Voice of Experience: Kerone Vatel, Managing Director, Risk Division, Goldman Sachs

KeroneBy Cathie Ericson

“When you have a seat at the table, use it,” advises Goldman Sachs’ Kerone Vatel. “In my 20s I often had an opportunity to interact with executives as part of strategic conversations, but I was reluctant to share my point of view. I know now that in each of those moments I missed an opportunity to influence the organization. I was more focused on my neuroses rather than on the value I could add, but recognizing this has helped to sharpen my focus and my approach in the workplace.”

Adventures in Careers: From Engineering to Business Success

Kerone studied chemical engineering at MIT, a field she pursued and was interested in as her father had been an engineer. While she was drawn to the way engineers are trained to review, evaluate and solve problems, she ultimately realized that rather than publishing research in academic journals – a career many of her classmates were pursuing – she was motivated to use her skills to disrupt existing processes.

She parlayed that interest into a career in business, initially seeking a private equity role. However, just three days before she was supposed to begin her new position, came “Career Stumbling Block Number One,” as the firm let go her entire analyst group.

Undaunted, Kerone sought the counsel of MIT’s career department, which directed her towards Capital One. The company was pioneering a novel approach to leveraging analytics and data, which interested her. Kerone joined as an analyst in the business development group, where she leveraged her math and coding skills to help grow the portfolio of low-risk credit card assets. She also attributes her six and a half years at Capital One with providing her the platform to understand strategy and analyze consumer needs.

Kerone soon relocated to New York, where her husband worked on Wall Street. They were starting a family, which made her commute to Virginia difficult. While on maternity leave, her husband was supportive and encouraged her to consider every option. She soon realized that she couldn’t leave her baby and commute up and down the East Coast, and subsequently made the difficult decision to leave Capital One.

Soon the time was right to investigate new options, and she applied for a role in Derivatives Operations Risk at Goldman Sachs, which she assumed would be a 9- to-5 type job. While her new position proved to be far more immersive, she enjoyed the challenge of a new role, and then decided to pivot her career even further, leveraging her experience in writing code. She found analytics projects to “tinker with,” as she describes it. Under the leadership of a female managing director, she helped to improve efficiencies and highlight high-risk issues in the Operations Division.

From there she moved into a new role, where her team partnered with the Strategist group, many of whom had quantum math and science backgrounds. She eventually transferred to the Operational Risk group in a firmwide role, where she was brought in to support strategy and help develop a more centralized construct when thinking about the full range of operational risk exposure, from technology issues to natural disasters. It’s a position she finds particularly fascinating as she has helped grow the team significantly and developed strong partnerships and collaborations as the firm reframed its approach to Operational Risk management.

Looking ahead, Kerone is excited about Goldman Sachs’ launch into the consumer market, and the opportunity to increase purchasing power and bring the firm’s best-in-class fiduciary services to Main Street.

Words of Wisdom Gleaned Along the Way – And Passed Along

Kerone has learned a number of valuable lessons during her journey; chief among them is to bring your whole self to work. “I felt relatively unsure of myself until I hit my mid-30s and always tried to morph myself into the styles of the people around me,” she says. “Today, I just focus on being my best self and no longer feel pressure to adapt a style that is foreign to me.”

For example, she recently had a colleague comment that she looked particularly serious one morning. “I’d had a tough morning with the kids, which I shared with my colleague. It’s ok to bring yourself to work and to show vulnerability, but it’s very important to provide team members with the context for what’s happening and why.”

In a similar vein, Kerone recommends that women never worry alone. She believes that it is important to leverage the collective ideas and history of the organization to ensure success. When she’s asked to take on a difficult new project, she will always say “yes,” but now realizes the importance of soliciting advice upfront to tease out pitfalls and key enablers and to collect diverse points of view to shape the solution. “Earlier in my career, I kept my head down and worked extremely long hours – in retrospect, I wish that I had harnessed the power of the broader group or advocated for more resources.”

And finally, her work at Goldman Sachs has cemented the important lesson of, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, bring others with you.” Being named managing director was a defining moment as she reflected on the people who had mentored and sponsored her, in addition to junior colleagues from whom she’d learned along the way. “In that moment when I learned I was being named a managing director, it was so clear that everything is due to the effort of a group, all of us pushing things through together by working toward common goals.”

Kerone currently serves as the Risk Division sponsor for Goldman Sachs’ Women’s Career Strategies Initiative (WCSI), a group whose emphasis is on advocating for women who are on the cusp of being promoted to vice president. The purpose is to help women form connections throughout the firm and in their divisions, as well as learn the rules of the road from senior professionals.

“It’s important to me to help younger people get a head start as they begin their careers,” she says.

Taking Time For Herself and Her Family

Last year, Kerone committed to taking at least one short vacation each month to recharge, which she has enjoyed. She also recently took up snowboarding, a big step after a skiing accident early in her 20s.

But most importantly, Kerone savors the time she spends with her husband and her children, ages 11 and 7, gardening with others on their block in Bedford Stuyvesant. They have replanted trees that had been ravaged by storms and brightened the neighborhood with flowers, efforts that paid off after recently being named “The Greenest Block in Brooklyn.”