The Simple Equation of Giving
Cara Heiden excelled at math as a young student growing up in Denison, Iowa, but her choice to study accounting at Iowa State University was not a calculated move.
Heiden left her hometown after high school to earn a degree in math education at a teacher's college in Nebraska. During her freshman year, her father became seriously ill. She wanted to transfer to a college closer to home and started researching Iowa schools when a good friend suggested Heiden change her major to accounting.
"So, I changed it all up. I pursued accounting and finance courses at Iowa State and was able to get home frequently for my dad and family," she explained.
It was a pivotal decision for Heiden, who found she enjoyed her new classes.
Heiden was solely focused on becoming a certified public accountant and working at one of the "Big 8" accounting firms, when a professor called her out of class one day. Don Brown, who taught accounting, wanted her to interview with a representative from a large corporation visiting campus. "Brown wanted to make certain I understood all the career path options he thought were available to me," she said. Brown, along with other professors, encouraged Heiden to realize her career and leadership potential.
She graduated with honors in 1978 with a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Administration from the College of Sciences and Humanities. Heiden started out as a certified public accountant at Ernst & Young, where she was one of only four women and the first woman to travel out of town for client engagements.
After three years at Ernst & Young, she joined Norwest Bank Iowa, now Wells Fargo Bank Iowa, in 1981. She worked her way up to become the bank's chief financial officer. In 1992, Heiden had the opportunity to become the chief financial officer for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. Throughout the years, she subsequently assumed various operating leadership roles and became its co-president in 2004. Heiden was named multiple times as one of U.S. Banker magazine's "25 Most Powerful Women in Banking." She retired from Wells Fargo Home Mortgage in 2011.
"I am extremely thankful to my professors and how they motivated my intellectual curiosity and my confidence that I could reach high goals," Heiden said.
She wants to similarly encourage today's young women to envision a full range of possibilities for their future. This past summer, she joined Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds as a featured speaker at the first Young Women in Business Leadership Camp held at Iowa State.
Recently, she established the Heiden Fund for Women in Business to support the Debbie and Jerry Ivy College of Business's initiatives to increase the number of women on its faculty and the number of young women pursuing a degree in business.
Heiden has provided additional financial support to the university over the years through current giving and a bequest. "From the very beginning, my financial support has been directed to faculty development — attracting, retaining and developing the highest quality of faculty," Heiden said. "This is because I hope all students can experience effective relationships with professors, like I had, helping them achieve student and career success."
For Heiden, philanthropy and supporting Iowa State is a simple equation: "Find the cause or need you're most passionate about, get involved in helping solve it, financially support it and, along the way, experience the rewarding feeling."
Inspire Future Leaders
Whether you've reached the top of your field or are still aiming to get there, you can make a difference in the lives of Iowa State students — in the Debbie and Jerry Ivy College of Business and across campus. Visit isugift.org to learn more.
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