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That Time I Got Promoted — and My Mentor Combusted

That Time I Got Promoted — and My Mentor Combusted

By Sallie Krawcheck 

I’ve led businesses in turmoil. Ken Lewis charged me with turning around the Merrill Lynch wealth management business after Bank of America acquired it during the subprime crisis; and Sandy Weill charged me with rehabilitating Citi’s research business after the equity research scandal.

I’ve written about the lessons from these experiences. During those periods, I witnessed some truly impressive leadership: one of Smith Barney’s senior leaders hosted an epic 6-hour open-mic call with all 14,000 Financial Advisors, in which he answered any and all questions on investment products we had sold that had gone bad. And I saw lack of leadership: executives who hid in their offices or who would only take pre-approved questions at town halls.

But my experience in leading during periods of turmoil pre-dates the financial crisis, back to my very first leadership role. I had been named Director of Research at Bernstein, just a few years after joining. I joke now that I was given the position because they offered it to everyone else, they all said no, and they finally got to me. That’s an exaggeration… but not by too much.

What is not an exaggeration is that they had asked my mentor — one of the top Analysts at the place, the guy who hired me, the guy who pushed for my first promotion, the guy who read and critiqued my research, the guy who took years off of my career trajectory through his stream of good advice — to be Director of Research numerous times. Numerous. And he said no every time.

So then they asked me. And I said yes.

Let’s just say he wasn’t happy. There was ranting, there was raving, and then there was quitting.

Bernstein wasn’t a big firm to start with, so any loss was felt. But this one really stung. And, insult to injury, this was during the pre-Spitzer-research-scandal bubble of the late 1990s, so analysts were receiving eye-popping offers from other firms. A new Director of Research, more money elsewhere, and a public vote of no-confidence. Our attrition rate soared.

My boss asked me if I wanted to go back to my old job as a Research Analyst. The answer was yes — yes, I did. But I answered no.

How did I get through it?

By recognizing that pretending things were 100 percent a-okay was a losing strategy. Candor went a long way with the team.

By identifying a path out of our issues. It was to hire as many outstanding new Analysts as we could find to replenish the pipeline.

By communicating our strategy and communicating confidence in it. Repeatedly.

By regularly updating the team on progress to our goals.

By being available to our Analysts pretty much all the time. By walking the floor a lot.

By working my tail off.

You don’t gain a team’s confidence in a day, and perhaps particularly during periods of turbulence. But, slowly, slowly, as we kept a focus on what really mattered and shut out almost everything else, we rebuilt the business into one that was stronger than when we started.

Sallie Krawcheck is the Chair of Ellevate Network and Ellevate Asset Management. Ellevate Network is a professional woman’s network, operating across industries and around the world. Both businesses are committed to the full economic and financial engagement of women.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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