URP Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Eubanks

Alumna Sarah Eubanks shares aspects of her career after graduating from MSU with a degree in Urban & Regional Planning.

Sarah Eubanks

Where did your MSU Urban & Regional Planning degree take you? 

The Urban Planning program prepared me first and foremost as a generalist, including how to transition from one area of focus to another, how to work with and lead teams, and the importance of political and financial considerations in every endeavor.  

Underscoring the program’s core was the belief that for one to be successful you had to be consistently learning and asking for and building support as needed.

Finally, our class had a lot of fun – and a belief and passion for the field’s mission of improving our communities. The program was a great way to start a career. I have sought and found humor and camaraderie in every opportunity since. 

From this base throughout my career, I was able to move from one area of expertise to the next every nine months or so. From art history I developed an interest in architecture, urban landscape design and new towns. From there I worked in community development then economic development to finance and executive leadership in a Wall Street firm.

Along the way I asked for help to learn new skills and expanded my knowledge of municipal to other sectors of finance: Corporate, structured, financial institutions. I asked for help from women colleagues in a predominantly male work environment. I built a woman’s support trade organization and attended Darden and the University of Michigan Business School Corporate Executive Development programs. 

Urban planning was an emerging field in the 1970s where women were gaining traction as leaders and MSU had both married student housing as well as a stellar reputation. So, my husband, daughter and I left New York and arrived in East Lansing in 1977.  

My first job while I was still in graduate school was for the now defunct Genesee/Lapeer/Shiawassee Regional Planning Commission. Besides working with HUD and the Farmers Home Administration in housing assistance allocations, I secured contracts with communities in the region for downtown development plans, historic site preservation, fiscal impact analysis of annexation proposals, energy savings analysis of municipal buildings, among others. 

Community development led to economic development opportunities for the State of Michigan in 1983. 

I headed up the Auto in Michigan Task Force during the initial stages of the auto industry plant closings in Michigan. Working with auto industry think tanks, the Big Three OEMs and suppliers, the UAW and state, federal and local officials, and the Governor’s office we secured new plants, helped emerging businesses, and tried to save existing vertically integrated auto plants.  

When I was asked to help establish the Michigan Municipal Bond Authority in 1988, I asked the State Treasurer if it was a problem that I didn’t know what a bond was. He said I’d learn.

I remembered Robert Moses saying if you’re offered a position at an authority take it given the amount of autonomy and power it will give you. I was named executive director of that Authority in 1989. The next five years was a trial by fire where I was exposed to most aspects of municipal finance.

In 1994, Standard & Poor’s (S&P) asked if I’d set up their Chicago office and expand their market and presence in the Midwest. In a company of analysts run by analysts, I asked if it a problem that I wasn’t an analyst. They said no problem, I’d learn. I was named managing director in 1997, one of the few women and non-analysts to achieve that position at that time.

In 2007, I was asked to work for S&P’s executive office in their New York Headquarters. Fortunately, I realized before that opportunity was offered to ask for executive education to understand what shareholder value meant. I worked with our offices throughout the world and helped the company’s Executive Office team through the Financial Crisis 2008/2009. I returned to Chicago as the head of all of S&P’s North American offices. I retired in 2015. 

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