April 22nd, 2010 | 6:00 am

Movers and Shakers: Melody Rollins, Executive Vice President and Client Servicing Account Manager, PIMCO

filed under Movers and Shakers

rollins_melody_v3[1]By Pamela Weinsaft (New York City)

“People chase money or what sounds like a good job. They should be focusing on what their genius is,” said Melody Rollins, an executive vice president and client services account manager in PIMCO’s New York office.

Rollins, a native Northern Californian, went to Georgetown University with the intention to enter the Foreign Service upon graduation. She quickly realized that “to be an ambassador, I’d have to work for 30 years in the civil service all over the world. I wouldn’t really have a personal life, and I would never get to be an ambassador: they are all political contributors and celebrities.”

Following a near-failing grade in economics—“I did horribly in micro in my first semester”—she spent a lot of time in that professor’s office, attempting to understand the principles of economics and raise her grade. That same professor was clearly impressed, recommending that Rollins pursue an economics major, which put her on the road to Wall Street.

She explained, “I pursued an internship on Wall Street because a friend told me they make 500 a week [which I needed for tuition].” She spent that summer at Salomon Brothers in telecom and media investment banking. In 1992, she entered the industry, joining the firm as an analyst in the debt capital markets group, focusing on the big telecom debt capital markets issues at the time.

Navigating Change

It was a big change for Rollins. “[With a mother who was a teacher and a father in the military] I’d never had anyone around me who had been in the private sector, let alone Wall Street. I didn’t have expectations for what the environment should be like; still, I was really surprised at how male dominated and chauvinistic the culture was. It was extreme.” Rollins says she was able to laugh off most of the pervasive hazing rituals and practical jokes, and credits her upbringing. “I had a brother who was always picking on me so I was pretty tough and OK with myself and not easily intimidated by men.”

Two years later, one of her bosses and some people from Merrill Lynch were hired away to build Deutsche Bank’s North American capital markets presence. Her boss asked her to come along. Rollins found the environment tougher than she expected. “The Bank had hired a bunch of MDs and gave them huge signing and retention bonuses. I got promoted to associate but it was a difficult place to work because of all the politics and in-fighting.” Still, Rollins says, she learned the importance of understanding individual motivations. “I learned not to get caught up in internal politics or others’ perceptions. I had a lot of bosses and how I responded to each of them impacted my success there. I was trying to make everybody happy at my own expense. They all thought they had been brought over to run the business.”

The Value of Communications

She stayed for a couple of years before returning to school at MIT’s Sloan School of Management to study of financial engineering. “I had been doing a lot of reading—Against the Gods and other similar books—and decided I wanted to do something more quantitative and look at risk as an important component of investment.” And, although she was, in her own words “never the best at the intense numbers thing,” she felt that her substantial market experience gave her an advantage over her math-oriented classmates.

As the school didn’t have any active leads for internships in the investment management industry, Rollins reached out to her alumni in pursuit of an internship. An MIT alum who was in the upper ranks at BlackRock sponsored her six week internship during her winter break from Sloan. Her work on the risk management and portfolio management teams “helped me to really learn the buy side,” Rollins explained.

“The time at school and interning allowed me to really focus on my competitive advantage. I felt like I was good at understanding really complex things and explaining them to other people—communicating with clients and taking in a lot of information and then making decisions,” she added.

Upon graduation from the Sloan School in 2001, Rollins joined PIMCO’s Newport Beach office as an account manager. “My only problem at that point was that I didn’t think I wanted to live in Newport Beach. But they were thinking about opening the New York office and I knew that I could eventually go there.” She moved to PIMCO’s New York office two years later, and now, seven years later, continues to play a key role in helping to establish PIMCO’s presence on the East Coast. “It has been fun for me and a good role for me professionally.”

On Work/Life Balance and Career Advice

With a high-powered career, a 21-month-old son and a private life filled with philanthropic activities including acting as chair of the Board of Trustees of Harlem’s Future Leaders Institute Charter School, finding the right work life/private life fit can sometimes be challenging. “Someone said to me once that ‘It is not a balance, it is a dance. Some days one gets more, the other gets less. You’ve just got to try to stay with the rhythm and follow the beat.’” Rollins continued, “To me, it is always about the tension between making the right decisions and making sure I don’t get the critical ones wrong. Luckily,” said Rollins, “my husband contributes a lot of time at home. Also he doesn’t have to travel for his job, which is very helpful. And, my mother-in-law is our nanny, so I’ve never had to worry about my son or the care that has been provided to him when I’m not with him.”

“Someone once asked me what winning looks like for me,” said Rollins. “A lot of people get caught up in what they think they are supposed to do or how they think they are supposed to win instead of defining that for themselves. When I went to business school, everybody wanted to skip school and go right into a dot com because it was during the internet bubble years when you could become a millionaire in two years. The opportunity was a hard one for me to pass up, but I was really interested in financial engineering so I decided to go to school. That was winning, for me. And it turned out to be a great decision.”

Rollins added, “Winning for me now is being a good mom, an excellent professional and feeling rewarded by the work. So, if I don’t get a raise or promotion, that’s not going to change me because getting the promotion or raise is not, in the big picture, the only definition of winning for me. So, understanding who you are and having the courage to change things that are not consistent with who you are is extremely important.”

“I believe in finding your competitive advantage or your genius,” said Rollins. “Most people can function at an adequate level in any job but you have to find the intersection of your passion for that function and your ability to do it better, more efficiently or with more innovation than others.”

Her advice to women entering the industry is to focus on learning and preparing “at an intense level.” She explained: “Knowledge and preparation —not politics—creates the foundation for opportunity. You also need to understand the message you are sending about yourself. You want to create a reputation as someone who is passionate, interested and engaged in the subject matter. Someone with integrity”

Rollins said, “I came to the realization not too long ago that it’s not all about working hard. It is about working efficiently and making sure that other people hear about your work. I know what I know and I know what I do but I need other people need to know what I know and know what I do.” She continued, “Until about five years ago, it was about making sure I knew what I needed to know and what I needed to do. But once I did that for a while, I realized that the breadth and depth of what I was doing was likely only being partially perceived, which was a disservice to me and to the firm.”

For those already in the industry, Rollins believes they must learn to toot their own horns. “Once you have the foundation, you need to believe that no one knows more than you. You need to step out there and be part of the conversation and action. Promote your brand. That’s something a lot of women don’t do. Know your strengths. Push that forward and don’t be shy. And, in the event of setbacks, understand what happened and the consequences, pick yourself up, and move forward.”

Her life philosophy—“Be the change you want to see”—is displayed on her office desk as a reminder. “I’ve never been one to just go along with the status quo at work or at home. If I find myself criticizing or complaining, then I realize there needs to be a change—and I need to do it.”

7 comments

  1. Shayna

    This is an inspirational story — I am in awe of her success professionally and personally (Did I mention I want to be her when I grow up?) —

    Would love some more details on how she goes about promoting her personal brand as I think that’s an area that a lot of women struggle with, including myself.

  2. Julie

    Excellent advice.
    This quote is brilliant:
    “I believe in finding your competitive advantage or your genius,” said Rollins. “Most people can function at an adequate level in any job but you have to find the intersection of your passion for that function and your ability to do it better, more efficiently or with more innovation than others.”

  3. Lilli Rollins

    In our household as Melody was growing up, this quote was central to our family…”If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it” She was reminded that endurance, integrity,faith, love and willingness to grow, is what makes one successful.

  4. L. M. Moore

    Wow, what a powerful, insightful, and professional woman. Her character and integrity shine through her quotes. Hopefully, if she hasn’t, she will pen her pearls of wisdom in a book to remind other professionals that you can be a powerful, successful leader and still maintain your ethics and integrity.

  5. Pello Smith

    Melody, you are so insightful and wise…and you dare to go where others dare to tread. But most of all, you are Lucas Mom! Love you. Keep on keeping on!

  6. Mary Wells

    Melody, being your family’s neighbor and friend when you were growing up in California, I knew you would be a winner at whatever you chose to do when you got out of school. I give your mom credit for how she raised you and always putting you in the right places at the right time and making sure you were always in stimulating and wholesome organizations, including church, so that your life was always balanced. Your mom did not mind investing time in taking you to your extra curricular activities and guiding you. It was not a drudgery to her, but it was not easy for it was time consuming. And she made sure you participated in balanced activities that provided integrity, as well as stimulating and educational in an organizational sense. It was not easy work on her part. It was not always easy for you, for even then you had to think and make decisions. Thank God you, nor your mom were not lazy on weekends. I am glad to have witnessed that and can testify that your mom did a wonderful job. I wouldn’t be surprised to see you in some capacity in the White House. The President is having a hard time finding those who are smart in the financial field, who also have integrity.

    I could go on and on (smile)

    Mary Wells

    Mary Wells, a former California neighbor, now in the Washington, D. C. area.

  7. DEAN MCGOWAN

    MELODY HI, THIS IS DEAN MCGOWAN THE TENNIS COACH FROM LONG ISLAND….IT WAS A PRIVILEGE TO HAVE MET YOUR ACQUAINTANCE TEN YEARS AGO!!! MAYBE IF I DID LISTEN TO YOU , WELL I SHOULD HAVE
    AND IF I HAD DONE SO I WOULD HAVE BEEN A LOT BETTER OFF TODAY.
    VERY HAPPY FOR YOU….IF U NEED SOME LESSONS FOR THE LITTLE GUY JUST LET ME KNOW.