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Risk, Rhyme and Success: A Conversation with Sallie Krawcheck

By Natalie Sabia (New York City)Wall Street

As part of the 2009 Henry Kaufman Financial History & Practices Lecture/Symposia Series, the Museum of American Finance recently held “A Conversation with Sallie Krawcheck.” In front of an audience, Fortune senior editor-at-large, Carol Loomis, caught up with Ms. Krawcheck to discuss the current economy and her new position with Bank of America as Head of Global Wealth and Investment Management.

“We thought that Sallie would be an exciting addition to our Lecture Series,” said Jeanne Baker Driscoll, Director of Development at the Museum of American Finance. “She is a big part of our Women of Wall Street Exhibit, so this was a very timely discussion.”

One of Wall Street’s most influential women, Krawcheck had a lot to say about her new role at Bank of America and also her own advice to the world of finance. “Risk is worth taking,” said Krawcheck in regard to her new role. “You have to play to win, not to lo]ose.”

In front of a room filled with a wide range of spectators including museum board members, employees of Merrill Lynch, MBA students and even retail investors from Bank of America, the humble Krawcheck chuckled when challenged about former CEO Ken Lewis’s departure from Bank of America. “I have been privileged to work well with a range of people and I’ve been able to navigate well,” said Krawcheck.

Only a couple of months into her new position as president of Bank of America Global Wealth Management & Investment Management, Krawcheck is ready to get back to business. Despite the current economic turmoil, she feels relieved we that didn’t fail completely and that it’s time to move forward. “I am fortunate to have this opportunity,” said Krawcheck. “I think we need to help investors get back on track.”

When asked about the move from Citi, where she was CEO and chairman of Citi Global Wealth Management and CEO and Chairman of Smith Barney, she explained that although the industry is going through a major change, she still finds a way to get back to the basics of doing business. “The culture is very similar from Citi to Bank of America, same regulators and same business, but the rhyme is different,” said Krawcheck.

Coming from a research background, Krawcheck reminisced about how she got her career started. After graduating college in 1987, she headed to New York City to work for Salomon Brothers and later joined Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Although it was a male-dominated industry, similar to a “men’s locker room,” Krawcheck loved every minute of it and worked even harder. “I’ll always remember the day my father told me that New York City was too dangerous,” said Krawcheck. “So of course, I turned around and got on the next flight there.”

As for the challenge in front of her, Krawcheck remains optimistic that the economy is getting back on track. Though the typical job of a “broker” has gone from just buying and selling stocks to becoming more of a wealth manager, Krawcheck is pushing for financial advisors to practice more asset allocation. “I always advise not to invest in anything you don’t understand,” said Krawcheck.

Proving to her audience that she is, in fact, one of the most talented women on Wall Street, the down-to-earth Krawcheck gave a very important piece of advice by which she abides. “If you tend to listen more than talk, you tend to be more successful,” said Krawcheck.