Voice of Experience: Barbara Novick, Vice Chairman, BlackRock

barbaranovickBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

Right now, Barbara Novick, Vice Chairman at BlackRock, is focused energetically on change. “Companies and industries change, and very often change is an opportunity.”

Novick’s responsibilities have changed too – after twenty years working on the client side at BlackRock, she’s recently taken a new role leading public policy and government relations for the firm – and she feels strongly that change is leading to opportunities in this area too.

As the markets and regulatory structures evolve rapidly, she explained, people must be able to not only deal with change, but embrace it. She said, “Embracing change is probably the most important thing someone can do in their career, along with trying to turn that change into opportunity.”

Building a Business

Novick graduated from Cornell Arts and Sciences in 1981 and went to work at Morgan Stanley, as part of an internal consulting group. “I ended up working in the mortgage area, and learned I really liked it,” she recalled. Novick moved to First Boston, which, she said, was a leader in mortgages. Working in a product development group, her team handled products like CMOs and pass throughs.

“Then a group of us decided to leave and form BlackRock,” she continued, “And I’ve been here ever since.”

“We were a start-up at one point – I still joke about being a little boutique. Of course, over the years we outgrew that definition,” she said with a laugh. For her first twenty years at the firm, Novick ran the client side of BlackRock – business development, marketing, and client service. “Then three years ago, I decided to retire,” she said. “And I found myself staying on in a different role.”

Now Novick leads the firm’s efforts in government relations and public policy. “It’s something we never needed before – and many firms don’t realize they need now,” she said. “However, we believe the voice of investors is critical to achieving good capital markets outcomes.”

Novick said her proudest professional accomplishment is building a business. “Growing a firm is like having an extra child,” she said. “But I’m most proud of building the business that we did – and that includes attracting and retaining both clients and employees.”

Leading Public Policy and Government Relations

Currently, Novick said she is particularly energized by her new role at BlackRock, leading public policy. “It’s important, given what happened in the financial crisis to take a step back and figure out what needs to be fixed, without throwing everything out.”

That means considering the ramifications of every new proposal. She continued, “It means thinking about the new regulations in a holistic way. It means evaluating each one individually, and then evaluating the series of them that impact each specific segment of the market. We need to understand how the new rules will interact with one another.”

“The new rules can be constructive and positive – but the issues are just so many. In the asset management industry, there were virtually no issues before. Now there are easily a list of fifteen to twenty issues, and each of those has a sublist. It’s a dramatic change,” she explained.

“There are so many issues – and so few buyside firms are focused on them – and so few clients are focused on them as well. It’s important to make sure we’re looking at the issues before it’s too late. And that’s how we’ve established ourselves – as the voice of the investor, thinking about various proposals from the investor standpoint.”

Embracing Change

Individuals starting a career in the asset management industry have to embrace change, Novick said. “We’re living in a rapidly changing world, dealing with globalization, mergers, changes in the markets, and we have to be able to handle that.”

Senior women should be aware of the same, she said. “Sometimes people get comfortable – they like the way it is and don’t want to change. But the more you can embrace change and look for a way to succeed dynamically, the more successful you can be.”

She continued, “Of course, that’s assuming a foundation of integrity and hard work! But embracing change – that’s the special sauce. And it’s the same in any industry.”

Women at BlackRock

“When I was first starting out, I wish I had known how to set boundaries – to juggle it all,” said the mother of three. “It takes a lot of juggling, but I have a great support system, starting with my husband of 30 years. We just made it all work.”

One key way to make it work is learning from others and networking.

“Many years ago, I tried to start a women at BlackRock initiative. But this was very difficult to do without HR and other kinds of support.”

She continued, “But today, we have a group within HR dedicated to diversity, and our WIN (Women’s Initiative Network) group hosts a series of programs for people – not just women – around the firm to learn about leadership and network.”

She added, “In addition, we’ve tried to give people more opportunities for visibility.”

In Her Personal Time

Novick said she feels strongly about the importance of giving back and spends time each semester teaching a guest lecture at Cornell, as well as serving on the boards of CityHarvest and the Westchester Jewish Center, and coaching youth soccer in Westchester. “I try to give back and stay involved,” she explained.

“I’m also very passionate about my family. My husband and I have three great kids and we travel together as a family. We’ve gone to all sorts of wonderful places and shared many experiences,” she said.