Tag Archive: legal momentum

Aiming High: Barbara J. Desoer

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Barbara J. Desoer

Since 2001, the prominent civil rights organization Legal Momentum has honored the most successful and influential people who advance women in the business community with its Aiming High Award. Barbara J. Desoer, CEO of Citibank, N.A. (CBNA), is one of the five people being honored this year. The 16th annual Legal Momentum Aiming High Award honorees will be celebrated at a luncheon on June 7 in New York City. In addition to Desoer, this year’s award recipients are:

  • Lynn R. Charytan, executive vice president and general counsel, Comcast Cable, senior vice president and senior deputy general counsel Comcast Corp.
  • J. Michael Cook, retired chair and CEO, Deloitte
  • Barbara J. Desoer, CEO, Citibank, N.A.
  • Natasha Lamb, partner, Arjuna Capital
  • Tracey T. Travis, executive vice president and CFO, The Estée Lauder Companies Inc.

After a 35-year career at Bank of America, Desoer joined CBNA as chief operating officer in 2013, and in April 2014 was named CBNA CEO and to its board of directors. Citibank, N.A. accounts for approximately 75 percent of Citigroup’s total assets, and it is the primary entity within which Citigroup engages in activities through branches and subsidiaries in 95 countries and territories including the United States.

In addition to other executive roles, Desoer is co-head of Citigroup’s global women’s initiative called Citi Women. Recognizing that women make up more than half of Citigroup’s workforce, Citi Women is a company-wide effort to improve the development, advancement, and retention of women at all levels of banking. Diversity programs are a hallmark of Citi’s cultural experience that has fostered employee advancement throughout the 95 countries and territories in which Citi provides commercial, retail, and private banking products and services. Aside from her board service at Citigroup, Desoer is a director on the board of DaVita HealthCare Partners and is on the board of visitors at the University of California, Berkeley, where she earned an MBA in finance from the Haas School of Business. She also holds a BA in mathematics from Mount Holyoke College.

NACD Directorship magazine asked Desoer to identify and address how personal champions and mentors have helped advance her own career. An edited transcript of this Q&A follows.

How have mentors helped you in your career?A mentor of mine is Tom Clausen, former CEO of Bank of America and president of the World Bank, with whom I worked closely while at Bank of America. He was a critical advisor to me at several points in my career—asking me probing questions that enabled me to consider different perspectives that I might otherwise have been blind to. He did not give me any answers —he helped guide and inform my thought process, which was invaluable and allowed me to accelerate my development and growth.

Who have been your greatest champions? My greatest champion is Liam McGee. While at Bank of America together, Liam threw me into countless situations that proved to be some of the most challenging and valuable opportunities that I’ve experienced. Liam had the uncanny ability to be right there when I needed him most while also knowing when to give me rope to go at it alone. It’s an approach I try to emulate with my team today. Both Tom and Liam have passed, and I miss their guidance and friendship. But their support and the lessons I learned from them resonate today and I am a better leader as a result.

Some CEOs have held town meetings with employees, while others strive to have their management and board teams set the cultural tone. Is there any approach or method to create a culture of inclusion that you would suggest based on your considerable experience? For me, it’s spending time with members of the Citi team in whatever venue I can. I get energy from my teammates, and it is an important feedback loop that can help to determine what is working and what needs to be rethought. I recently returned from two full days of meetings in Zurich with various team members, listening to their concerns, thoughts and ideas, while reinforcing the strategic context for what they are doing. Even the best and brightest need support. One should not underestimate the value of face-to-face meetings and providing well-timed context and perspective to any given body of work or initiative.

Since 2012, NACD Directorship magazine has served as the media partner for the Aiming High awards.

Aiming High: J. Michael Cook

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J. Michael Cook

Since 2001, the prominent civil rights organization Legal Momentum has honored the most successful and influential people who advance women in the business community with its Aiming High Award. J. Michael Cook, former chair and CEO of Deloitte & Touche LLP, is one of the five people being honored this year and the first male recipient of the award.

This year’s 16th annual Legal Momentum Aiming High award honorees will be celebrated at a luncheon on June 7 in New York. They are:

  • Lynn R. Charytan, executive vice president and general counsel, Comcast Cable, senior vice president and senior deputy general counsel Comcast Corp.
  • J. Michael Cook, retired chair and CEO, Deloitte
  • Barbara J. Desoer, CEO, Citibank, N.A.
  • Natasha Lamb, partner, Arjuna Capital
  • Tracey T. Travis, executive vice president and CFO, The Estée Lauder Companies Inc.

In 1989, Cook was serving as chair and CEO of the then newly formed professional services firm Deloite LLP, which resulted from the merger of Deloitte Haskins & Sells and Touche Ross. The following year, Cook was reviewing the slate of candidates being considered for partner status and noticed that very few of them were women. When he took a more extensive look at his company’s gender dynamics, he noticed a troubling trend: although hiring practices created a roughly even mix of men and women throughout the company, there was a much higher turnover of women employees—even women who had been with the firm for a number of years. Aside from the negative impact that a revolving door of employees had on maintaining client services, Cook knew that the company was also losing wellsprings of talent.

Not everyone saw the problem as Cook did, however. In a recent telephone interview, Cook recalled how one partner suggested that Deloitte simply hire more men so that the firm wouldn’t feel the workforce fluctuations so acutely. “He was telling me that he wanted the firm to hire less capable people,” Cook said. “I said that we’re not going to do that. We can’t provide high-quality client service by hiring a group of people that is not of the highest quality.”

In his search for a solution, Cook sought help from Catalyst to take a careful look at the organization. It tuned out that company culture was the primary culprit for the high rate of departures. Catalyst first interviewed a pool of women who left the firm and found that they weren’t leaving Deloitte to be full-time parents—they left to work at other companies whose schedules allowed for a better balance between work and home life. This was hardly surprising as dual career couples were becoming more common, but the implementation of Deloitte’s policies wasn’t keeping up with that societal shift.

After extensive research and analysis, Cook responded by launching the Women’s Initiative in 1993. The program allowed all employees flexible work arrangements and programs were implemented to assure that women could have the same career trajectory at the firm as their male counterparts. One result of this focus on fostering an inclusive culture has been Deloitte being named to Fortunemagazine’s annual “100 Best Companies to Work For” list in addition to being hailed by Working Mother Media as one of the best companies for working mothers. “This was not just progress for women, it was progress for everybody,” Cook says. “The men used some of the flexibility that we provided because they were spouses in dual career families and needed more time for things other than working. Being with family is important to everyone.”

Cook, who retired from Deloitte in 1999, looks back on his six years leading the program and the positive impact the Women’s Initiative had. “Deloitte now has a woman as the CEO of the firm and has a woman who is the CEO of consulting business of the firm, which is the largest component of the firm these days. And they were picked because they were the best qualified person for those jobs, but not because of their gender. The culture of the firm now enables women to become ‘best qualified’ for the very top executive positions.”

Since 2012, NACD Directorship magazine has served as the media partner for the Aiming High awards. 

Aiming High: Tracey T. Travis

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Tracey T. Travis

Since 2001, the prominent civil rights organization Legal Momentum has honored the most successful and influential people who advance women in the business community with its Aiming High Award. Tracey T. Travis, executive vice president and CFO, The Estée Lauder Companies Inc., is one of the five people being honored this year.

This year’s 16th annual Legal Momentum Aiming High award honorees will be celebrated at a luncheon on June 7 in New York. They are:

  • Lynn R. Charytan, executive vice president and general counsel, Comcast Cable, senior vice president and senior deputy general counsel Comcast Corp.
  • J. Michael Cook, retired chair and CEO, Deloitte
  • Barbara J. Desoer, CEO, Citibank, N.A.
  • Natasha Lamb, partner, Arjuna Capital
  • Tracey T. Travis, executive vice president and CFO, The Estée Lauder Companies Inc.

Tracey Travis did not expect to land in the world of consumer products at the beginning of her career, but paths change. Travis’s path to becoming executive vice president and CFO of The Estée Lauder Companies began at General Motors (GM) Corp., where she worked as an engineer until the company awarded her the GM Fellowship to pursue an MBA degree. After returning to GM for some time in both divison and corporate finance roles, Travis was recruited by Pepsico where she held finance, strategy, and general management roles during a time of rapid product and market growth. Following Pepsico, American National Can Co. offered her the opportunity to gain IPO and informative technology experience before being offered the role of CFO of Intimate Brands and Limited Brands, a company that owned many popular women’s apparel brands.

When asked about whether she was strongly drawn to the retail world, Travis demonstrated her curiosity and willingness to challenge herself. “I’d never worked in retail, apparel, or personal care before, but I felt that many aspects of the consumer experience I gained in CPG were transferable and I welcomed the opportunity to both learn and contribute in a different industry.” Soon after Travis began her tenure at L Brands, the primary owner of Intimate Brands, she was recruited by the Jo-Ann Stores board for her first public company directorship, a role she attributes partially to the recommendation of others she served with on private boards.

“Some of the strategies that I’ve seen work well for women with an interest in serving on public company boards is to first make people aware of your interest, as well as their qualifications for a board,” Travis shared when asked about tactics women could use to make more significant inroads in the boardroom. “I’ve also found that your own board members can be quite helpful as sponsors, as well as your own CEO, so that tactic has also worked well for many women.” Travis also landed a seat on the Campbell Soup Co. board, another company known for their commitment to women leaders, in her last year as CFO of Ralph Lauren Corp.

Travis has been with The Estée Lauder Companies, a company that holds leadership by women as a core value of their company, since 2012. When asked about how Estée Lauder cultivates and supports women leaders, Travis had some impressive numbers to share. “A few interesting statistics: at the conclusion of 2015, almost 85 percent of our workforce was female globally. Forty percent of our general manager positions are female. Three of 12 of Estée Lauder executive officers are women, and seven of 15 of our board members are women. We have a pretty robust talent management process, and out of that process comes a list of high-potential employees, many of whom are women as you would expect.”

Outside of working time, Travis is committed to supporting organizations in the arts, education, and women’s causes. She is a member of the Women’s Forum of New York, on the Board of Lincoln Center Theater, and on the Boards of Columbia Business School and the University of Pittsburgh. “I really enjoy mentoring and coaching young women and minorities, and always try to find the time to do so—whether it’s breakfast meetings or after work meetings.” She is also proud of Estée Lauder’s philanthropic commitment to different health care and education causes, and, in her own words, “I’m passionate about being a mom to my two daughters.”

Travis recognizes the power of resilience and the value of a helping hand, and hopes to pass those values along to other women, girls, and mentees. “I’ve been really fortunate in my career, especially because I’ve had such a non-traditional one for both women and minorities, to have had strong sponsors who believed in me and supported me in various roles I’ve been in throughout my career. I’ve always tried to view any challenges as opportunities that you learn from and then more on. Resilience is certainly key to have throughout life.”

Since 2012, NACD Directorship magazine has served as the media partner for the Aiming High awards.