Voice of Experience: Dayle Davison, Managing Director, Citi Private Bank

By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

Dayle Davison, Managing Director at Citi Private Bank, spoke enthusiastically about the importance of networking – particularly for African American professionals.

“Are there challenges for African Americans and women in this industry?” Davison asked. “Sure. But I don’t think they are as prevalent as they might have been in the past. We have come a long way.”

“When I first joined the bank, women wore a uniform – nondescript suits with weird ties. Now we are able to wear clothing that doesn’t try to hide the fact that we’re women,” she continued. “But I think the biggest barrier is the absence of an historical network for women, and definitely for African Americans.”

She referred to a recent Fortune Magazine interview with Bob Johnson, the founder of BET. “He speaks very broadly about building strategic partnerships and your brand identity, but also, he discusses challenges that African Americans in business have faced in breaking through barriers.”

“It comes down to that historical network we haven’t had,” she continued, “but we’re building it, and I feel very good about the future.”

Career in Banking

Davison earned her MBA at Washington University in St. Louis. She credits the Consortium for Graduate Studies in Management, an organization committed to increasing the representation of African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans in business schools and corporate management, with enabling her to attend. “I would not be sitting at this desk today without the Consortium,” she said.

After graduating, she got an offer from Citibank, and entered the bank’s Credit Training Program. “The energy was incredible and I was thrilled to get to come to New York.”

But soon after she began, the area was reorganized. “It was an early lesson about managing change and a lesson learned hard,” she recalled. Some of Davison’s peers had moved to Chemical Bank, and she joined them in the Bank’s Multinational Division calling on large corporate clients.

Over the years, Chemical Bank became Manufacturers Bank, and Manufacturers Bank became part of JP Morgan, and Davison gained an important international perspective in her work. “But I was still hankering for Citibank,” she said with a laugh. “Citi employed some of the smartest people and you felt valued for your skills.”

She joined Citi’s Corporate Bank in Boston under Bob Parr, described by Davison as an exceptional banker. She later returned to New York and joined a corporate team that specialized in Retail Clients. “I developed an appreciation and affinity for the space, particularly the real estate component of the business. The idea of developing an expertise was really appealing to me.”

Soon, Davison became pregnant as the unit was being reorganized. Upon her return from pregnancy leave, she joined the Private Bank. “I thought it would just be a stopping ground for me, that I’d just be here briefly. But I’ve never looked back. This is so much more fulfilling than anything else that I’ve done professionally.”

That fulfillment comes from many places, she explained, but one of the big reasons is the relationships she has been able to build with the clients of the Private Bank. “The Private Bank gives you the opportunity to work with some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the country. They are the visionaries and we get to work with them. I’ve been enriched as a person by serving in this function.”

Currently Davison is working on a number of projects, including raising capital for a notable real estate client. “It’s exciting because it involves other areas of the bank like municipal securities and the investment bank – everyone is driving toward the same goal.”

She is also interested in the regulatory changes facing the financial services industry. “It’s just becoming clear what the implications are,” she explained. “It’s hard to know how these things will ripple out.”

Lessons Learned

Davison shared two of her proudest career experiences. “The first one is sobering. When the world was reeling during the financial crisis, I was proudest of the way we served our clients.”

She recalled ensuring that all members of her team could speak with confidence about the FDIC protections and the Bank’s commitment to the being there for its clients. “I made sure our team knew the protections from the FDIC inside and out. They could say it in their sleep.” For those clients who remained concerned, the team worked to assure that their assets were handled in keeping with their wishes.

She continued, “We only lost one client who has since come back.”

The second achievement she shared was working with other divisions throughout Citi to orchestrate a $1 billion interest rate swap, the largest executed in the Private Bank. “It demonstrated the breadth of the institution,” she explained.

When it comes to career lessons, Davison continued, she wishes she had learned earlier that “people are people.”

She explained, “You assume because you’re in a business environment that decisions are made on a purely rational basis. But there are always egos and emotions involved, and that’s something I wish I had understood earlier in my career.”

The second lesson she mentioned was the importance of being proactive. “The CEO of the Private Bank in North America Peter Charrington sent out a missive to everyone once, and he used the words ‘carpe diem.’ And I thought, what if I had seized the day when I was younger, rather than just assuming that if I worked hard, good things would just come to me? I think the lesson is that you have to build your own moments.”

Advice for Women in Banking

Davison encouraged young women to specialize early in their careers. “Find something you can throw yourself into. One reason is that it opens up networks. I focus on real estate clients and that begets more real estate clients. Having a brand people identify you with can serve you well.”

Of course, she continued, “You still have to be fluid.” Because the industry changes so rapidly, it’s important to stay flexible and relevant.

She also advised younger women to learn “the art of selling.” She explained, “You’re selling all of the time whether you’re in sales or not. And there’s an art to it. It’s about listening and believing in what you’re doing, and speaking with conviction. You have to understand that people have drivers and being successful means tapping into those drivers to get to something you both want.”

Davison encouraged her peers to get involved in mentoring. “Share your knowledge with others, whether formally or informally,” she said. “If you see someone who is bright and hardworking, put your arm around them.”

Networking and Mentoring

Davison is involved in many activities and networks around diversity. She praised Citi’s African Heritage Network for keeping its programming fresh. “For these networks to work, you have to keep it interesting. They brought in the Tuskegee Airmen, for example, and I thought that was special.”

She has also been involved with the Harlem YMCA’s Black Achievers in Industry.

“But my personal joy, something I’m doing locally begins with my son,” she continued. “He attended New York’s Stuyvesant High School. I started having conversations with him and his friends about economics.”

It started with a question about what a budget is, she explained, and then it evolved into sessions on what financial statements are, the difference between the debt and the deficit, and how businesses are run. “We’ve started making it more formal, and it has given me such joy to teach these young teenagers how to think about the financial world around them.”

In Her Personal Time

“My philanthropy is family-oriented,” Davison said. “My daughter and I are involved with the Riverside Church food pantry. Not everyone is as lucky as we have been, and I think we need to understand the life stories of others. This comes from talking to others.”

She continued, “Every child needs to know ‘but for the grace of God.’ I wouldn’t call that philanthropy as much as a conversation.”

Davison is also a budding carpenter. “I love making furniture,” she said. “My father loved carpentry and I wish I had joined him in those ventures.”

“It allows you to see something through from beginning to end, to create something visible. Although my work doesn’t always stand up to deep scrutiny,” she said with a laugh, “it’s something I enjoy.”