By Pamela Weinsaft (New York City)
On June 30th, Goldman Sachs’ second annual “Brokering Change: A Wall Street Multicultural Women’s Exchange” brought together women of color from firms on the Street to discuss the current financial crisis, the future of financial services, and the role that multicultural women leaders can play in the recovery and beyond.
The conference began with an entertaining keynote address by Goldman Sachs’ Global Treasurer Liz Beshel, who shared the story of the impact of the financial crisis on Goldman and her role in Goldman’s response. She talked of the two crucial weekends last September, saying that Goldman convened a team on the first weekend of the 13th and 14th to deal with what was going on “in other people’s firms”, i.e., Merrill Lynch and Lehman. “I spent the weekend trying to figure out what was happening in our industry while writing my daughter’s applications for private school in NYC. The juggling of work and life in action,” she laughed.
The second weekend was different, however, because this time she had to deal with growing concerns about Goldman. “Going from five investment banks to two is a pretty major reduction in an industry. So we reconvened, this time to deal with the crisis for us. I viewed the concerns as unwarranted at the time because we had way more cash than we thought we needed for the risk on our books and we were actually making money.” Beshel continued, “But then our stock price started declining rapidly and you heard people on CNBC talking about our impeding demise, and some people started to believe it.”
The firm had three teams involved: strategy, equity and liquidity; Beshel was on all three teams. She joked, “I spent most of the weekend on the elevator going from one team meeting to another, which was great because part of the time I was hyperventilating in fear between meetings.”
As to lessons learned from the crisis and Goldman’s response, Beshel said, “You have to understand, focus on and preserve what is most important to you. For us our independence as a firm is very important… if you know what is really important you try to find a solution that preserves that.” She also stressed the value of diversity and teamwork. “We had people from all over the firm – every business, different experiences and backgrounds – and that is what I think is the critical and differentiating factor was for us: the power of the team.” She acknowledged the importance of creativity and communication as well.
Beshel concluded her remarks with some thoughts on work/life balance, saying: “Your career is a marathon not a sprint. You’ve got to love [your job] but you’ve got to find ways to escape it because you can’t keep that level of intensity all the time. You‘ve got to find something that is important to you outside of work. You cannot have it all. You’ve got to prioritize ruthlessly in both your personal and professional life.”
In the “Becoming a Breakthrough Leader” session that followed, the panel of successful of successful multicultural women leaders and entrepreneurs, including the managing director of RLJ Equity Partners Daphne Dufresne and Executive Director of Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management Kimberley Hatchett, spoke of the seminal moments in their careers, the importance of risk taking and how their multicultural backgrounds have helped them be better businesswomen and leaders.
Said panelist Ida Liu, the head of the Fashion, Retail and Consumer Group at Citi Private Bank, of the lessons learned from her parents who emigrated from China via Taiwan with only $20 dollars in their pockets: “I grew up in a family environment where I saw an extreme work ethic. I saw what it meant to work really hard. I saw my parents fail several times but I saw them pick themselves up and continue to pursue and persist and do well eventually. That has left such a critical imprinting on my work philosophy: the persistence, the not being afraid to fail and learning from mistakes. A lot of women are less inclined to take risks. And I would say you have to take calculated risks, because the worst that could happen is that you fail. But then learn from your failures. I’ve failed so many times that I can’t even tell you, but each time I fail, it makes me a stronger person and I take a away a valuable lesson that goes into my job on a daily basis.” Panelist Maria Teresa Alvarez Canida, President of Taplin, Canida and Habacht added: “My dad was a lawyer in Cuba but had to start over again when he came to the States, painting railroad cars. But my parents taught me that hard work is the greatest equalizer in the world…we all experience prejudice but don’t use that as an excuse. If you do a good job, people can’t keep you down.”
In another breakout session, “The Changing Landscape of Financial Services,” panelists from Goldman, Deloitte, and JP Morgan stressed the importance of seizing the opportunities that are presented by the current financial crisis. Wendy Cai-Lee, the managing director of the China Services Group at Deloitte, said that her group used the interest in China to the firm’s advantage, capitalizing on this bright spot in the middle of the financial crisis. “China was the single topic we could get in front of our clients so we really leveraged that to get in there and work out some strategic issues at a broader level beyond China. We definitely used it as a door opener to expand our business.” Panel moderator Michele Docharty of the Equities Division at Goldman said that the economic crisis gave her a chance to shine internally as well. “The day that Lehman filed for bankruptcy was a crystallizing day for me. I had such a great opportunity to strut my stuff because it was an opportunity…to show I can be cool and calm and we can work through this.” Nicole Nunag, a vice president at JP Morgan Chase added, “There are a lot of unknowns but if you can take one piece of that and be an expert [by, for example, knowing the three people you can call to get the information or knowing the tier one capital issues of all your competitors], it will make you stand out.”
The day “closed with a bang” with an inspiring closing keynote given by Carla Harris, managing director at Morgan Stanley. Sharing many of her “pearls”—her “hard earned and hard learned lessons”—from her 20+ years on Wall Street, Harris told the crowd, “If you remember nothing else I tell you today, remember that everybody sitting in this room, right where you are, no matter how you might be feeling today, you have power. And the trick is recognizing the power you have and being able to articulate it unabashedly and fearlessly.”
“Everybody who is sitting in the seat today is sitting there because you were the best person for the job. The day you got the job somebody else didn’t get it. So the trick in maximizing your success in whatever seat you are sitting…is to be the best person you can be and continue to improve upon that person [who got the job], not to suppress that person. Being who you really are is exerting your power.”
She added: “The secret is that most people aren’t comfortable in their own skin…so you will naturally have people gravitate towards you if you are comfortable and confident in who you are. That doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes. That doesn’t mean you won’t hit a wall. But the trick, whenever you make a mistake or hit a wall, is to take the blessin’ from the lesson and move on.”