From Wall Street executive to entrepreneur, Sallie Krawcheck has navigated the rough waters of career success, failure and reinvention – all in the public eye. Now as chair of Ellevate and CEO of Ellevest, she’s focused on helping women grow professionally and financially. Sallie shared her career experiences and advice with her signature humor at Adobe’s Sales Conference women’s breakfast a few weeks ago.
With a subtle southern accent, Sallie kicked off by talking about the moment when she realized the real importance of diversity in business.
The Horror of “Group Think”
“I headed up diversity programs … I checked the box, but I’m not sure I really bought it,” she said. But that all changed when the financial crisis hit in 2008.
“What I saw on Wall Street was ‘group think,’” she explained. When it came to supporting risky subprime mortgage investments she said there was a false comfort of agreement. The leaders around the table were all so similar there was no one to question the decisions. Banking leaders were all white, male, math majors taking the same vacations. They all had the same perspective.
“Diversity breaks up group think,” Sallie exclaimed. “Having a clash of ideas – that’s the way real innovation happens. Diverse teams outperform smarter teams.”
Women Don’t Need to Act Like a Man to Succeed
One of Sallie’s mantras is “investing in women is smart business,” and she admitted she gets frustrated with advice that women need to act like a man to succeed. She listed the unique qualities women bring to business, including: relationship focus, risk awareness and ability to make a fallback plan, managing complexity and looking holistically, learning orientation and long-term focus.
Even while discussing the challenges of women in the workplace, she kept it light hearted. For instance, while on a business trip in Brazil she lamented about being sleep deprived and still waking up an hour early to get ready in the morning before a critical meeting while her male counterparts rolled out of bed 15 minutes beforehand. “The toughest moment in business: hair and makeup,” she joked.
To advance women in the workplace, she had four pieces of advice:
- Have the courageous conversation. When you hear people make a sexist comment or setting a double standard, call them on it.
- Invest time in yourself for networking and feedback. When she was reorganized out of Bank of America, she called every board member and asked what she could have done better. They said “no one was fighting for you, Sallie.” That’s when she created her own personal board of directors – people who would fight for her and give feedback.
- Invest time for others. Mentor others and you’ll be surprised what you get back. She explained how she learned about social media from her mentees who were in their 20s.
- Put your money where your mouth is. There’s power in money and she encourage the women in the room to only do business with companies that value women and treat them well.
Failure is Not Fatal
While Sallie ascended to CEO or CFO positions at several top banks and received recognition as one of the most successful women in financial services, she also had some very public failures. She recalled the experience of being fired and making the cover of the Wall Street Journal – twice. She admitted there were some dark days at first, but she kept it in perspective. “My worst day is better than a lot of people’s best day.”
To reinvent herself she took two key steps: 1. she reached out to her network and set up lunches; 2. she did some soul searching, getting up early in the morning and writing in her journal about what she liked and what she could let go of. “Sometimes your stomach knows before your head,” she said.
What emerged from that process was Sallie’s true passion to help women succeed professionally and financially. That brought her to where she is today, chairing the Ellevate professional women’s network and preparing to launch Ellevest a new venture that aims to get women to make smart investments.
In closing the session, an audience member asked, “What was the biggest accomplishment in your career?” Even with her exciting venture, reinvention and earlier banking success she simply said, “I hope it’s still to come.”