Smart Opens the Door, Confidence Blazes the Path, Integrity Creates a Legacy

Sallie Krawcheck

Leonard Krawcheck was attending law school at Tulane University in New Orleans when he and his wife welcomed their daughter, Sallie, into the family. After he graduated, the family moved to Charleston, South Carolina. There, they enjoyed a comfortable life – a happy family life. Family dinners were a place where Leonard encouraged his children to engage in discussions – debates actually. No topic was forbidden, but the children were expected to argue their position effectively and intellectually.

Sallie certainly experienced sound intellectual engagement at home – as well as at Porter-Gaud School, an exclusive private high school. There, she enjoyed sports – mainly track and cheerleading – and she was voted Homecoming queen in her senior year. A counselor who took note of Sallie’s test scores, encouraged her to focus on her intellectual abilities. That effort resulted in Sallie earning a full scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At university, Sallie became an avid UNC Tarheel basketball fan while earning a Bachelor of Arts in journalism.

After working as an intern for an investment firm, Sallie discovered that she was drawn to finance. She was able to land a job on Wall Street as a research analyst for Salomon Brothers. Standing in her cube on her first day of work, she smelled a cigar coming up behind her. It was being smoked by a man who spewed a litany of profanities. It only took one day for her to discover that she was in a completely different culture than what she was used to back in South Carolina. 

After three years at Salomon, she made the decision to return to school, earning an MBA from Columbia University in 1992. After a brief stint at an investment bank, Sallie moved to the insurance industry, becoming an analyst of financial services companies for Sanford C. Bernstein. She quickly established herself as a highly effective analyst but became more known for her integrity, honesty, and for being outspoken. She also set herself apart in the industry due to her focus on value-driven investments, vs more speculative transactions. Sallie became the CEO of Bernstein in 2002 – a year which say the company hit their highest-ever revenues of $295 million. That same year, Fortune magazine named her “The Last Honest Analyst”.

Citi’s CEO, Sandy Weill recruited Sallie to head their Smith-Barney group which was considerably larger than Bernstein. That size difference caused many insiders to question Sallie’s choice to head Smith-Barney. The doubters got even more vocal when they realized Sallie had been given a $30 million compensation package. Sallie would rise to become CFO of Citi.

In 2008, Sallie championed the idea that Citi make payments to reimburse clients who had invested in toxic investments. When leadership balked, Sallie left Citi, determined to stay true to her personal values. Sallie then went to work for Bank of America, tasked with the job of integrating the newly acquired Merrill Lynch into the bank. She was there until 2011, when it was announced that she would be leaving the Bank of America. Sallie left the bank with a $6 million severance.

After leaving the Bank of America, Sallie became co-founder and CEO of Ellevest, a digital investment platform for women. Sallie had become one of the most powerful people on Wall Street. She was known as a bastion of credibility in the financial industry. The fact that she was a woman in a man’s environment makes her accomplishments even more impressive. Impressive yes, but these results are no surprise as Sallie Krawcheck built herself into a fearless brand.

Fearless Brands are both smart and confident

Sallie Krawcheck realized that being smart is what she calls “table stakes.” Knowledge and intelligence are the minimum attributes needed to ‘get in the game’. Confidence is what she calls the ‘golden ticket’. Her experience, augmented by scientific study, proves that people are drawn to confidence – even over-confidence. That attraction is shown to continue, even in cases where that confidence is proven to be unsubstantiated.

For women however, confidence can be interpreted incorrectly. At one point, the same review said that Sallie was too aggressive and not assertive enough. It pointed out that Sallie’s voice was not loud enough and that she was too loud. In one meeting at Citi, she was literally told to ‘shut up and sit down’. In an industry that is challenging to begin with, that type of culture adds a tremendous degree of difficulty for any female striving to be successful.

In spite of that culture, Sallie was – and is – successful. The discussions and debates at the family dinner table when she was a child most certainly helped Sallie to be comfortable and convicted in her views. She was confident in her knowledge and true to her values. Those factors combine to create a platform on which Sallie Krawcheck built a career.

Currently, Sallie Krawcheck is the CEO of Ellevest. Even that concept has been challenged. Why is there a need for a female investment platform? Does it need to be ‘dumbed down’? Actually, the opposite is true. Investing for women must take into account several factors which are not relevant to males. Women earn less, live longer, reach their highest income sooner and are more cognizant of risk than are males. Obviously, there is a need for a female focused platform and Sallie is a leader in that regard.

Yes, Sallie Krawcheck is a fearless brand. She’s authentic with clarity of purpose, extensive skills and a knack for being relevant. For anyone wanting to build their brand and find success, there’s much to learn from this woman.

Validate your beliefs – Thanks in large part to her father, Sallie Krawcheck learned at an early age the importance of being able to explain and support any position that you’re bringing forward. Throughout her career, Krawcheck was the one with the information – the one with the data. That gave her a voice. She uses that voice to deliver ideas and plans that are well thought out and substantiated. To put it in the simplest of terms – know your stuff.

Be open to changes in your profession – Krawcheck points out that she has had four related, yet separate, careers over four decades. Investment banker, research analyst, C-level leader and now, entrepreneur. Her career shifts were both logical and bold. Know that reinventing yourself has become the norm. Doing so is merely a brand evolution, it’s not re-branding – a common misconception. 

To thine own self be true – Sallie Krawcheck followed her instincts from the very beginning of her career when she pursued the financial industry rather than journalism. She ‘followed her gut’ and it was the right choice for her. When Citi refused to compensate their clients, those who had invested based on misleading information, Krawcheck chose to be true to her values. Integrity is critical in becoming successful, in being a fearless brand.

Very few people – male or female – will achieve the success that Sallie Krawcheck has on Wall Street and beyond. All of us have the same opportunity, however, to achieve our success. It’s a matter of finding clarity of purpose, being authentic and remaining true to our values.


Friday's Fearless Brand Personal Branding

Coach, International Speaker and Thought Partner - Bill’s mission is to add value to the world – one brand at a time. Bill guides individuals and companies alike in building what he refers to as a ‘fearless brand’. This is the process of discovering, embracing and delivering their greatest value – which allows them to realize greater profit. Read More

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