Kristen Kimmell, the new head of Advisor Recruiting and Field Marketing of RBC Wealth Management, recently received a compliment that first unnerved her.
“Someone told me I was ‘like a bulldozer,’” which made her wonder if she really had received a compliment, Kimmell said in an interview.
“Once [the person] explained that a trailblazer was someone who ran down unknown paths alone, but I bulldozed the way so everybody can run with me, I realized it was a huge compliment,” explained the executive .
That pretty much sums up Kimmell’s career, which today means working in the firm’s Minneapolis headquarters and helping to find solutions for RBC’s 2,000 financial advisors and their clients.
This isn’t far from what she planned in high school — where she was one of a graduating class of 38 students in a town of about 700 residents in Northern Minnesota — after a counselor gave her a book of jobs. Being proficient in math, she decided right then that she wanted to be a bond trader.
She started off in the banking world, having graduated from University of Jamestown in North Dakota with a double major in accounting and finance. When a colleague left banking to join Dain Bosworth (later Dain Rauscher), he encouraged her to move there too.
She wasn’t familiar with broker-dealers. But she took a chance on the business in 1995 and soon began seeing the complexity of the financial-services industry.
“I am probably wired a bit differently, but I believe [working in the finance or accounting area] is kind of the spine of the organization,” she said. “There isn’t anything that can happen in an organization that doesn’t go through finance — whether it’s an invoice payment, booking airfare or all the big trades.”
Kimmell cut her teeth on the institutional side, learning everything about her beloved bonds — from where they originated with the investment banker to when they were traded on the secondary market.
“That was a highlight of my career: when I could figure out everything from beginning to end,” she said.
In 2000, the Royal Bank of Canada acquired Dain Rauscher; when RBC decided to relocate the institutional operations to New York in 2008, she moved to the retail side of the business. Kimmell then saw how her work directly impacts people, by helping them get set for retirement or fund a child’s higher education. “I firmly believe that wealth management is just making a difference in people’s lives, … and that’s what motivates me,” she said.
Did her family introduce her to the business?
“No. My mom was in education; she ran a Head Start program in several counties in Northern Minnesota. My father worked on the railroad. … The reality is nobody ever told me I couldn’t do [what I wanted to do],” she explained.
“My parents never put any limitations on me. When I came home and told them I wanted to be a bond trader, there was no laughter or ridiculing or ‘What are you thinking?’ They were genuinely interested, [and asked] ‘What is that?’ And always had my back,” Kimmell said.
What are the biggest challenges she’s faced?
“There was a time after I had my second child and I really needed to have a different work/life balance. I wanted to keep working, but only four days a week,” she explained.
“It was relatively new [to suggest this schedule] at the time, and — not my supervisors — but other people said, ‘Your career will probably be impacted by this. They won’t think you’re serious about wanting to be successful or going to the next level,’” according to the RBC executive.
“But nothing came off my workload once I dropped down to four days. … When the CEO [then] tapped me for the chief of staff role, I said, ‘Here’s the deal, I’m a soccer mom … I can work during a game and will work hard, [but my schedule will be different]. He said, ‘I’m going to measure you on how you do your job, not on how many hours you’re in the office,”’ she said.
What advice does she have?
“Give yourself some grace …,” Kimmell explained. “There are times when we all bring the best to work, but recognize there are other things people are dealing with. And we are hardest on ourselves.”
What would she do differently?
“I’ve been incredibly blessed with my career. But I would [say], ‘Have more [self] confidence’. I wouldn’t have been so dependent on other people, by having [more] confidence in myself before I did,” she said.
What can the industry do to attract more women?
“It’s all about awareness …,” Kimmell explained. “There is a natural inclination to think [the business is just about] picking stocks and bonds and having to watch the market 24/7.”
Really, she said, “It’s about building relationships. Listening to people. Helping people achieve their goals. You’ve got to do a lot of multi-tasking, and women are incredibly talented and that comes naturally to them.”
What thought leaders or authors does she like?
“We have access to so many resources now. That’s what I love. [On Linked In] I follow Brené Brown and Arianna Huffington, who are pioneers in their industries and are willing to share their experiences,” she said.
Plus, “Chip and Dan Heath have a book on the power of influence,” according to Kimmell. “That’s one of the top skills of a successful leader. What do you do to motivate people and influence them?”