Some take shelter in the safe and familiar. Others seek the scary and unknown. That's Elizabeth Connelly. She's driven by the rush of risk-taking.
It's because of her "voracious appetite for challenge," she says. That craving has helped propel the native Chicagoan to her post as director of JPMorgan Private Client Services' biggest region: the Midwest. It has the most assets under management, the most branch offices and the most advisors.
The job is the latest in a series of career moves, in almost 20 years with the firm, for which the born-leader has had minimal or no background and experience.
Reporting to her is a team of 300 advisors in 22 offices across four states -- Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Missouri -- managing assets of more than $18 billion.
Connelly, 42, has never been a financial advisor and had comparatively little experience in wealth management prior to her promotion as regional director almost two years ago.
So "to walk in and manage a team of people -- many of whom have 30 years' experience in the business -- and say, 'Now I'll evaluate you,' was a very scary prospect. But I like doing things that feel scary. I just jump in," says the Chicago-based Connelly, full of energy and speaking at a rapid clip.
Her mission: To grow the Midwest's business in every way possible.
Thus far, she has spun her early trepidation into gold. Last year the region's assets under management grew by 25 percent. Bank business is up 13 percent. The advisor team has had a 12 percent rise in head-count. And new offices have opened in Minneapolis and St. Louis.
"Liz motivates and inspires people. You want to be part of her team. She has great vision, the ability to communicate on many levels and incredibly strong client relationships," says Joseph T. Kenney, CEO of JPMorgan Private Client Services.
Since taking over, Connelly has led a major recruiting push. Eschewing head-hunters, she has even sourced candidates herself. But "these days," she is proud to say, "we have [advisors] calling us."
The accent is on team work: All advisors work in teams that include an investment advisor, private banker, fiduciary officer and wealth advisor. Compensation is salary plus bonus, which has replaced the pre-merger commission system.
"If the advisors aren't working as a team, they're not doing their job," says Connelly, who "first and foremost" looks for people with "deep intellectual curiosity. To be successful at JPMorgan, you have to be very smart and able to grasp our strategy and solutions, then articulate them clearly to clients."
Connelly's drive is exceeded only by her desire to polish off everything that's on her plate -- and more -- faster. "I keep myself running pretty hard managing competing priorities," she says. There's the demanding job, wife and mom responsibilities, and heavy involvement in community affairs.
Look to Dad for the origin of her relish for challenge: Neil F. Hartigan, chair of the World Trade Center in Chicago and a former Illinois lieutenant governor, attorney general and Chicago deputy mayor under Richard J. Daley, instilled in her the mindset that she could do anything she set out to try.
"And here I am! I had a great example of leadership in my life," she says. "My father was exceptional."
Connelly's association with JPMorgan began at First National Bank of Chicago, where she spent summers interning. Once she completed its First Scholar three-year management training program -- after picking up a bachelor's in international relations from the Georgetown School of Foreign Service and, while still a trainee, an MBA in management from Northwestern University's J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management -- she purposely sought "the scariest and least likely job [she] could potentially succeed in," she recalls.
It was currency trader -- and the start of something big. "There was no automation. It was live. You had to be aggressive, and you had to do math in your head very quickly -- I don't particularly love math. But I just had to go after that job and try it. And I loved it," she says.
After working as a foreign exchange trader in the capital markets group, she jumped over to Continental Bank, also as a currency trader. But two years later First National recruited her back to run its foreign exchange forwards, or currency swaps, desk.
By 1998, when Bank One acquired First National, it was Connelly who oversaw the merger of Banc One capital markets group. As she continued to move up, Connelly hungered for client interaction.
"The one thing I hadn't done was run a sales group," she says. So it was on to the firm's product planning group, where she managed one of the largest teams in downtown Chicago. From there, she was appointed director of the Midwest region.
Despite her early exposure to politics, Connelly, whose four children by husband Matthew, in the real estate business, are three to 14 years old, has no ambition to throw her hat in any ring, any time, any place.
She says: "My own experience is that it's very hard for families to go through what you go through in politics. Once was enough for me."
Freelance writer Jane Wollman Rusoff is a Los Angeles-based contributing editor of Research and is the founder of Family Star Productions.