Future CEO of Citigroup gives advice to the next generation of global leaders

An exclusive Q&A with Ms. Jane Fraser

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Mr. Kyle Grillot

Ms. Jane Fraser will be the first ever woman to lead a U.S. financial institution.

By Natalie Dosmond, Sacred Heart Greenwich

The King Street Chronicle had an exclusive interview with Ms. Jane Fraser, President of Citigroup, on her journey to becoming the first woman to lead a major financial institution in the United States.  Ms. Fraser will become the bank’s chief executive officer (CEO) in February, succeeding the current CEO Mr. Michael Corbat.

Born in St Andrews, Scotland, Ms. Fraser attended Cambridge University and Harvard Business School.  She joined Citigroup in 2004 after working in financial services and global strategy at McKinsey & Company for ten years.  In April 2015, she became CEO of Citigroup Latin America and was responsible for operations in 24 countries.  Most notably, Fortune magazine included Ms. Fraser on its “Most Powerful Women in Business” list and American Banker named her the “Number 1 Woman to Watch” in 2014 and 2015.

Ms. Fraser, who will not have any female counterparts among the ten largest U.S. banks when she becomes Citi’s CEO, imparts to Sacred Heart Greenwich students the importance of supporting each other and celebrating each other’s accomplishments.  She highlights that young women must believe in themselves and their capabilities, especially when they enter a male-dominated field.  Young women who are on the path to become global leaders, she says, should push and challenge themselves and not feel confined in terms of their goals and careers.  Read the Q&A with senior Natalie Dosmond, Editor-in-Chief, below.

What was your experience when you started working as a woman in finance, a historically male-dominated field? What do you think was most instrumental in your success in the field?

When I started my career in M&A at Goldman Sachs, there were very few women in the industry and we had to pave our own paths. For me, that meant pushing myself out of my comfort zone.  I am the type of person who likes to be 120% prepared for every opportunity before I take it on.  As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve learned that it’s important to fight those instincts. When faced with a challenge, sometimes you need to ask yourself, “What do I have to lose?”  Taking a stretch project can really help “up your game.”  In fact, the more stretch roles I take on, the more hooked I get!

By the way, while Wall Street has been one of the sectors slower to embrace women, it looks a lot different than it did when I started my career in the 1980s.  Today, as I look at my female colleagues and women across the industry, it is clear to me that we have the pipeline of talented women we need to increase representation across the industry and across business more generally.  Still, there is more to do. To continue this progress, our industry needs to be transparent about our numbers and stay accountable.

“When faced with a challenge, sometimes you need to ask yourself, ‘What do I have to lose?’”

— Ms. Jane Fraser

What have you learned from working in different countries? How has having a global perspective impacted the way that you approach your career?

Early in my career, a mentor told me to think of the skills and expertise I need for the position I want and seek those out rather than focusing on climbing the “ladder.”  That has served me well.  In my 16 years at Citi, I have had the privilege of working in many different businesses and regions at this extraordinary firm.  It has helped me create an awesome list of places to go on holiday that I was slowly working my way through before the pandemic!  When I joined the firm, I was based in New York, where I helped set strategy for the company in the wake of the financial crisis.  Then as CEO of Citi Private Bank in London, I oversaw the part of our bank dedicated to supporting the world’s wealthiest individuals, families and law firms as it grew to be truly global.  Prior to my current role, I experienced a regional perspective as CEO of Latin America, managing through several crises and learning what it means to put people at the center of everything.  Though you won’t find that path mapped out for you in any formal career guide, I can tell you I often draw on these diverse experiences today.  As you think about your futures, I encourage you all to focus less on following a pre-defined model.  Instead, be thoughtful about your end goal and be open-minded about how you can build the skills you need to get there.

Citigroup announced September 10 that Ms. Jane Fraser would be the bank’s next chief executive, making her the first woman to ever lead a Wall Street bank.  Courtesy of Mr. Julian Restrepo

What advice do you have for young women and girls who are striving to become the future generation of leaders?

Support each other.  I’ve drawn remarkable strength from my women colleagues and peers. We celebrate each other’s accomplishments, we push each other to reach the top and most of all we support each other in our journeys.  Furthermore, I truly believe we should not shy away from setting our own path and style as women.  We can bring a different, more effective quality to leadership roles.  Personally I find that as a woman, I am much more comfortable showing more empathy and vulnerability in how I manage than many of my male colleagues feel comfortable doing.  I don’t think that’s in any way soft or weaker.  I actually think it’s much more powerful. It certainly doesn’t get in the way of taking tough, bold or decisive decisions.  So support each other and be true to yourself!

Sacred Heart Greenwich’s mission is based on five Goals and Criteria, one of them being “a social awareness that impels to action.” Are there any specific organizations or community service opportunities that are close to your heart?

It is incredibly important to me that Citi is a bank with brains and a soul.  I know companies like Citi occupy positions of great economic responsibility and we’ve tried to use our influence to confront inequity in all its forms, whether it’s leading the conversation on equal pay for women, tackling systemic racism in financial services or advocating for environmental justice.  This comes to life both in our core business activities as well as in our philanthropy.  It also comes to life through our colleagues who we encourage to actively give back to their communities, both through days of service as well as matching programs.  Something that has been close to my heart has been giving back to Food Bank for New York City so they can continue to keep meals on the table for a growing number of New Yorkers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You can have it all but you don’t need to have it all at once.”

— Ms. Jane Fraser

As high schoolers, we often find ourselves overwhelmed with academic, athletic, and extracurricular commitments. How do you balance work, family, and outside interests?

I often remind myself, my friends and my colleagues that nobody is superhuman.  We are all juggling countless demands on our time, and these days, amid an unprecedented pandemic, the distinction between work and home is even less defined.  There are two things I think are critically important.  The first is not being afraid to ask for help when you need it.  At Citi, I want our colleagues to know we are here for them.  We are willing to be flexible and we want to provide all the resources they need to stay emotionally, mentally and physically healthy.  Your school, your support system, your parents and your family are there for you too – I encourage you to turn to them when you need to.  My second piece of advice is remember that you have decades ahead of you.  You can have it all but you don’t need to have it all at once.  Think about your priorities and do what is best for you in the moment but know that you’ll have other opportunities to redefine those priorities as life progresses.

The King Street Chronicle thanks Ms. Jane Fraser for her contributions.

Featured Image Courtesy of Mr. Kyle Grillot

This story was originally published on King Street Chronicle on November 6, 2020.