She has been described as one of the “rare honest voices on Wall Street” by The Daily Beast, and credited with the turnaround of troubled firms Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch & Co. So we at Wharton were privileged to hear from Sallie Krawcheck this week, at an event organized by the General Management Club, WWIB and Authors@Wharton. At the event, Krawcheck shared insightful stories about her career on Wall Street, and the lessons she has carried away from it.
Krawcheck was an engaging speaker and full of anecdotes. She shared both her failures with the audience, as well as her successes. As a stay-at-home mother at age 29, for example, she faced numerous rejections attempting to reenter the workforce, before landing a position as an equity research analyst at Sanford Bernstein. Three years later, however, as Director of their equity research group, she took a controversial position on the Goldman Sachs IPO, resulting in her promotion to CEO.
As CEO of Smith Barney, Krawcheck faced opposition while campaigning for partial refunds to clients that had lost money as a result of investment advice the firm provided. Though she lost her job over the matter, she chose to reframe the situation, thinking instead how lucky she was to have the opportunities she did. Another CEO insight she provided was that white wine can go a long way in providing comfort after a setback!
Krawcheck believes leadership is not innate. It is honed making tough decisions with imperfect information. When asked about her leadership secrets, she stressed the importance of hard work and seeking constant feedback. Corporate America often paints leaders as infallible. Krawcheck, however, encourages a healthy degree of insecurity to remain approachable and be a more credible leader.
She also had some specific advice for women. She found it hard to get candid feedback from male managers when they assumed women were too emotional to handle criticism. So, in her opinion, how could women overcome this? She believes dressing impeccably is a gateway to gaining respect from colleagues. In her experience, a sloppy appearance guarantees failure. Additionally, by maintaining a narrower emotional range than her male counterparts, Krawcheck feels she established herself as someone receptive to critical feedback. She also credits maintaining a sense of humor and keeping up to date on common topics such as sports for her success on male-dominated Wall Street.
Krawcheck believes that women, by nature, are talkative and encourages us to “Focus on the Headline” at work. Eliminate apologies and extraneous information, and start and end with good news as that is what people take away. Further, if you do not ask you will not receive – Krawcheck believes the pay gap between men and women is driven by women’s inability to ask for a raise while male counterparts have less concern voicing desired compensation. By outlining effort and asking for commensurate compensation right from day one, women can move towards closing the pay gap.
With each failure in her life, Krawcheck saw an opportunity to reinvent herself. This is something that she is doing once more with her recent acquisition of 85 Broads, a 30,000-strong women’s networking organization. We, at Wharton, look forward to seeing if her values and lessons will translate into the organization, and if so, what that will mean for women in th