Voice of Experience: Marilyn McDonald; Director of Product Management Technical, Global Digital & Cloud Technology, Citi

marilyn-mcdonald-featuredBy Cathie Ericson

“Do not wait to be asked to the table. If you have value to add, then invite yourself,” says Citi’s Marilyn McDonald, a motto she has followed throughout her career at numerous “tables.” Along the way, she has also lived the advice she now offers others: “Be authentic. You don’t need to be exactly like someone else, be they male or female, to succeed because the parts that make you authentic are the parts that will help you be successful.”

Building Her Career In Many Disparate Industries

“Non-traditional” is the word that McDonald uses to describe her career. She put herself through college while working full time – community college first and then Arizona State University. At 22 she drove to Northern California in order to learn to snowboard and work at a ski resort, spending the subsequent five years “following the snow” from California to Australia and New Zealand. Then she backpacked around Europe until she ran out of money. “These experiences really helped broaden my view of how culture and people influence behavior,” McDonald says.

As she contemplated career options, she took a correspondence course in computer programming until “I realized I was terrible at it because I couldn’t sit still long enough,” she laughs. Around that time she moved to New Zealand with her husband and young son, where she worked in enterprise software implementation, putting software into manufacturing businesses and writing reports for the business.

Soon after, she transitioned to working for an advertising agency which she says began her love affair with building great customer experiences. “I worked on some fabulous accounts and even made some pitches for big corporations. These experiences were some of my most foundational, especially the experience I gained building cross-media campaigns to reach consumers across more than one channel,” she says.

When McDonald returned to the U.S., she worked in marketing and advertising with what she calls “some of the best and brightest minds.” Around this stage she was offered a role at a very large online retailer as a product manager. “I believe marketing is about understanding your customers’ behaviors, and product development is about using that understanding to build the right products – so almost two sides of the same coin,” she notes, citing this as an extremely rewarding and challenging part of her career working with teams that launched a number of firsts for the company.

Subsequently, she gravitated to the financial services industry, where she met her first mentor. “He saw potential in me and gave me greater and greater levels of responsibility – running not just the marketing arm, but events, the web development team, PR and finally all of the customer experience touch points,” she says.

Next McDonald received an opportunity to help create a technology culture inside a bank, the biggest and most rewarding challenge of her career. “Citi has been around for over 200 years, and has focused on technology for many decades. Citi understands it must evolve in order to compete,” she says.

Since change needed to happen at many levels – people, technology and culture — it was exactly the type of monumental challenge that she loves, working with a team she admires.

“My proudest moments have always been around building healthy cultures where people can thrive and develop. I am happiest when someone is able to advance in their career due to an environment or an opportunity we created together,” she says.

Currently there are many trends that will change the face of the industry, particularly as fintech firms are starting to get their banking licenses, which is a big game changer for traditional banks. Now, she says, it is about providing the best possible experience for the customer, including a focus on safety and security, all of which will drive innovation in the financial services space.

Supporting Diversity Efforts

McDonald finds barriers for women in financial services to be similar to many other industries; however, she finds things are improving on a daily basis across the board. “It is heartening to see the increasing number of women in all levels, but particularly in more senior positions where they can be role models and provide opportunities for others,” she notes.

She is active in Citi Women, a corporate-wide diversity effort designed to unlock the combined potential of women and Citi by inspiring progress, leading change and driving success. The program aims to attract, develop, advance and retain female talent at all levels within the company.

In addition, for the first time, she and Citi colleagues attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing as an organization this year, and included a number of women from Citi’s technology groups to learn, network and share.

One of the founding members of a corporate women’s group, McDonald says she has been “lucky enough to be in some pretty brilliant circles.” She even helped found an Oval (Only Very Awesome Ladies) organization that is still in existence today in Seattle.

Interests as Varied as Her Career

McDonald loves to read, garden, bake and remodel houses. “My son is now 20 so he is taking less of my mental bandwidth these days, but instead, our lives now revolve around our enormous and very hairy dog and two cats.” New to the New Jersey area and just getting settled, she is looking forward to finding more ways to give back to my community.