Fidelity’s Kathy Murphy never intended to work in finance. In fact, she began her career at Aetna, working in healthcare law. So how did she end up as president of personal investments at one of the largest asset managers in the world? It all started when her dad died unexpectedly.
Murphy, who is now No. 34 on Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women list, was 27 at the time, with three younger siblings still in college. Her parents had what the executive calls a “traditional financial set-up,” where her mother paid the bills and her father took care of the investments. When Murphy’s dad died, her mother found herself completely out of her depth, with no idea how to plan for her financial future.
Driven by necessity, Murphy learned about financial planning and investing to help her mother get on track for her impending retirement. It was all very new to her, she says, because she had been raised to focus on saving. Growing up, she recalls, “it was all about saving money, not investing for your future, and there’s a big difference.”
She told Fortune that this crash course in money management changed her personal approach to her family’s finances and continues to impact the work she does at Fidelity today.
Everyone has different and very personal goals for their finances, Murphy said, and taking those issues to heart the same way that her clients do is an important part of how she does her job. Each month, Murphy listens to 20 hours worth of customer calls to stay close to the real problems in her customers’ lives. That reminds her of her mission.
“It makes a difference how we approach our jobs and how we help people,” she said.
In Fortune’s Trailblazer series, powerful women in business share formative stories about overcoming a challenge in their lives. Watch them all here.