By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
“Think about how you are going to distinguish yourself in this industry,” advised Jennifer Fitzgibbon, Managing Director and Treasurer, Americas at RBS‘s Global Banking and Markets division. “What are the things I can do to stand out and establish myself as a go-to person?”
This is something Fitzgibbon has worked hard to do throughout her career. She recalled attending an off-site ski trip in Austria early in her career. She didn’t know how to ski but managed to connect with a colleague whom she had not previously met). He convinced her to ski down the black diamond slope with him.
“Later, I found out he was actually our new global head, and subsequently had recommended me for a large role because he thought I could handle anything. That’s the importance of putting yourself out there and taking a risk. Just try to do it without so many bruises!”
“I think what I’m most proud of in my career is my ability to do things I wasn’t completely prepared for,” Fitzgibbon began. Her career path and interests have taken her through a variety of roles – and she said, the reason she’s been successful has been her openness to new opportunities.
In fact, Fitzgibbon began her career not really knowing what she wanted to do professionally. She attended Old Dominion University on an academic and tennis scholarship. After studying psychology, she went to work as a bill collector in the financial industry and telemarketed carpet cleaning services, soon figuring out she didn’t have the appropriate degree for her current interests.
She then returned to the university and earned a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering. Fitzgibbon went to work for the Boeing Defense and Space Group for two years. “I was the only one woman out of 35 engineers in my area. It was an interesting experience to say the least!”
It was also during her time at Boeing that she realized she missed her hometown of New York City, where her father worked on Wall Street. She enrolled in the MBA program at NYU Stern School of Business and took a job at a fairly small yankee bank, Bayerische Vereinsbank.
“I started out on the trading desk, learning the ins and outs, and a year later my boss said he needed someone to create a local risk management function,” she continued.
“So I took it on. I read the regulatory requirements on everything we needed to implement, and mostly learned by doing.” A year and a half later, the bank acquired Hypo Bank (becoming HypoVereinsbank, and now UniCredit) and Fitzgibbon was named Head of Risk Control, and shortly thereafter Managing Director after being in the industry only three years.
“I joined to be the Global Head of Creditor Relations – a client facing role but also analytical. It was a wonderful way to broaden my functional skill set,” she said. After two years in Treasury, she moved to another role internally on the capital markets finance team.
After Lehman, she stayed on with Barclays Capital to run capital management in the US. Then she pursued an opportunity at RBS, becoming the Assistant Treasurer for Global Banking and Markets Americas in November of 2009. In July of this year, she was named Treasurer for GBM Americas.
Fitzgibbon said her proudest professional achievement is “to be where I’m sitting right now.” She continued, “I’m also proud of my ability to stay positive after Lehman. There’s sometimes a stigma associated with having been at Lehman, but also an immense appreciation and pride in being a Lehman alumna. It’s been a tough road, but there are lessons learned. It takes a lot of resilience to be in this industry, but you work with amazing people and do very interesting things along the way.”
“When I think about the risks I’ve taken, my advice first and foremost for those starting out is to think about why you’re being asked to do a specific task. Is it a manager trying to stretch you? Do you think you can do it? Is there just no one else?” she asked with a laugh. “Embrace the opportunity and diligently try to be relevant.”
Challenges for Women in the Financial Services
“There are a number of things that are challenging,” said Fitzgibbon. “And women have a few challenges that their male counterparts don’t have.”
“There’s a stereotype that it’s a boys club… how do we get more women to walk out on the trading floor and get them jazzed about it?” she asked. “Part of that is providing the right challenges and creating a sense of inclusion. And this is a mandate on men as well as women to ensure that happens –
that women feel comfortable day-to-day.”
She continued, “This is very basic, but you have to decide if this is the industry you want to be in. It’s dynamic, fast paced and competitive. There are certain qualities that will lead to success – being assertive, energetic, passionate – and those aren’t gender specific.”
Advice for Professional Women
“Everyone started somewhere and everyone learns. It’s not so much whether or not you know something from day one. It’s whether you can learn it and do it, and make it better’” Fitzgibbon explained.
“That’s not something necessarily taught in school. My advice is to absolutely take on challenges but you need to understand why you are doing it – and know it’s okay to have butterflies when you are learning new things. It’s also important to have a network of people around you and a solid support system in place – supporting you, mentoring you, and ultimately sponsoring you.”
She continued, “I wish I had known the value of interpersonal skills and cooperation when I was younger. I thought just understanding the topic at hand was enough, but it’s equally important to navigate challenges through the network of people you know.”
She added, “If you’re a high potential individual and determined to succeed, the company has to play an important role in helping you establish an internal support system to assist you in achieving your career goals.”
Additionally, she said, women should learn how to reach out more proactively. She explained, “The women who are often most successful are the ones who are able to stand up and say, ‘this is what I need.’” For example, she said, “There are many success stories of very senior women who have taken time out for family reasons and still balanced a work life. You have to be able to express what you need.”
Fitzgibbon continued, “Traditionally, women are not as good about talking up their careers. Men are better at promoting their achievements and selling themselves. Women have to be able to take control of their career and jump up and down if they want something because in general men do it already.”
Women at RBS
Fitzgibbon is the Co-Chair of Compass Americas, Global Banking and Market’s women’s network in the US.
Compass Americas now has over 400 members, a significant percentage of whom are men. She continued, “If we’re talking about changing the climate and improving the balance, men have to be on board. We have to foster a community of collaboration – we’re not going to do that in silos.”
She added, “If the business is a bit more balanced, the industry as a whole will benefit…”
Finally, she said, the financial services industry actually has stronger female representation than other industries. “As a former engineer, I thought, ‘there are so many women over here in banking!’” she said with a laugh.
In Her Personal Time
Outside the office, Fitzgibbon is still an athlete. “I play tennis and golf a lot,” she said. She enjoys traveling and spending time with her family and friends.