The panelists all served on the CFA 40 Under 40 Awards Leadership Council and the event was planned to complement the 40 Under 40 Awards Celebration, held the previous evening at the Waldorf Astoria. The lunch event attracted close to 100 women from around the U.S. and from a variety of organizations, including lenders, attorneys and valuation professionals.
Bob Trojan, CEO of the Commercial Finance Association, kicked off the event with words of welcome. Kathy Bell, moderator, started the panel by asking the participants to give an overview of their “journey” to success. The theme of “things don’t always go as planned” was obvious throughout the discussion. Petro said she did not have a plan per se, but knew she wanted to be a lender early on. Her philosophy “don’t ask, don’t get” resonated with the crowd. She emphasized there must be good work behind the request, but it’s important to ask for what you want.
Muller-Girard said she asks herself a few standard questions twice a year: “Is this fun?” “Am I challenged?” “Am I being well utilized?” “Do I respect the people I work with?” in order to take stock of her career at the moment.
Jarrett advised knowing your strengths and leveraging them. “Find people to supplement your weaknesses,” she said. She also mentioned building a network, both formal and informal, so people who are “in the room” during the important discussions know who you are and what you are capable of.
Huh listed standing out in the crowd as a challenge. She advised that you have to go above and beyond just being good at your job in order to achieve this. She also said your plan should not focus on getting promoted as much as on learning and growing.
Petro emphasized the importance of having a sponsor, which differs from a mentor. In a New York Times op-ed article, Sylvia Ann Hewlett explained the difference between sponsors and mentors this way: “Mentors act as a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on, offering advice as needed and support and guidance as requested; they expect very little in return. Sponsors, in contrast, are much more vested in their protégés, offering guidance and critical feedback because they believe in them.”
“The reason that I am in asset-based lending is that I had a sponsor who recruited me from banking into asset-based lending. It was one of the most important thing that happened to me in my career,” she said.
The other panelists agreed that sponsors are an invaluable asset, especially the more senior you become in your career, which increases the emphasis on soft skills. Huh said a couple key sponsors can fast track your career and stressed that being a sponsor also has its advantages. “We launched a future leaders program, made up of millennials who also act as my ‘advisory council’. It is critical to get fresh ideas and advice outside of your immediate leadership team.
Jarrett told the audience she has what she calls an “advisory panel” comprised of both men and women. She bounces ideas and situations off of them on a regular basis. “Seeing the same situation through different lenses can be helpful,” she said.
Bell asked the panel what were the biggest challenges they faced when they first stepped into a leadership role. Jarrett said, “Your immediate inclination as a leader is to want everyone to do things the way you did it…so you need to learn your role is to make each team member the best they can be.”
“Initially we focus on developing ourselves as leaders, but as you grow, leadership is no longer about you it’s about your team and it’s about your business. Your business and how good your team is become a reflection of how good you are as a leader,” said Huh.
“I think you need to be positive and even. And blaming any member of your team for a mistake should be avoided,” said Petro. She explained that the Wells Fargo culture discourages the “blame game”. “It’s a hard rule to conform to, but it’s certainly effective,” she said.
Muller-Girard said it’s essential as a leader to recognize the whole team and avoid an “us vs. them” mentality in terms of different roles within the department.
Bell asked how the leaders communicate with their direct reports on a day-to-day basis. Petro listed structured meetings she holds regularly and explained if there is something out of the ordinary, team members will inform her in between the scheduled meetings. Huh said it is all about balance and knowing how much to delegate. “It isn’t always easy to develop a strong enough team so you can concentrate on strategy,” Huh said. She also holds structured meetings, including one-on-ones so that she can truly get to know her team members. “This is a business of people,” she pointed out.
Michele Ocejo is editor-in-chief of The Secured Lender. She is also the CFA staff liaison for the Women in Commercial Finance Committee. If you are interested in joining the Committee, please contact her firstname.lastname@example.org.