By Cathie Ericson
In the workplace, many women don’t know the right questions to ask, but the more questions you ask, the more you’ll learn. “At first it might seem negative to others, but it won’t be long before people will value that spirit and curiosity,” Bickford says.
She has benefited from her exposure to cultures, having lived all over the world. “When someone would say, ‘this is the way it should be,’ I would wonder why and in the end, these questions would have great strategic value. By asking questions, I saw opportunities that others didn’t,” she notes.
Finding Ageless and Timeless Career Success
You could call Bickford’s successful career path a bit delayed. She didn’t have her first paying job until she was 38, and at age 70, is still working. “I just got a late start to work,” she says, noting that she had two daughters by the age of 23, so she spent the first years of her adult life as a housewife and volunteer. She took those roles very seriously, working at them as though they were a paying job, which helped pave the way for her future political and corporate life.
Her first paying job was in the Koch Administration, and she then went to the consumer services group of Citibank, where she says she got fired within nine months. As part of the bank’s outplacement services, she took a battery of tests, and found out she was a natural-born investment banker. She was transferred to Citibank investment banking group, left to join Dillon Read’s investment bank and when Dillon Read was bought by Travelers she was designated a key employee. With her bonus she opened up her own firm in asset securitization which at the time was a new industry.
She sold her firm to Rothschild in 1994 and joined them at Rothschild Inc. as the only female global partner in the United States. She cites this as one of the professional achievements she’s most proud of since investment banking is a tough field and very few women have excelled in the business. In fact, she was so focused on helping other women get promoted that she was dubbed “Head Girl” for her efforts.
In 2009, she retired, and, as she says, “flunked retirement.”
She returned to the investment world at GenSpring, where she created the women in wealth educational template for wealthy families across the United States. After, she left to join Evercore Wealth Management where she became a partner and wealth advisor. She says:
“If they recognize your talent, and feel you can make a contribution to the organization, it doesn’t matter your age,”
Volunteer Work Guides Her Path
Over the years, she has also served on more than 30 non-profit boards. This volunteer work in partnership with her business has been good for her mental health and also for building friendships and networking opportunities. She noted, “being the only woman in many work situations can be lonely, and my volunteer work helped, as much of it was focused around helping women.”
One notable appointment was serving as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the founder of the Council’s task force studying the role of women in economic and political development in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. “Women are well suited for conflict resolution and stabilizing communities in the developing world,” she notes.
Helping Women Achieve Their Goals – Financial and Work-Related
Currently, at Evercore Wealth Management, she enjoys working with families. Since women live longer than men, often much longer, they try to prepare women to manage their finances so they will know the right questions to ask their financial advisor and only select products that will help women achieve their goals. Women will control 14 trillion dollars of assets in the near-term future. “A revolution is occurring, but most people are unaware that women tend to use their money to achieve their goals,” Bickford says. Whereas a man will typically ask about performance, a woman has never asked that in the first meeting. She says they want to know about risk, if they can maintain their lifestyles and what they can do with the money around goals and values.
Whereas she’s found that in the investment banking world men don’t see women as the “man for the job,” the wealth management industry is much more user-friendly for women, as a lot of the natural skills women possess, such as insight and nurturing, dovetail well with the skills needed. At Evercore, they have several female portfolio managers and wealth advisors. Bickford notes, “it isn’t lonely at all.”
They also excel in dealing with complicated issues, such as how money is equated with love, especially in blended families, making it an excellent field for women to pursue.
Overseeing “Paradigm for Parity”
This December, Bickford helped launch this coalition, which she says is part of the continuum in bringing men and women together who are committed to achieving a new norm in corporate leadership. While the ideas for unearthing unconscious bias and sponsorship aren’t new, her group is going about it a new way, she says. They have developed a five-point action plan to hand to a CEO or diversity officer and when implemented concurrently, the steps will reinforce each other.
“If they commit to implement the points all at once, they will see vast progress in a thorny situation,” she says.
The steering committee boasts CEOs from many top companies and Bickford says the fact that the plan and the measurements for success were developed by people within the very companies that need the change will help ensure it will succeed.
Bickford says that her husband has been a guiding force in her success. “When your work life is complicated, you need someone who can support you and help you find the right balance between business and family.” She adds that those who don’t find that in their family can turn to their network to find those people they can trust.