WOWS 2010: Innovation, Ideas, and Action

innovationBy Natalie Sabia (New York City)

Good conversation, interesting people, warm energy and high powered women are all ways to describe Deutsche Bank’s 16th Annual Women on Wall Street Conference, which is dedicated to the courageous women who represent great power and achievements. Sold out in a matter of 15 minutes, The Women on Wall Street conference drew in over 2,000 women from all areas of the financial services industry to learn about “innovation” and how other women have paved their path to success. “This night is all about empowering, supporting and mentoring women,” said Donna Milrod, Head of Regional Oversight and Strategy, Americas at Deutsche Bank.

The Women on Wall Street network (WOWS) is apart of Deutsche Bank’s diversity strategy, which seeks to develop, retain and motivate diverse talent. Even with a total of 16,000 corporate and investment bank employees, Deutsche Bank has managed to sponsor this conference for members of the financial and broader business communities every year since 1995 and have grown the attendance from just 200 to over 2000.

Kicking off the night, Anshu Jain, Head of Corporate and Investment Bank at Deutsche Bank, highlighted just how strong Deutsche Bank’s view is towards having a diverse population within the firm. Currently, with 138 different nationalities, Jain detailed how important this event is in order to continue the expansion of gender diversity. “Financial innovation is created in many ways,” said Jain. “We should continue to have effortless diversity.”

Hosting a panel of true executive and entrepreneurial women, Sharon Hall, Partner & Co-founder of the Diversity Practice, asked several insightful questions such as what innovation means to them and also what advice that they have learned along the way.

“Innovation means offering creative solutions and collaboration; not being afraid to take risks,” said Reshma Saujani, Attorney & Former Deputy General Counsel at Fortress Investment Group.

“Assessing risk, while having a sense of optimism,” said Alexandra Lebenthal, CEO, Alexandra & James Co. and Lebenthal & Company.

Succeeding Despite Tough Times

Despite the different backgrounds of these women, they all carried very similar traits. Whether they didn’t take no for an answer, learned the real virtue of patience, or gained a very knowledgeable mentor, they all created successful names for themselves, while also living through failure at times.

“Never take no for an answer,” said Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, Founder and Chief Merchandiser, Gilt Groupe. Though they seem like simplistic words, all the messages revolved around the notion that no matter how many times you fail or become discouraged, they too encountered different levels of the bottom, but always found a way back to the top.

Some of the important tips of advice were actually ideas we’ve always heard about, including finding a mentor and allowing them to teach you the way. Whether it is a man or a female, bring them into your world and just learn from them. “Find the women in your firm who love what they do,” said Wilson.

Julie Richardson, Head of New York Office & Managing Director at Providence Equity Partners, brought up an important point about following your intuition. There will be moments where you are trying to defend the risk you might take, but only you will be able to gauge what is best for you. “Moments of insanity turn into moments of courage,” said Richardson.

Despite the hardships one can go through either in their financial career or through owning their own business, you must regain your focus and just continue on. “Sometimes you will have to pick yourself up again,” said Louise Kitchen, Global Head of Commodities Structuring & Sales at Deutsche Bank. “Sometimes, it’s just not that bad.”

Innovation – Enthusiasm and Flexibility

Throughout the night, the word “financial innovation” blossomed into several meanings. It was described as taking an approach to failure with enthusiasm, the flexibility to adapt to changes in the industry, including a new world of technology and also the passion and energy that lures you towards success.

Closing Speakers for the night included Nancy Lublin, CEO, & Founder of Dress for Success and Roelfien Kuijpers, Global Head of DB Advisors, Deutsche Asset Management. Lublin touched on the fact that small innovations too matter and sometimes the smaller ideas can lead to something big. “Celebrate small innovations,” she said.

Every woman in attendance for the evening walked away with at least one great idea and the feeling of empowerment to work towards something they wish to achieve. The women on the panel were a great portrayal of bright and talented women, yet down to earth and humble.

“This was such an inspirational event,” said Eboni Dawkins, an attendee from Janney Montgomery Scott.