Kathleen Hegenbart remembers the moment, five months ago, that proved a turning point for her. As is often the case in real life, it was not a dramatic office showdown. It was lunch. On a Wednesday.

Hegenbart, then a vice president at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, met a long-time colleague, and when talk turned to the financial world, the word "independent" was spoken. As a 26-year veteran, Hegenbart had never seriously entertained the thought of going independent. But this time, she knew that she wanted to make a change after a mega merger reshaped her employer in 2009.

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