By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
This week, in honor of Ada Lovelace Day, The Glass Hammer is highlighting women who have achieved high levels of success working in technology. Making role models visible is one important way we can encourage girls and young women to pursue a career in tech – and stay there!
Speaking with Augusta Sanfilippo, Managing Director of Cash Securities Operations IT at Citi, you get the feeling that she is one of those people who really loves her work. In fact, Sanfilippo says she has loved IT and investment banking since she was in college. Having grown up in Queens, she was studying business at St. John’s University. Then, she said, “I fell in love with the computer room in about 1983.”
Sanfilippo went on to major in computer science and minor in business. Since then, she’s spent her career in managing data, designing systems and processes, and implementing new ideas on Wall Street. “I just had this passion for computers,” she explained with a laugh.
Sanfilippo is also passionate about solving problems. Now leading Citi’s efforts to streamline its various cash securities operations systems after several years of mergers, she has also become enthusiastic about improving the IT space for women.
Beginning a Career on Wall Street
Sanfilippo’s first job out of college was handling data management in the New York City mayor’s office – but she quickly moved on to her first programming job at Shearson Lehman Brothers. “The mainframe work really turned me on to middle office and back office investment banking,” she recalled. “In the early ’90s, I started working on distributed platforms. I landed a role in a groundbreaking kind of group,” she explained.
“I then went over to support the trading area and I was working with this group of expert, geeky guys – and I ended up being a translator,” she continued. “Not just between the guys and the women, but between business and technology.”
“But as much as I loved supporting the trading area, I loved the back office more,” she said. Next, she took a position at Salomon Brothers. The firm took a really different approach to creating distributed platforms in the ’90s,” she explained, “breaking up the monolithic mainframe architecture into a componentized distributed set of systems allowed me to get involved in other areas of the back office. I had a great stint there – for about eight years.” Focusing on senior management issues, she was promoted to Vice President, working on larger and larger programs, and moving into supporting processing for different asset classes. “Salomon approached operations differently,” Sanfilippo explained. “Rather than throwing bodies at operations (which was how many broker dealers approached the increases in trading volumes to support), they wanted to throw automation at it.” Automation/straight-through-processing (STP) turned into a big project for her, and she learned a great deal about management, relationships and strategy building. Eventually Salomon became Salomon Smith Barney, and the office where many of her operations users were based, was closed down.
Moving the Needle
Next move was to JP Morgan. “We were building a family at the time – and it made me realize how critical it was to have a support system,” Sanfilippo said. “While at JPMorgan, I had an international assignment that required me to travel to London many times a year, as I was not in the market to move permanently – I had two babies and a house with a mortgage. But it was such an interesting assignment.”
“I got to travel once a month for 27 months working on an international settlements project,” she said “But after three and a half years, I started getting tired and knew it was time to move back to a role that kept me closer to home.
“I then moved from JP Morgan to Credit Suisse, building on top of my knowledge and expertise,” she explained. “This was 2001 and the industry was adopting STP as a key back office deliverable. It was a great project, I dug in at a global level, working to streamline the back office processes.”
She recalled, “This was the best part of my career so far. It’s great to be in a leadership position for many reasons. I loved it because you could build partnerships and foster relationships – and really make executive decisions that made a difference.”
“When you’re a leader, if you really understand the space and you build good relationships, you can really move the needle quickly. That’s what excited me.”
Loving Leadership: Networking and Managing
Sanfilippo moved into a global leadership role at Credit Suisse where she spent time traveling to Asia and the UK. “I was at CS for about four years, it was 2005, and I was on the fence again. I was getting bored ,” she said. “But the company went from Credit Suisse First Boston to Credit Suisse Group, and took on a more global management position in the industry. It was like it became another company, and tt was a different company within a year – and that meant a new job for me.”
She continued, “It was a large company, and I needed a large role. I was lucky enough to be given opportunities that placed me outside my comfort zone, delivering on projects in the FX and futures space.”
“Then in 2006, I was promoted to managing director. I was sitting on top of the world, feeling great. I was able to get involved with many corporate-wide activities.”
This next step in her career allowed her to network with others more. She explained, “I didn’t realize how critical networking was to my life until late in my career. I never really kept up old networking connections, except for previous managers I had, but you need to extend that networking ‘net’ to include other people as well, people you admire and respect and want to learn from.
“By then Credit Suisse had gotten over the hump of being one big bank, knowing we had to report to the mother ship, but continuing to execute regionally. I started getting involved with some critical grassroots efforts the firm was undertaking. Working with new college graduates and engaging the junior staff allowed us to figure out how to best work with the new joiners, the Gen X and Gen Y population that was graduating”
She continued, “I began working to empower these groups – figuring out problems and collaborating with them. I loved doing that, and I got involved in some external industry groups as well, like the Women’s Bond Club and the Financial Women’s Association. And I became more and more satisfied with what I was getting from these relationships and giving to people who could learn from my experiences.”
Women in IT
Sanfilippo also helped create the IT Women’s Council at Credit Suisse, which, at that point, had no managing director women in IT. “I wanted to give women the voice and opportunity to advance their careers. She continued, “The CIO at the time supported this council one hundred percent, and he wanted us to dig into the problems that women faced in IT and help them navigate through the corporate ladder, differently than the men did. The metrics that were gathered showed that the mid-management layer of women needed the most support. When women choose to start a family, they need support from their organization. This is the time these women suddenly disappear from the organizations.”
She continued, “We need to put in that support system. The women who need work/life balance help the most are the women in that layer. If you give them the flexibility during those years to figure out their support system, allow them to work from home, create more job-sharing opportunities, we would see fewer women leaving their corporate jobs.”
Sanfilippo began also taking on speaking engagements and getting involved with recruitment – and then after almost ten years at Credit Suisse, she decided it was time to move on. “From a systems perspective, we had kind of cleaned up a lot – and I got a little bored again,” she said.
She continued, “I’ve been at Citi for about six months now – and I love and hate the same thing about the company. It’s so big!”
“I love that it’s big, because I could see how I could have been here for twenty years – it’s like when you look out from a cliff. The amount of opportunity I see here – I haven’t been a part of any business or technology area that’s so massive,” she said.
“At the same time, I’m a control freak. I want to understand everything I can – but it’s so massive,” she said. “I’m having a good time and meeting a lot of people. We’re in a rebuilding phase, which is good news – there’s a good path here and I’m looking forward to it.”
Currently, Sanfilippo said her most challenging and exciting project is working on “unraveling” the systems created after many years of mergers at Citi. She continued, “And the possibilities of being a more global organization – finding the synergies across the time zones… It’s very exciting right now!”
In Her Spare Time
Outside work, Sanfilippo continues to be a member of the Women’s Bond Club and the Financial Women’s Association. She is also enthusiastic about her volunteer activities. “I work with a not-for-profit organization called First Robotics. There’s not enough excitement about science and technology in middle school and high school kids – and the organization provides an opportunity for high school and middle school kids to take the robotics kits, giving them six weeks to create a robot and to compete in the Robotics Games.”
Sanfilippo is serving as a judge at the upcoming Regional Competition in the New York Javits Center in March. She said, “It focuses on inner city kids – it keeps them out of trouble and challenges them as they raise the $6,000 to build, test, and transport their robot to the competition. It’s been an amazing experience for me over the past few years, and I’ve gotten my family involved as well.”
She remains involved with the Women’s Bond Club, joining the WBC College scholarship program for NYC female high school students, as well as the WBC Outreach committee. She has most recently joined Citi’s Operations & Technology (O&T) division’s Women’s Leadership Council (WLC) and enjoys co-chairing the O&T Institutional Clients Group WLC Mobility subcommittee. For the last two years, she has also been a member of the St. John’s University Advisory Board for the College of Professional Services.