. She decided to ask her contacts at the New York City HUD office if they would take her on as an intern through her program. It was at no cost to them and they were glad for the opportunity to have her back. Thus, after only six months at the Social Security Administration, Sussman moved back up to the city to work in HUD’s New York regional office. That was in January of 1981, right after President Reagan took office. Under his administration there was not a whole lot of work to be done at HUD, and Sussman’s area manager, thinking her time could be better spent, offered to get her a rotation at the New York State Housing Finance Agency (HFA).
Sussman joined the development team at the HFA. She enjoyed working for a public benefit corporation that sold bonds. It wasn’t long before a position opened up at the agency and Sussman was offered a full-time job before her internship program had even completed. She took the offer and was at the agency working in multi-family development for low and moderate income housing until 1984. At the agency she developed a relationship with a mentor who was willing to teach her everything she was willing to learn about bond issuance. She recalls working insane hours but values the experience as a time of tremendous learning. Sussman also met her husband at the HFA and when they married she felt strongly that it was best for them not to work at the same place. When she got recruited for an analyst position at Moody’s, she leapt at the opportunity.
Since joining Moody’s she has toggled between the housing team and the structured finance area of the Public Finance Department and eventually became manager of the structured finance team. In 1988, the woman running the housing group went on maternity leave and Sussman was asked to take on that team as well. She managed both groups for a temporary period of time. After twenty years of focusing on these two areas of business, Sussman was asked to be a managing director of state and local government ratings – a position that she would share with a managing director in the San Francisco office. Unfamiliar with state and local ratings, this was the first time Sussman found herself in a position where she didn’t know the most about the area she was overseeing. While it felt scary, she realized that more important than having detailed knowledge was an ability to manage people well. She had to learn from others who were junior to her and change her management style. She loved the experience and found it “invigorating” to do something different in the field.
In January of 2007 Sussman was promoted to run the entire Public Finance Department. She greatly enjoys this role because she is “able to see the business from the broadest perspective” as she is responsible for work in all of the sectors in which the group deals. Sussman does point out that it’s a challenging time to be managing this business, with such volatile markets and with new pressure on companies like hers. “We are constantly living under a microscope and a spotlight at the same time,” she says. “But I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she goes on, noting that the people in her division are incredibly hard-working and passionate. And as Group Managing Director, she gets to support them to do their work in the best way possible.