By Pamela Weinsaft (New York City)
It’s the rare 13-year-old who can clearly set the course for the rest of her life; indeed, it’s the rare 13- year-old who knows from moment to moment what she wants from that day. So when Lisa Cregan—all of 13 years old—told a local newspaper reporter “I want to be a stockbroker one day,” she was likely met with some surprise. Since that time, however, Lisa Cregan has made her dream come true, and now works to help other women do the same as the head of career development for women at UBS.
Not that it was based only on her seemingly precocious response to the reporter. Cregan, who is also the Dallas Market Area Manager for UBS, did her homework.
During the second year of her MBA program, she conducted informational interviews with executives in various industries. “I wanted to gain a perspective on each industry, learn more about the industry culture, the skills needed to be successful, and the career paths I might be able to follow.”
Based on what she learned, she confirmed that she did indeed want to end up in finance. “I was intrigued by the culture of constant change. I liked the idea of high pressure coupled with high opportunity.”
She began her career in her chosen field as a financial analyst in the finance division of UBS, working in a group that supported the CFO. Early on, she was exposed to all parts of the organization and to senior management which then led her to pursue a career in field management. “It allowed me to apply the finance and organizational knowledge I had gained as a financial analyst and it gave me experience working with and developing people.”
Cregan held a variety of roles in the Bank—financial advisor, branch sales manager, national sales manager of Managed Futures, and associate divisional sales manager—before getting her first branch manager assignment in the North Dallas office in 1993. “[As branch manager], I grew that branch at a 20% compounded annual rate.
She was promoted to Regional Manager of the Mountain Region in 2002, thus becoming the first woman Regional Manager in the 130+ years of the firm. “The overall rank of the Region went from the worst performing region (of 12) to 6th of 13 in six years,” she added.
During this time Cregan also launched the Women’s Network in the field. “I thought it was important that as an industry and as a firm that we find ways to bring more women in the fold. I became very active, driving UBS initiatives to attract, retain and develop talented women.”
Turning Disappointment into Opportunity
When UBS reorganized from 13 Regions to 8, Cregan’s Regional Manager position was eliminated. Rather than wallowing in her disappointment, she sought out opportunities. “I’ve always tried to look at these events as gifts, even if it means reevaluating tactics, strategies, goals, and making certain that I am being true to my passions and those things that give my life meaning.”
Cregan explained, “When I looked at what was important to me, what my passions were, and what I enjoyed, I realized that I could use my experience to help the firm tackle the challenge of gender. This led me to write a white paper on the importance of women talent and success, then to drive the firm’s pilot women’s initiative, leading to the creation of the Head of Career Development role.”
As a result of her persistence and prior successes, Cregan moved into a new, first-of-its-kind dual role at UBS in January of 2008. “I decided to move back to Dallas to keep a foot in the field, taking on the Dallas Market Area Manager position. I put the other foot in the change arena, leading the firm’s Women’s Initiative.” She continued, “This was very exciting! I took a step back and analyzed ways in which I could positively affect the success of the firm, demonstrate my leadership abilities and, most importantly, stay true to my growing passion—attracting and developing talent, championing women in the industry, and making the greatest possible contribution I can to the firm.”
“Now,” she says, “not only do I get to design and execute programs that help UBS become the destination place for talented women in the financial services industry, I am also applying the full breadth of my field knowledge, working with powerful women and helping the firm remain at the forefront of the emerging women’s marketplace.”
The UBS Women’s Initiative is now an integral component of the firm’s business strategy. We’ve conducted a pilot coaching program for women, a Financial Advisor Speaker’s Series, Executive Educational Forums. the UBS Women’s Development Series and have held women’s development KeyTreats for support staff. The firm also held a two-day Women’s Leadership Conference, which brought UBS women together from all over the country for professional development, best-practice sharing, and networking. “I gave the opening remarks at the conference with the theme that men and women are different. Recognizing these differences,” said Cregan, “will allow the firm to seize the future. This theme has continued in everything I’m trying to do with the UBS Women’s Initiative.”
“The effect and impact of the programs so far have been notable. We’ve had managers change how they conduct recruitment meetings, women FAs who have reaffirmed their commitment to the profession and the firm, and we have gained visibility and positive recognition for these efforts outside UBS,” explained Cregan.
Main Career Challenges for Women in Financial Services
“The barriers to success for women [in financial services and other industries] are founded on the fundamental parameters of leadership,” said Cregan. “The common and often unquestioned model of what a leader is, what a leader does, how a leader behaves, is based on a male role model. This model, taught in one form or another at every level of business and schooling, is not geared to appreciate a woman’s talents, style, contributions, or career path.”
But, Cregan cautions: “Do not assume that the dearth of female role models means that women cannot be successful. Seek mentors, and, most importantly, understand your passions and how this work is meaningful to you.”
In particular, Cregan believes the role of financial advisor is ideally suited to women. “This industry is made for us! Our clients want advisors who have empathy, understand them and the issues they face. Our clients want someone they can trust who provides a structured planning-based approach to their wealth management. Women, in general, tend to have these characteristics: they listen, they get to know the client, they think about the relationship and they are willing to take the time to ensure the client gets the best solutions and service.”
For women who look to succeed in field management, Cregan believes the primary challenge for women is accepting the fact that relocation is part of the ride. “Relocation tends to be more challenging for women because they may have elderly parents they are caring for, depend on their extended family to help with their children, or have a husband or partner whose career is also very strong. But, this is only a challenge, not a barrier!” said Cregan.
To succeed, she suggests getting some help. “Hire a coach to get feedback and assessments on your behavior, and help with decision making. A coach helps keep things in perspective and works as important advisor. This process gives you some interesting insights into how you are perceived as opposed to how you thought you are presenting yourself.”
“Ultimately, though,” said Cregan, “you and only you are responsible for managing your career. Certainly you can seek guidance and hope to find a good mentor. But really there is no “them” to help you.”
“True leadership is a byproduct of having a sense of who you are. Strong leaders have persuasive stories. You need to have a story that tells where you are going, integrates with your past and makes sense of your present. Leadership is the act of living your story well,” said Cregan.