Sallie Krawcheck: Ellevating Leadership—The 2015 IA 35 for 35

Ellevate Network’s leader stresses the importance of women to management and to the industry

This is the fourth time Sallie Krawcheck has been honored on the IA 25, since her first appearance on the inaugural list in 2003. (Portrait: Joel Kimmel) This is the fourth time Sallie Krawcheck has been honored on the IA 25, since her first appearance on the inaugural list in 2003. (Portrait: Joel Kimmel)

Leaning in seems to come naturally to Sallie Krawcheck, who led the wealth management units of Citi Smith Barney and Bank of America-Merrill Lynch before starting a group of female professionals, Ellevate Network, and its associated firm, Ellevate Asset Management – both of which she now chairs.

When she was new to her job as a research analyst at Sanford Bernstein (back in the 1990s), Krawcheck was told “that Wall Street was the only industry in the world in which one could become wealthy by simply being mediocre and essentially hiding in the pack,” she explained recently in a blog.

Krawcheck had just drafted a critical, bearish report on AIG. What to do?

“I can’t really articulate why, but I published that negative research without changing a single word. It wasn’t really that I was so sure the research was right; after all, I was brand new to the industry. But I do remember reminding myself that American General wasn’t my client,” she wrote. “Instead my clients were the masses of faceless investors out there, most of whom I would never meet. And my job was to give them the best advice I could […], even if it was advice they might not want to hear.”

Her research was spot on, and Krawcheck’s Wall Street career took off. “With this insight, as I moved into a leadership position, our strategy at Bernstein evolved to one that fully focused on the investing client, and that eradicated conflicts of interest,” she stated.

The experience taught the budding executive that “staying in the pack might have been the safe play, but it wasn’t the right play,” Krawcheck added.

These days, the Wall Street veteran is adamant about the importance of women in management and for the long-term health of the financial industry. “What if I told you there’s a potential client base that holds a majority of wealth in this country, represents 45% of U.S. millionaires and will inherit 70% of the $41 trillion that enters generational wealth transfer over the next 40 years?” she told an audience of investment management consultants earlier this year

“Women are […] underserved,” Krawcheck said. The industry is “going to have to think differently if we want to attract and approach and engage with this enormous market.” (According to Ellevate Network and Pax Ellevate, women control about $20 trillion in investment dollars and represent some 9% of the world’s billionaires.)

Krawcheck doesn’t shy away from reminding executive across a variety of industries that they need to focus on this untapped market and this untapped source of talent – and they need to do it with respect.

Last fall, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said women shouldn’t ask for a raise and instead should rely on “karma.” These remarks, which Nadella later retracted, were made right before Krawcheck addressed attendees of the 2014 Raymond James Women’s Symposium.

“I’m beside myself,” she said. “That’s what got us where we are, earning 78 cents on the dollar [earned by a man]. There’s the karma.”

Before she spoke to the crowd of female advisors, Krawcheck said on Twitter that asking for a raise is “the highest return investment [a woman] can make.” This is because, when it comes to “the net present value of your future earnings, your best asset is yourself,” Krawcheck noted in her speech.

Many women retire with just two-thirds the wealth of men, and this means advisors should “talk to them about asking for a raise,” she added. “Advise [them] on finances, not just stocks and bonds, [and get them] to ask for the money.”

In her varied work today, she shares what she learned from her ups and downs on Wall Street, and a key lesson is resilience. Losing one or two high-profile jobs, for instance, can knock you down and keep you down. “Or you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off and go on to have an even more interesting, exciting and engaging career,” she said in a recent interview.

Krawcheck also advocates innovation. She has been on the board of 2U, a platform for online learning, since April 2014. In addition, she served as a director of BlackRock from 2009 to 2011 and Dell from 2006 to 2009.

When asked what she thought about robo-advisors, she cautioned against taking a purely negative approach. “We’re dismissing them, but in fact, it’s very important for our industry to continue and accelerate the trend of investing in technology, thereby freeing up the very valuable time of the financial advisor. So those who are dismissive of robo-advisors are dismissing an important set of capabilities to leverage the advisor’s time,” she said.

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See the full 2015 IA 35 for 35 and the calendar for extended profiles of each honoree.

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