Company faces a new challenge when Mark becomes Margaret

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

NEWARK, N.J. -- By June, people in the Quantitative Management department were trading whispers across the rows of cubicles.

What's wrong with Mark Stumpp? Why had he dropped so much weight so quickly? Was he sick? Nobody knew.

One day after lunch, Stumpp handed a small, framed snapshot to Jim Scott, his friend and co-manager in the department for 14 years.

"Do you know who that is?" Stumpp asked.

Scott glanced at the picture of a tall woman with blonde bangs and shook his head.

"That's the person you're going to be working with a year from now," Stumpp said.

Scott looked at the photo again, then back at Stumpp. The lady in the photograph, Stumpp said, is going to be me.

Prudential's QM department manages billions of dollars of other people's money. It's a business that relies on a nurtured image of solidity, on the value implicit in longtime relationships.

And so, as word of Stumpp's intensely private decision spread through Prudential's Newark headquarters, people realized this wasn't going to be about just him. It was going to be about them, too.

Stumpp was uncomfortable in Mark's body as far back as memories reach. Deep inside, at the nexus of body and mind, something felt terribly wrong.

"A malaise of the soul," Stumpp said.

It is called gender dysphoria, a condition characterized by intense feelings of being the wrong gender. No one knows for sure what causes it.

Since the 1960s, thousands of people have quietly undergone hormone treatment and surgery to change gender. Most dropped out of their previous lives, resurfacing somewhere else with new identities.

So perhaps it was just a matter of time before it happened at Prudential, a company with 61,000 people on its payroll. But in 22 years at Prudential, the last half working on personnel issues, Ron Andrews, a vice president of human resources, "had never encountered a more difficult issue."

"What was difficult about this," he said, "is I didn't know anything."

'Business is about trust'

Stumpp, 51, was an acknowledged expert in the serious business of making money grow, and his department, a group of about 35 people, manages $32 billion on behalf of client pension funds and other institutional investors. Prudential's own $8 billion in pension funds is managed here.

"My business is about trust," Stumpp said, and he knew trust would not be enhanced after people saw him "turn into a girl."

In the summer of 2001, the few executives at Prudential who knew what was going on realized that the problem wasn't that Stumpp was changing his gender. It was that he was coming back to work afterward.

It was one thing to figure out how the department would go on without Mark. It was quite another to figure out how to continue with someone named Maggie in his place.

Someone was going to have to explain the situation in Prudential's executive offices, to the company's clients, to the marketing and sales representatives who vouched for Stumpp's research.

Bringing it all together was Andrews' job.

Throughout the summer and into the fall, Andrews worked his way down a list of people who needed to know, figuring out not just who they would tell in turn, but how they would do it.

One of the first trials came a few weeks after Stumpp's return, when they took a call from a longtime client, a labor union whose members' reputations did not gibe with her heels and pantyhose.

The union officials asked to meet Stumpp to re-evaluate her suitability to continue managing their business. The department braced to lose the account.

They met over dinner at a steakhouse. The first few hours were spent discussing the stock market and the economy, smoothed over by a couple of drinks. Gradually, the men's doubts appeared to ease.

"You know, you really don't look so bad," one leaned over to tell Stumpp. She chalked it up as a compliment. Prudential kept the account.

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