Mentor yourself by setting goals


DOES KAREN Peetz, the most powerful woman on Wall Street, have time to share her insights on making it to the top? Slotting in an interview at 7am while waiting to board a flight in Rome, what she has to say makes clear she is committed to making the time when it comes to helping women to succeed.

The vice-chair and chief executive of financial markets and treasury services at BNY Mellon, responsible for more than 40 per cent of the company’s revenue, was last year named American Banker’s “Most Powerful Woman in Banking”.

Peetz credits mentoring with helping her to thrive. “When I look back now on my 30 years in banking, I was fortunate that, at every stage, someone, and it was always a man, sort of took an interest in me and opened doors,” the Pennsylvania State University science graduate says.

“It was also someone who had the power to create opportunities for me and put me in positions that helped me very much.”

Peetz joined BNY Mellon in 1998, poached from JPMorgan Chase, where she held a variety of sales and management positions, including one that saw her uproot her husband and two children for an assignment in London.

Progressively expanding her responsibilities at BNY Mellon, the team she now leads serves clients globally and includes 17,000 employees in 76 cities, 40 of which are outside her US base.

Now a mentor herself to men and women rising through the ranks of BNY Mellon, a company that employs more than 1,700 people in Ireland, Peetz says women, in particular, need to be frank and unambiguous about their goals.

“You should be very open about your interests and your ambitions so you can offset any natural tendency to think you wouldn’t want to do this or that because you have two kids and you’re not interested. I think you have to be quite explicit.”

She says that, when it comes to finding a mentor, it should be someone you admire. “You can initiate the relationship with them. I’m often asked to provide advice and mentor different people, so I think you shouldn’t be bashful to ask for help.”

But when you find a mentor, she says, be prepared to hear the truth. It’s the more honest, coaching-type feedback that’s critical, she says.

“It tends to be the more subtle things that can make or break you, particularly when you get to more senior levels. Asking for that feedback and getting whoever it is you want to give it to you comfortable with the fact that you really want to hear it, that you’ll accept it and that you’ll incorporate it, is the first trick.”

Thanking the four mentors who guided her career in her acceptance speech at the 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking award ceremony last year, Peetz was specific about how they had coached her.

Of the BNY Mellon chief executive who poached her from JPMorgan Chase, she said: “He took the time to teach me communication techniques that helped me to be more effective.”

Another mentor “challenged me to step up to my power and take more responsibility”.

A third coached her on the “nuances of values-based leadership” while another said, “Whatever you do Karen, don’t get defensive”.

Women also need to make time to network to be successful, she says. “I think it’s a common problem that women believe that if they keep their head down and keep working, they’ll be noticed and they’ll be rewarded,” she says.

“You have to have excellent performance as a prerequisite for moving or advancing, but equally, if you don’t have your head up, looking around and trying to create opportunities, then they may not find you either.”

Citing powerful women such as Christine Lagarde and Hilary Clinton, Peetz told fellow nominees: “I think buying into the mindset that there are external barriers holding women back serves only to hold women back, and I’m not convinced these so-called barriers still hold.”

She told the room the pathways to achievement in business were no longer a secret and shared her shortlist of four.

The first is to “be where the money is”. “Delivering revenue is measurable. Measurable results are the currency of success.”

The second is to get sales experience to help you understand the voice of the client. The third is to take risks – something she learned on moving her family to London to take up an assignment.

“Our kids didn’t like it there for the first six months and they let me know every single day – but we stuck with it and it turned out to be the best experience of our lives.”

Speaking from a noisy airport lounge in Rome, Peetz reiterates a final tip: “Setting goals is definitely the single biggest factor to whatever success I’ve had.

“I was pretty hard on myself, still am, to say, what should I be able to accomplish personally and professionally this year, what’s realistic, but also, if I haven’t done it, if I haven’t got that next promotion or whatever, what am I going to do about it?”

When it comes to work/life balance, she says perfect balance is a myth and it’s more about ebb and flow. She advises sitting down with your family so that everyone can share their goals and become aware of how to help each other succeed.

To peals of laughter at the ceremony, Peetz said visitors were best to avoid her household over Christmas unless they were ready to share the households goals.

“Call us a little performance-orientated,” she joked, “but every new year we each set personal, family and career goals and then we also rate each other on how we did last year.” She says it’s about focusing on the possibilities and not on the barriers, adding being clear with your family and yourself is key.

“Let go of any guilt or ambivalence. Just get clear with your spouse and your family. Say ‘This is what I want to do, I’m going to incorporate everybody’s needs, I’m not going to do this selfishly’ – but not being held back by your own ambivalence, I think that’s a very important thing for women to do as early as possible so they don’t waste time in different stages where the competition is gaining on them.”

She encourages all women in positions of power to share their skills through mentoring. In her own company there are 50 mentoring and networking chapters for women around the globe, including one in Dublin, spearheaded by WXN (Women’s Executive Network) member and managing director of BNY Fund Services Ireland, Ann Fogarty.

“We can absolutely point to women doing better in the company as a result of this,” says Peetz.

Her message to women is clear: “Let’s focus on using our influence to help others succeed and dispense with old thinking that no longer serves us.”

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