05/08/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
HER HEART STILL POUNDS, SHE SAYS, EVERY TIME SHE APPEARS ON Wall $treet Week with Louis Rukeyser. Alison Deans, Citigroup's director of development and a regular panelist on the PBS show since 1995, is the first to admit that she suffers from stage fright. She also is aware that she makes other hearts pound for different reasons—and she's not too happy about it. "I'm thought of as cute," concedes Deans, 39, who at 5'1" takes special care not to sell herself short. "With CEOs and senior executives, their first instinct is to not take me seriously. So I always avoid being cutesy or jokey. I'm very direct." More important, she's on the money, according to Rukeyser. "It's Alison's beautiful IQ we admire most around here," he says. "No matter how successful she's become, she hasn't conformed to the stiff Wall Street standard," adds fellow panelist Mary Farrell, a Paine Webber investment strategist who recommended Deans for the show. "She's remained beautiful and natural and sticks to her own style." The daughter of writer Joan Acari and John Deans, a professor of architecture at the City College of New York, Deans grew up in Rockland County, N.Y., and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983. Before she became the fair-haired maiden of financial forecasts—"I've had men telling me I look like Nicole Kidman
," she admits—Deans was just another corporate commoner. "When I was building my career," she says, "I wasn't getting enough sleep or taking the time to work out." She changed her habits and learned to apply her financial wisdom to her personal portfolio, which includes Neutrogena moisturizer and Maybelline's Great Lash mascara. "It's cheap, but it's the best!" she exclaims. Even though the unmarried Deans is at her desk by 7:30 a.m., she visits the gym near her Greenwich Village apartment four times a week. She burns more calories walking around Manhattan, where, she says, she gets her share of catcalls from construction workers. But they don't bother her. "I bought a Walkman," says Deans. "When you wear a Walkman, you're oblivious. Ignorance is bliss."