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Mom Next Door: Natalie Jenkins Sorrell

Deputy Chief Investment Officer, Employees’ Retirement Fund of Dallas

There are high achievers … and then there’s Natalie Jenkins Sorrell. The Spelman College alumna was on track to become an attorney when Wall Street came calling and she discovered a love for the “analytically rigorous” world of finance. “I thought if I worked on Wall Street, I could probably do anything,” she says. “I thought it’d help pave the way for my career.”

And so it did. Following internships at Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan, Sorrell landed a position at General Electric working in private equity. After two years, she left GE to attend The Wharton School — on scholarship — where she earned her MBA in finance. Fresh out of grad school, Sorrell was accepted into a prestigious development program at McGraw-Hill, where she met a woman named Sheryl she considers a mentor to this day. “One day, Sheryl said, ‘I’m leaving for Dallas and you’re coming with me.’ She asked me to work for a small publishing house called Voyager Expanded Learning.” Sorrell laughed at the prospect. “I remember getting that call and thinking Dallas, Texas? I wouldn’t even know what to wear!”

But here she is. A New Jersey native, Sorrell, 43, never dreamed she’d end up in Dallas, let alone raise a family here. But as mom of two — Michael Augustus, 6, and Sage, 1 — and Deputy Chief Investment Officer of the City of Dallas’ Employees’ Retirement Fund, she’s doing just that. She moved to Big D in 2004 and accepted a post with the City of Dallas in 2006 after Voyager was sold. She met her husband of seven years, Michael Sorrell, a fellow transplant and president of Paul Quinn College, a small historically black liberal arts college in South Dallas, shortly thereafter. “The rest, as they say, is history.”

Professionally, Sorrell’s goal is to ensure that “the civilian employees of Dallas have a retirement that they can live on,” a task she takes very seriously because “everyone deserves to retire with dignity.” Personally, she’s striving to raise respectful, well-adjusted kids that grow into “decent human beings.”

Whichever hat she’s wearing, Sorrell is driven by the deep-rooted desire to be “better today than yesterday and better tomorrow than today.”

“I’m always thinking, ‘How could I have done that better?’” she says. “How could I have improved on what I said, what I did, what I wrote? And not just in the office … it’s true of how I mother and what kind of daughter, sister and friend I am.”

As a Northeasterner, how did you adapt to living in Dallas?
I found Dallas to be a nice city — very friendly and warm, literally and figuratively.

What do you love most about your work?
I would do my job for free. I love coming in, reading The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Financial Times and learning about what’s going on in the world and how it’s pertinent to what we do here every day.

Did you always want to be a mom?
Not really. It was one of those things that I felt like could only happen if I found the right guy. Once I met my husband, I began to notice strollers. [Before that] I would go to the mall and never ever notice strollers. I didn’t even know malls had elevators! I was way more focused on leaving Spelman magna or summa. (I graduated magna cum laude — and to me that was a little bit of a disappointment.) I was lighting the world on fire, and when I met Michael, it just clicked. He made me want things that I never thought were for me.

How are you different as a woman now that you’re a mother?
It’s nice to be an older mom. I’m confident in who I am as a person. I spent all the time I needed focused on myself, and now I’m OK focusing on other human beings. I do everything with them in mind. You still have to put the oxygen mask on yourself, but it’s nice to be able to look at my children and say I’m going to do all this for you.

What do you do to put yourself first?
Today, I’m taking some time for myself to get a good mani/pedi. I have a good book that I’m reading. I like to work out. We’re big YMCA fans; I’m on the board.

What’s your parenting style?
I was going to say I’m pretty laidback, but I don’t know if my son would agree. I care about manners. I care about him being a respectful child. I like for my kids to be kids, but I want them to understand what’s expected of them when we go into someone’s home. They’re not my friends; they’re my children. If they don’t like me because I’m disciplining them, that’s OK. I like being a fun mom, but I feel like I have so much responsibility to make sure that these kids turn out right that I can’t take it too lightly.

Do you struggle with mom guilt?
No, not so much. I think the first rule of being a mother is you’ve got to make your choice and you’ve got to own it. To be the best mother that I could be, I knew I needed to work. Motherhood is not one-size-fits all. I decided that I liked working and I wasn’t going to make any excuses for being the ambitious woman that I am.

Do you have a support system in place to help with caring for the kids?
We had an au pair and we’re about to get another, so that’s helpful.

You and your husband are both high achievers. How is that going to play into the expectations you have for your kids?
I want our children to feel like they’re loved and supported and that we’re their safe space. If they fail, it’s OK. It happens. Get up, shake it off and come back to the safe space. We’re going to set very high bars for them but always let them know that this bar is high for a reason because we believe in them. I will accept a bad grade, but I will never accept bad effort.

How is the Natalie at home different from the Natalie in the office?
They’re not that different. My focus is different. It’s all about the kids and our family at home; whereas, at work I’m more focused on the markets and what’s up and down.

What does a typical Sunday at home look like for you?
We try to make early service at Friendship-West in Oak Cliff and after we’ll grab brunch. I love Sundays when I can just be at home, chilling in my kitchen with the kids running around.

What’s your favorite way to spend date night?
I love a date night dinner at Truluck’s or IVY Kitchen in Addison. We’re big movie buffs. We like to go to LOOK Cinemas.

What three words would your best friend use to describe you?
She’s a big fan of mine, so she would say that I’m smart, honest and — I was going to say reliable, but that makes me sound like FedEx — fun.