By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
Deborah Kaye, Managing Director and Senior Managing Counsel at the Bank of New York Mellon has spent her career focused on her goals and aiming for very high level of success – without taking no for an answer.
Kaye, who was also the founder of the Financial Women’s Association‘s legal and accounting committee said, “To quote Chief Justice Judith Kaye, for whom I used to work previously, women need to be ‘self-propellers.’ This means that women need to proactively ask for the next assignment, promotion, or opportunity and just go for it.”
She continued, “Regardless of your level, don’t believe anyone who says you can’t do something, or you shouldn’t try. Believe instead, you’re going to go for that… whether it’s Chief Justice, or head of a division. Strive to reach whatever goals you set for yourself.”
Getting to the Next Level – A Career in Law
Kaye’s curiosity with the law began indirectly. Originally, she had planned to go to medical school, with the aspiration of joining her father, an internationally acclaimed cosmetic surgeon. But, while majoring in Economics at Trinity College in Hartford, Kaye began volunteering with the Legal Aid Society. She recalled, “I realized that my interest in diagnosing problems and helping people, and really changing their lives could also be applied to the legal profession. As a result, I changed my educational and career tracks – much to my father’s chagrin. However, he eventually came around.”
After graduating from University of Pennsylvania Law School, Kaye worked as an associate at a couple of mid-sized law firms. She explained, “I became hooked on representing my corporate clients, seeing them implement my advice and helping them get to the next level. As a young associate, this was tremendously rewarding, and I realized that what I enjoyed most about this process was the sense that I was a valuable part of a business team.”
Following her work as an associate, Kaye accepted a job as in-house legal counsel for Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company, which is now part of JP Morgan Chase. She said, “Thanks to a new regulatory landscape, banks were inching towards many financial fields previously untapped to them, and I was lucky enough to build a broad resume to match.”
Then, in 2005, she got a call from a friend who was serving as the General Counsel of The Bank of New York. He asked her to join his new team. Kaye agreed to make the move, and shortly thereafter the bank merged with Mellon Financial.
Kaye continued, “I’ve now been at BNY Mellon for almost six years, overseeing the legal issues involving our broker-dealer BNY Mellon Capital Markets; our futures clearing firm, BNY Mellon Clearing; Liquidity DIRECT, a liquidity platform; Structured Credit Connections, a platform to auction illiquid securities, as well as some new product offerings that haven’t hit the market yet.”
“I love helping to build new products. Frequently in the legal profession, we are only called upon when there is a problem. Yet working in new products offers me the opportunity to help envision it and work with multiple divisions, while still negotiating the maze of the financial regulations,” she explained.
She continued, “I am particularly interested in the global transformation of financial markets and how this will impact all of our lives. This is an exceedingly complex undertaking, and being part of this monumental effort is a once in a lifetime opportunity to study so many aspects concurrently.”
Kaye was also recently appointed to head up the newly created BNY Mellon Global Legal Department Pro Bono Committee. She said, “I’ve been involved in pro bono and charity work for over 20 years, so the opportunity to put the power of a global organization with skilled attorneys all over the world to assist others is truly rewarding for me. My team is just beginning to explore global partnering opportunities with various legal groups and law firms in New York City, Pittsburgh, Boston, London and Hong Kong.”
“We expect to select our first projects soon,” she added.
The Benefits of Being Naïve
Kaye said that her career achievement she is most proud of revolves around her refusal to give up in the face of adversity. She explained, “I was raised in the Deep South, where being a determined girl was not looked upon favorably. Yet, I never let ‘no, you can’t do that’ become my mantra.”
She continued, “I’m extremely proud of always pushing myself to take on the ‘stretch’ assignments, and being naïve enough to believe I could always learn a new legal field or simply start something when there was a need and that no one else had started, without being hung up on the barriers, the work, or all the steps I’d have to take to do whatever [I envisioned].”
For example, Kaye recalled, when banks were pushing into the securities world, she started a small lunch group with other lawyers in her field – “the first of many groups I’ve started,” she said. “The group was designed discuss potential issues with new rules – mostly because I needed others to talk to. But then all of a sudden, some people from the Federal Reserve around the country were referring their banking constituents to ‘The Deborah Kaye Lunch Group’ to discuss common concerns.”
Kaye said she has now done the same thing repeatedly through industry trade groups, like SIFMA, at her workplace and through The Financial Women’s Association. Kaye’s most recent project is the FWA’s new Men’s Alliance, and before that she was instrumental in forming the FWA’s lawyers and accountants committee (The Professional Services Liaison Committee).
Advice for Women in Law – Be Mindful of Politics
Kaye advised women new to the workforce to remember the give-and-take nature of professional relationships. She said, “When I was starting out, I wish I knew that each time you ask something from someone or need help, it’s a trade. I think men know this more intuitively – I had to learn it.”
She continued, “Before I ask someone for something, I try to think about what I can do for them. If I don’t know, I ask outright, ‘How may I help you?’ I’ve often received more from the other side than I expected thanks to this attitude.”
Once women have honed their technical skills, they should focus on building the political skills they need to get ahead, she said. “The best advice I can give to young women is to first be extremely competent. Then work on your political skills,” Kaye explained.
“At a certain level, it’s not what you know, but being able to work with teams of people with multiple skill sets and differing agendas. At some point, your companies are paying you to ‘get it done’ rather than for the substantive skills you’ve mastered, and you can’t do that alone.”
She added, “Also, when you’ve done something well, don’t keep your head down, thinking they’ll notice. In comparison to men, I’ve witnessed many more women waiting for acknowledgment rather than trumpeting their success. Be certain to tell the right people about your accomplishments, but with grace, style and tact.”
Kaye also advised women of any level to relish the lessons they learn from missteps. She said, “Go beyond just learning from your mistakes – really value them. Take some time to replay them – as painful as that might be – then visualize how you will handle them differently in the future. This way, you’ll be prepared when a similar situation comes up – as it always does!”
She continued, “To quote Wynton Marsalis, the internationally acclaimed jazz musician/educator, ‘If you ain’t making mistakes, you ain’t trying.’”
Women at BNY Mellon
Another challenge for women, she said, is quite simply staying in the profession. She explained, “What I’ve witnessed is that the preliminary barrier facing women in our industry is simply this: not staying in the field. Due to the competing constraints of balancing a family and a career, many women opt out. However, staying in the game, even part time, is a plus.”
BNY Mellon has several initiates to help keep women in the game, including its Women’s Initiative Network, or WIN, which according to Kaye, is currently working to set up chapters globally. She said, “WIN offers women the opportunity to discuss real-life issues, and it supports women in improving themselves and their professional positions. It’s another opportunity to gain management skills.”
Externally, Kaye said, “I particularly enjoyed a recent trip to Brazil with the Financial Women’s Association, connecting with the Brazilian BNY Mellon WIN women to compare notes, and providing input to help them develop their women’s networks.”
Kaye said she is also looking forward to working with her BNY Mellon colleagues on another planned event in 2011 with the FWA Men’s Alliance. “We’re calling it ‘The Fearless Sales Factor,’ and its purpose is to help men and women sell across genders.”
In Her Personal Time
Outside work, Kaye is passionate about traveling – because of a fascinating experience she had as a student. She said, “While at the London School of Economics, I was lucky enough to hitch a ride on a British tour to The People’s Republic of China in 1976. I was the only US woman selected to go – we were there at the time of the Tiananmen Incident in April 1976.”
She continued, “Based on this experience, I developed a life-long fascination and penchant for traveling to countries with macroeconomic structures different from Western countries – Cuba, Russia, Poland, Brazil – and the impact these economies have on people’s lives, especially women.”