How a young girl from Canada with no connections to Wall Street grew up to be a partner at Goldman Sachs

goldmanAs published on LinkedIn on December 7th.

I was the first female trader to be named partner at Goldman Sachs. I was also, in 1996, the youngest woman, but I hope that someone has since surpassed me in that regard. I was at the time 32 years old, recently married, and a year away from giving birth to my first child. In total, I worked at Goldman Sachs for 14 years, and even though I left in 2002, in many ways it feels like yesterday. It was there that my passion for women’s inclusion and leadership was ignited, and it led me to my second first; the first President of Women Moving Millions Inc., the only community in the world of women funding women at the million plus level. However, the focus of this article will be my Goldman experience, as without that, the following would likely not have been possible.

So how did I get there? How did I come to accomplish that first? How did a young girl from small town Canada with no connections to Wall Street grow up to be a partner at Goldman Sachs? This is my story.

I grew up in Kelowna, BC, Canada, at the time a small town located a 5-6 hour drive from Vancouver. My dad ran a grocery store and I worked concession at the local hockey rink as good Canadian kids are wont to do. I didn’t know that my life would eventually lead me to New York City and Goldman Sachs, but I did what I could to open as many doors for my future as I could. I worked hard in school, graduating at the top of my class academically, and I honed my work ethic through my training as a bodybuilder, eventually becoming Miss Junior Canada at the age of 16. This was in part thanks to my boyfriend at the time, Mario, who introduced me to Mr. C’s Fitness Centre. Never underestimate the power of who you choose to date as a factor that may affect your future!

After two years of local college, I was accepted to the University of British Columbia, and worked as hard as I could to become one of the top students in my program. This in turn led me to be one of the first students to be accepted into a grounding breaking portfolio management program where students were given the opportunity to gain first hand experience in money management by managing endowment funds. I graduated with a degree in finance, and I was the first undergraduate student from UBC to be recruited by Goldman Sachs in 1988. I am convinced that being a champion body-builder had a lot to do with it. I guess the powers that be thought that if I could hold my own with all the power lifters in the gym, I could hold my own on the trading floor.

Looking back, it’s clear to me now that my path to Wall Street was paved with many firsts in my quest to open as many doors as possible. I am fully aware that a lot of my success had to do with timing and good luck. I was fortunate to be attending UBC right when they decided to start the portfolio management program, and I was fortunate to have incredible mentors, sponsors, and support throughout my career, but I do attribute most of my success to the choices I made along the way. I made the decision (on the advice of a family member) to go into finance. I made the decision to apply for the portfolio management program and was rigorous in my pursuit of acceptance. I made the decision to apply to Goldman Sachs, and when faced with the prospect of a permanent position at a firm in Canada with a much better starting pay package and a better title verses a two year one at Goldman, I still chose Goldman. This was once again thanks to the great advice of a mentor who told me, “Better to take a lower job at a better firm, then a higher job at a worse one.” Oh, and of course, I made the decision to date Mario. So in 1988, I packed my bags and headed to New York City.

Now, I think a lot about privilege and how that plays out in a person’s success, but back then, I did not see myself as a person with a particular privilege. Did I have a wonderfully supportive family? Yes I did. But neither one of my parents attended University, nor did they guide me forward in the way I am doing for my children. Money wise we were middle class, and both my parents always worked full time to provide for our family. There are many forms of privilege besides economic and social of course, and include race and gender, and we simply must acknowledge the role that all of these types of privilege play if our goal is to equalize opportunity.

What I did learn to do very early on was work very hard. I also learned that you have to do your best to create opportunities for yourself, and when they are presented to you, you have to make the most of them. For whatever reason, I have always been a YES person, and that has made a big difference on my journey to being a first.

But there are also the decisions that influence your life that have everything to do with the decisions that people make about you. Goldman could have easily hired someone else. My application to the portfolio management program could have been rejected. So could have my application to UBC for that matter. Unfortunately, our careers are often dependent on the decisions others make about you, and those can often be the hardest to overcome. This came to a head for me in 1994.

I started working at Goldman Sachs in 1988 and I made partner in 1996; a remarkable career trajectory for someone from small town Canada, but it wasn’t an uneventful journey. In 1993(ish), I almost left Goldman for another firm because I felt like my talent and skills were not being recognized or appreciated, nor was I being fairly compensated relative to my peers. That said, I was not actively doing anything about it. Maybe it was pride, or stupidity, but rather than proactively having a conversation with my direct manager, I went out and got an offer from another firm. When I went in to resign to my most senior manager at the time, an amazing man named Mike Mortara, he refused to accept it. Instead, he took me too lunch. There, finally, I said all the things I should have said months earlier. I shared my plans for building my business, my desire to take on more responsibility, my ambition to become partner one day and more. We agreed that I would stay, but I looked him in the eye and made him promise me he would be my sponsor. He even signed a napkin. Sure I had to do my part, but he was now accountable for doing his.

The few lessons embedded in that experience were the following: one, don’t expect your manager to read your mind. By doing great work you earn the right to have your aspirations heard and supported. Do your part to communicate them. Two, don’t assume people will sponsor you, ask for them to sponsor you. And three, sometimes it does take a bid away or another job offer for the company you are at to pay you what you are worth.

Being the first at anything is a huge responsibility, and it’s something that I take very seriously. You become a role model whether you like it or not, and my hope was always that many more talented people, and especially more talented women, would follow in my footsteps. While still at Goldman, I was a champion of junior talent, took on many roles within the firm’s diversity initiatives, and actively recruited and mentored female talent, particularly in trading. It was my job, as a first, and with a platform, to not only make the challenges I faced visible to management, but to shine a light on the experiences of others. Once that door gets opened, it not only has to stay open, but become a much bigger door. Can I look back and say that I did all I could at the time to help create a culture of meritocracy and inclusion, and in doing so help other women? Yes. And I challenge all firsts to ask themselves the same question. Are you doing what you can to support others that are following a similar path?

For myself, I chose to leave the field of finance in 2002, and it is not without occasional regret. I often wonder what if I stayed, perhaps not at Goldman, but somewhere else, what other firsts might I have achieved? (My most read post on the subject) There has never been a woman CEO of one of the big, US based, financial services firms. Nor has there been a female Treasury Secretary. But there have been two former Goldman partners that have served in that role, and now with the consideration of Steven Mnuchin, a potential third. Steven was in fact my direct manager for many years in his role as head of the mortgage department. But I did go on to be another first, and it was a first I could have in no way dreamed of back at the time I left Goldman Sachs. The gift that Goldman gave me turned out to not be the titles or promotions, but rather the fact that my time there helped me zero in on the issues I care most about in the world, and the financial resources to do something about them.

In 2012, I became the first President and CEO of Women Moving Millions Inc.(WMM), a global philanthropy network dedicated to moving unprecedented resources to the advancement of women and girls. To date, WMM members have collectively donated over a billion dollars towards causes that benefit women and girls; another first. WMM was founded by two incredible visionaries, Swanee and Helen LaKelly Hunt, and my work was to carry us from campaign to community. Now, we are about to undertake another first by creating a holistic philanthropic leadership curriculum, the first of its kind. Not only will this be an offering to our members, but we hope more broadly, as we believe that more fully supporting women to be their most powerful and engaged selves is a powerful strategy for making the world a better place.

So while this is an article, and a series, about firsts, I hope the main take-away from all the stories shared is the inspiration, and perhaps a few tips, that will serve you on your journey to reach your own potential. It is certainly true that neither success nor happiness is or should be measured by this criteria, but by many other factors. That said, without firsts, we may never know what is possible, and what it took to achieve something very special.

I invite you to check out the platform MAKERS, which is filled with the stories of amazing women who have achieved many different types of firsts. Just a few months ago my story was added to the collection and can be viewed here.

Finally, I would be remise if I didn’t acknowledge that being the first at something wouldn’t be possible for me personally if it wasn’t for the incredible network of support that I have in my life. I am unbelievably fortunate and grateful to have so many truly amazing people in my life helping me along this journey, and I couldn’t do the work I do without them. In your quest to be the first, I hope you find the support you need and the courage to surround yourself with positive influences. Whatever your goals in life, I encourage you to pursue your dreams, know that the path won’t be easy, but do it anyway. Go out into the world and be the first. We need trailblazers now more than ever.

Photos in order of appearance. With colleagues while at Goldman Sachs in the 1990s, my mom and dad 1970s, Women Moving Millions team, and lastly, three generations of Hoffman women.

 

 

Gender Equality in Finance? Nope. But Times Are Changing.

BloombergOriginally published on LinkedIn influencers on June 17th, 2016.

It’s been three years since I had the honour of being invited to join the LinkedIn publishing platform as an Influencer, and since then I have written nearly 80 articles on a wide range of topics, including finance, philanthropy, the film industry, and job advice. If you have been a loyal reader of mine, you know that I have written about all of these topics through the perspective of a gender lens, and more specifically shining a light on women. My purpose in life is to help our world become more gender balanced, and that work will continue until we achieve gender parity across all industries and issue areas. Ambitious, yes, but it is my passion in life and I truly love my work.

Another passion of mine is the financial services industry, and I love it when these two passions, finance and women, converge. Like many industries, women’s representation in the top levels of the world’s largest and leading financial firms leaves much to be desired, and in November of 2014, I used one of LinkedIn’s monthly topics to imagine where my life would have taken me had I not left Goldman Sachs in 2002. I let my imagination run wild, and envisioned a world where I helped to create the world’s leading financial services firm for women. I then laid out seven ways a firm could actually achieve this, and I detailed the many ways that this could become a reality as opposed to my rainbow coloured fantasy. To my surprise and delight, this article became my most read post, a position it still holds to this day by a wide margin, and I’d like to think that people working within the financial industry read my post and took its message to heart. But did it work?

Technically, no, because 18 months later, we seem no closer to having a great woman lead a global financial firm, achieving 30% female representation on corporate boards and 50% representation in senior positions, or increasing the amount of hedge fund assets under management by women to double digits at the very least. But a lot has changed in that time, namely the awareness of the issue and the growing number of tools designed specifically to address it. From the Bank of Montreal’s Women in Leadership Fund to Barclay’s Women in Leadership Index, financial firms appear to finally be taking to heart the mountain of research that proves that investing in gender equality is not just the morally right thing to do, but is in fact a good business decision for both the company and its customers.

One of the most recent of these tools to be unveiled is the new Bloomberg Financial Services Gender-Equality Index (BFGEI), which launched last month. The BFGEI operates as a measurement tool to determine how well companies treat their female employees, the policies in place to encourage a diverse set of people to succeed, and how well their products serve their female customers. This index encourages companies to be transparent with their data and workplace policies, and assigns a score based on their commitment to gender equality, with a 60 point score being the threshold to secure a positive rating on this issue. At the time of its May 3rd launch, 26 firms worldwide have achieved this rating, including JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, BNP Paribas, Bank of Montreal, HSBC, and Credit Suisse, although it should be noted that participation in this index was voluntary, and therefore a firm’s exclusion on the list at this point should not be meant to imply they have not passed the rating. That said, if they choose not to be involved in this process, one has to wonder why?

In fact, given the fact that this index is at present a voluntary measure, its effectiveness in promoting change has been questioned, but not by me. All I see from this development is that companies are finally waking up to the idea that investors want more from their financial firms than simply profits. Impact investing, the practice of investing in a manner that promotes social good, is not just the investment fad of the week. It is a growing movement that will only grow bigger with each passing year. Investors are voting for social change with their investing dollars, and more and more they have the tools to make informed decisions about where to invest their money.

I have always advocated that our money, whether it is invested, donated, or used to buy a tank of gas; our money is one of the greatest untapped potential for enacting social change, but without the tools to know which companies are deserving of our dollars, it will remain just that. Untapped potential. But not anymore. The Buy Up Index helps shoppers reward companies that make gender equality a priority in their operations, and just this week research group Ledbetter launched a Gender Equality Index and interactive tool. With this tool you can see a company’s gender ratio on its board and leadership team. A winner is Kering Group (Gucci) with 64% women on its board and 36% on their leadership team. A loser? Coty, which has no women on its board or leadership teams. None. Additionally organizations such the Global Fund for Women and the Women’s Funding Network help donors direct their giving dollars to nonprofit organizations that directly advance women and girls. Now, tools such as the BFGEI are helping investors to do the same. With all of these amazing resources at our disposal, I’m confident that the only direction we’re heading is forward, with true gender equality not far ahead on the horizon.

Are there companies that you support because they are aligned with your values? TWEET to #shopyourvalues

Leadership- You Take It With You

Posted on LinkedIn Influencers on August 14, 2014

Leadership. It’s a very big topic that I have been thinking about a lot lately. One of the main reasons I’ve been giving it a lot of thought is because I was asked to talk about leadership in the context of my career at Goldman Sachs and my current role as CEO of Women Moving Millions by Porsche as part of a series they are doing called, “There is no substitute for….” The videos include profiles of many amazing leaders, including Danae Ringelmann, Co-Founder of Indiegogo, Brian Spaly, CEO of Trunk Club, Ruth Zukerman, Founder of Flywheel Sports, Howard Tullman, CEO of 1871, and Kenny Dichter, Founder and CEO of Wheels Up. Needless to say, I was beyond honored to be included. The shoot was in July, and the completed video was just released.

Of course, I tried to prepare for the shoot, but the goal was to not have something scripted out, but rather for it to just be in conversation about the topic. What you see above is a few minutes of a very long conversation. Flying home that night from Los Angeles, I drifted back to so many memories from my time at Goldman, and in particular, to the work I did in those last few years that really ignited my interest in leadership development. I was part of a core team that created the first conferences for women at the firm (1990s), and I obsessively collected and shared the best articles I could find on subjects ranging from creative thinking to team building, facilitation, time management, listening, change management, and much, much more. I still have all of those articles, and I store them in a dedicated file room in my house that continues to expand on a daily basis. I think this shows commitment. My kids call me a hoarder.

photo 2[1]Back then, Goldman noted my obsession with the concept of leadership development, and I was invited to serve on the initial task force that created Pine Street, Goldman’s leadership development effort, as well as helping to hire the firm’s first Chief Learning Officer. During the course of that process, we held endless conversations with experts in the field, and I consumed massive amounts of research on the subject. Not only did I want to be a great leader, but I wanted to understand how to help others become leaders as well. It was that work that helped me to see how connected those two things really are. I don’t think you can truly be a great leader without being a great teacher and a mentor to others as they move through their own leadership journey. Looking back I realize that while doing the best I could at the time, with the knowledge and wisdom I had, I could have been so much better.

What I wish someone would have told me earlier in my career, is that leadership, and management, is something you can truly learn. You need to learn. There are skills involved with both that don’t just ‘happen’ when you get promoted. How you learn it is by watching others’ actions closely, by reading everything you can get your hands on, by putting it all into practice, and intentionally monitoring outcomes and being willing to adjust. Ideally, you put it into practice on behalf of something you are truly passionate about. (If you watch the other Porsche videos you will see some amazing examples of this.) I said in the video that for me, being a leader is not the same thing as having a big title. There were and are a lot of people with big titles who are not strong leaders, or good managers. At In fact, one of the reasons why we created Pine Street was because we realized that there were many senior member of the firm with big titles who were managing lots of people and running big business areas, but did not have the skills they needed to excel in their roles which included developing the talent underneath them. Thankfully, there were a lot of excellent ones as well. We also set up the firm’s first executive coaching program and if you have the resources, there is perhaps no better way to accelerate your development.

photo 3[1]I loved the work I did at that time so much. I could not get enough of it. Though I did not think about it like this at the time, I now see that my life’s work would become centered around helping to develop and advance women’s leadership. In fact, one of the last major projects I did at Goldman was to help launch ASCEND: A Women’s Leadership Exchange, which brought together internal women leaders at the firm with the most senior external women leaders from all areas of business that had touch points to Goldman. The year was 2002. It seems almost silly now, but one of the reasons we did it was to prove just how many women leaders there were out there and how incredible they were as leaders. Because we were inviting only the top women in the areas of money management, corporate CEOs/COOs/CFOs, wealth holders, and such, it was not until we actually put the list together that people came to see the growing power and influence of women. In other words, we were trying to prove the business case for women’s leadership. That event was a game changer for me. I realized that although deeply honored to be a senior woman, I was also tired of often being the only woman in the room, and I wanted to be in places and spaces where I could learn from amazing women leaders.

photo 1[1]When I left Goldman, I did not go on to another paid position, but instead, I began working full time in service of a bigger mission and purpose: to make the world a more just, equitable, and gender balanced place. For a while, it felt really weird to not have a big title and a team of people to work with, but over time, I came to see that you can take your leadership with you. By that, I mean that when you leave a leadership role, you can bring all of the skills and knowledge you have acquired and apply them to your next role. For me, it took a while. It was 10 years later, in 2012, that I became President and Chief Engagement Officer of Women Moving Millions. I now lead a small team of amazing staff, partner with an incredible Board of Directors, and I do work that helps to amplify the leadership of over 200 women (and a few men) who have given large gifts in support of girls and women. To do this, I often find myself digging through the piles of books, research, and notes that I was surrounded by 12 years ago, and pulling them out for current use. The great news is that women and men, but according to studies, more women then men, rank making a positive difference in the world very highly in terms of what to do with their time and money.

So I write, give speeches, host events, serve on boards, and do all that I do because I have grabbed hold of a vision for what I want the world to be like, and with everything I have, I will it forward. Does that make me a leader? I hope so. But as I said in the video, it is indeed an honor and a privilege to ever be called one.

I am feeling this leadership theme and will do some other posts on this topic including my favorite leadership books, articles and quotes. If you have suggestions for topics, please let me know.