So Jene Kim isn’t afraid of change.
Some of the shifts she’s made in her life have been major ones: English major to Wall Streeter. New York to Hong Kong. Banking to consulting.
Others have been more gradual, like the pre-COVID nights that saw So Jene picking up a microphone at a work karaoke event and, with the help of Sia’s “Chandelier” or Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” turning from a financial services professional to a bonafide rockstar for a few minutes.
“I didn’t say I was a good singer!” clarifies So Jene. “I just love singing. And given the formal nature of your relationship with someone in a workplace, it can change quite dramatically for the better after having some laughs and being silly together at karaoke.”
Over her career, So Jene has embraced changes both big and small, even when they came with big risks. We sat down with the Capco partner and risk management professional to hear more about her career story, including what it’s been like to be a free thinker in a very regulated industry, and what advice she has for other people considering a change—particularly one that sees them going from industry to consulting.
So Jene moved to the U.S. from South Korea when she was four years old. Growing up with strict parents, she knew early on that she wanted to build her personal and financial independence.
That’s how she ended up working at Morgan Stanley.
A big reader, she studied English at college, but knew a $18,000-a-year publishing salary wasn’t going to last long in New York. Her college job in the career development office gave her access to the starting salaries of students who got offers in finance, and she decided she needed one of them. A recruiting season later, she had an offer from the bank in hand.
So Jene’s can-do attitude, honed from years of helping out at her mother’s dry cleaner and running a construction import business with her dad, served her well when she started her career in financial services. No job was too small for her to learn from.
Until an acquisition happened and So Jene found herself working for Chase Manhattan Bank.
Her approach to problem-solving wasn’t as welcomed there, remembers So Jene, who tells the story of a time that a senior person on her team asked her to look over a currency out of balance report.
“She said, ‘I got you your own pack of colored pencils. You can use the different colors to mark the different currencies,’” says So Jene, who immediately balked and offered to put the information in a database, write some queries, and create an automated way to review the report both then and in the future.
A meeting with her manager and her manager’s manager later, and So Jene had one thing clear: “They moved at a certain pace, and I thought, ‘I’ve got to get the heck out of here,’” she says.
So once again, So Jene prioritized her independent viewpoint and left that role. She tried project management in silicon valley briefly, but realized she was a New Yorker at heart, and eventually went back to Morgan Stanley for a different job, this time as a project manager on a global team working to build and implement new processes and technology.
Her success on that team set her up to be a strong candidate for an internal transfer to work in derivative operations in Hong Kong, which lined up with So Jene and her husband’s desire to try something new.
They loved the experience, but So Jene struggled with having to be on call almost 24 hours a day, between the local and home office, and when she got pregnant, she did what was right for her and her family and left that job.
Making a Sustainable Change
But all roads—at least back then, and at least for So Jene—led back to Morgan Stanley, because after a year-long sabbatical, she took a job offer that once again came from her old employer, this time in operational risk.
“My values were quite different that time, though,” says So Jene. “It was like I had been in a long relationship and broken up with the organization once and I had different priorities going back into it. Because even though I had married young and my husband was always there, my number one priority for so long had been Morgan Stanley. And that’s so backwards, because I was never Morgan Stanley’s number-one priority. I wasn’t even a 1000th priority.”
When she realized that she was falling back into old habits and wasn’t going to be recognized for her contributions in a way that was acceptable to her, So Jene decided to leave, this time for good, and launched her own consulting business.
She started working with Capco, who she’d used as her primary consultants on the industry side, and realized that there was a lot of opportunity there—and maybe even a full-time role.
After six months, Capco asked her to join as a partner, and So Jene felt like she’d found a job where she could make the most of her experience but also maintain her independence and priorities in life. So she took it.
“The transition into consulting worked for me because I was able to say [to the client], ‘I truly understand the position that you’re in. I know what it feels like when your job is on the line,’” reflects So Jene, on a key element of her successful move.
“I enjoy this role so much more than my previous one,” she says. “It’s the flexibility that comes with it. I wouldn’t say I’m working less, but it allows me to work smarter.”
She found that her industry skill set served her well in consulting, especially when it came to having that client empathy and deep subject matter expertise. She had to come up to speed on commercial propositions, selling services, and the unique communication principles of making proposal decks, but a few months of practice got her there, and now So Jene is ready to encourage other longtime financial services folks to follow her example and consider a career in consulting.
4 Tips for Transitioning from Industry to Consulting
- Be entrepreneurial. “If you don’t have entrepreneurial interest or spirit, you’re just not going to make it,” says So Jene of the different motivations in consulting. “It has nothing to do with being dedicated or being smart. There are times when you don’t have something that you have to do, and you are expected to make the most of that time to get sales or improve a relationship with a client.”
- Develop your networks. This is especially true within a consultancy, says So Jene. “You want to build your brand so that you have an opportunity to work on other things and with other people,” she adds.
- Pursue what interests you. Self-learning goes a long way, explains So Jene, giving the example of a group of Capco employees who were interested in the legalization of marijuana and who looked into the business opportunities that came with changing cannabis laws. “Having that kind of curiosity, being focused on self-learning, and then being able to bring that back to the organization is just terrific,” says So Jene.
- At the end of the day, think about the change with a risk management framework. “If you're looking for a change or you want something, and you're a little bit apprehensive about it, evaluate it like a risk manager,” says So Jene. “What kind of risk are you dealing with, how do you measure that risk, and what controls are in place to help you succeed? Also, get some outside perspective.”
What does climate change have to do with investments? A lot, if you're Lisa Stanton.
As the Head of Global Sales and Client Service for Moody's ESG Solutions, Lisa spends much of her time working through her inbound inquiry list, talking to companies of all sizes and industries about the shift towards more responsible capitalism and how to understand the climate risks they face.
ESG investing looks at the environmental, social, and governance aspects of a given opportunity. Per Lisa, it's gone from being the feel-good little sibling of bottom-line-focused investment decisions to being the future of investing.
"It's now a way to outperform the markets because firms that are not responsible in these areas—in their stewardship of the environment, their board diversity, their labor practices—they often do not perform as well as companies that are," she explains.
We sat down with Lisa to learn more about the evolution she's seen over the last few decades, as well as the career choices she made that led her to where she is today and what advice she has for other people interested in driving asset management towards a more ethical future.
When Lisa started college, she was committed to a journalism major.
As it turned out, she didn't enjoy interviewing strangers.
"It was not for me," she says, smiling. She still liked the investigative, storytelling, and empowerment aspects of journalism, though, so when she started taking more economics classes, she was especially drawn to the parts of them that connected markets to the rest of the world. "Finance may seem like a narrow field, but you actually have to know a lot about a lot of different disciplines—politics, economics, markets, societal trends. It's really broad, at least in the institutional asset management space, and is a great career choice for the variety you encounter every day."
Lisa followed her interest in learning more about the world to London, where she moved after finishing her degree and found an early role in the back office of an asset manager.
"It's the grunt work that you do that lays that all-important foundation of how your career progresses," says Lisa, who was eventually offered a promotion to being a portfolio manager. One of those early roles was in the company's RFP team. "It exposes you to a ton of different disciplines and you can really start to think of where your strengths are, why you enjoy doing what you're doing, and where you want to focus longer-term."
Lisa moved back to the States and ended up working at Barra, a FinTech company, for 12 years. She started out as an individual salesperson and worked her way up to running the firm's global client service team. Not only was that where she experienced her "greatest growth," it was also where she met Frank Freitas, the Chief Development Officer at physical climate risk data and analytics firm 427 (recently acquired by Moody's).
After her time at Barra, Lisa worked in asset management at a few different firms before Frank reached out to her about an opportunity to join 427 as their first salesperson.
"I agonized over it. Do I leave my safe, nice role in asset management to go to this essential startup?" remembers Lisa. "And it was the best decision I ever made. So even though it was one of the hardest, it's turned out to be brilliant."
She was attracted to 427 for one main reason: it was in line with her values.
Not only would she get to work for a woman founder, an experience she'd never previously had in finance, she'd also get to build something from scratch. And the thing she built, if it was successful, would actually have a chance to make a positive impact on the world.
"I'd be able to look my daughter in the face and say I tried to do something on climate change," says Lisa.
When 427 was acquired by Moody's, she stayed on in her new role for similar reasons.
Finding Meaningful Work
Working on ESG solutions for a risk modeling institution like Moody's broadens the impact that Lisa can make in her work. Lisa says she's seen an incredible shift in the acknowledgement of, acceptance of, and interest in ESG.
"First, it was people who wanted to do good, but didn't necessarily see it as something that could also enhance investment returns," explains Lisa, citing early divestiture efforts in South African investments during apartheid or from tobacco or weapons manufacturers.
"One of the most staggering changes that we've seen in the last several years is that it's not just asset owners driving the change, it's investment managers understanding that it's critical to how they manage money," she says.
That shift represents a broader movement to a more responsible form of capitalism, and Lisa describes it as a multi-faceted evolution. "It's holders of capital taking a stance, saying they're not going to have their money invested in climate-destroying fossil fuel companies. It's students that are pressuring their endowments to divest," she says. "It's the realization that shareholder maximization is an inferior way of running the economy."
Now, with prospects and clients, Lisa talks through hypothetical scenarios such as:
- How exposed a company is to hurricanes, floods, wildfires, or other climate-change-related events, and what the financial impact of that is
- What risks and opportunities exist as consumers and investors' preferences shift from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources
- How companies' peers are doing on social labor practices, governance, board diversity, and other metrics, and what that means for their performance
"Say, for example, a firm has a warehouse in a coastal region. If they are not prepared for the increased frequency and severity of hurricanes, their operations are going to be disrupted, and that climate risk exposure is going to have a financial impact to their credit worthiness," she says.
Empowering the Future
Shaping the way that investors and companies consider risk and return hasn't been easy.
"I have never worked so long and so hard in my life," says Lisa.
But she wouldn't change it. "I always try to connect what I'm doing on a micro, day-to-day level to the big picture," she says.
"That's not hard with ESG. You know the impact of what you're doing. There is no place I would rather be in terms of a role that is dedicated to something that will hopefully make this global village a better place."
Advice from Bristol Myers Squibb Executive Director Antonia Russell
If you ask Antonia Russell to pinpoint where exactly she gets her determination from, she'd probably credit her grandparents, who emigrated to the U.S. with a sixth-grade education and built successful lives for themselves, and her father, who encouraged his three daughters to be independent and not feel boxed in by society's expectations for women.
Antonia internalized her father's advice at an early age, opting to study computer science in high school instead of the secretarial classes the school expected female students to take. She fell in love with computers and went on to study computer science and mathematics at Rutgers, where she also played D1 tennis. She then went on to earn an advanced degree in Engineering at Lehigh University. As she started her career, she continued to defy expectations, pushing back against the common assumption at the time that women would leave the workforce after getting married.
Now the Executive Director of Global Risk Management for biopharmaceutical company Bristol Myers Squibb, Antonia sat down with us to talk about what it's like being a member of an out-group at work, how sheer individual determination isn't enough to create truly inclusive workplaces, and what leaders can do to make everyone feel welcome.
Odd one out
The terminology of in-groups and out-groups comes from social psychology and refers to people's tendency to gather with others who seem like them (and to leave out others who don't). That us-versus-them dynamic can be extremely harmful (in the case of white supremacists) or relatively benign (in the case of rival football fans on game day). At work, women, Black people, LBTQ+ individuals, and others are often part of out-groups, and even if their peers and managers aren't actively aware of treating them any differently, they often have very different work experiences from those in the in-group.
Antonia's used to that feeling. She says that as the only woman in her computer science program at Rutgers, she learned to focus on her work and not on the fact that no one in her classes looked like her. "I was always a bit competitive, so I said, 'Wait, I can do this,'" she says.
As she entered the workforce, she kept noticing that nagging feeling of not belonging. It would come up in small ways, like an early manager sitting her down and earnestly telling her, "'If you want to advance as a senior leader here, you need to think about dressing differently.' I looked at him and he was dressed the exact same way I was dressed," remembers Antonia.
That pervasive exclusion led Antonia to not tell anyone at work she was pregnant until she was well past the six-month mark. "I was afraid of what was going to happen," she says. "That's not a reflection on the company. It's just a reflection on the time."
Even so, that constant stress took a toll. "I know now that feeling like part of the out-group creates physical pain. It actually takes up space in your brain and preoccupies your energy, almost like being sick," says Antonia, referencing neuroscience research like this recent Science article.
As Antonia moved up in her career and started taking on bigger and bigger management roles, she dug into the science around inclusion and in-groups and out-groups. It helped her make sense of what she'd experienced throughout her career—and it also helped her determine what kind of leader she wanted to be. "It validated all these years of how I was actually feeling, and that validation was a breakthrough," she says. "It empowered me to say, 'Okay, well, I have unconscious bias as well. How can I include people intentionally and not accidentally exclude them?' It made me more compassionate and understanding of others."
Finding her fit
A lot of Antonia's work to feel more included and be a more inclusive leader was self-directed. She combed through the NeuroLeadership Institute's materials and decided to start putting herself forward for opportunities and proactively asking to network with in-group members.
But she still wanted to be working at an organization that made that work easier and expected it of all its leaders, not just the ones who self-selected into it. "The turning point for me was when I joined BMS," explains Antonia of finding a culture that systematically worked to include everyone. "I really saw the commitment, the investment, the talk and the walk of being able to be our authentic selves and helping others along in the journey."
She cites BMS's social justice programs and ongoing trainings for managers and staff as examples of that. "Starting the conversation creates an environment where it's safe to express opinions and experiences, with a framework that's constructive," she says.
For Antonia, BMS's open and encouraging culture has transferred to remote work, too. She notes that senior leaders have all changed their profile pictures to be more casual and more representative of their current day-to-days—like showing off their beard-in-progress or not appearing perfectly coiffed—and that expectations are that everyone shows up however best works for them.
"In fact, I wore this to a meeting the other day," says Antonia, gesturing at her top, "and it's just an orange sweater. Somebody joked to me, 'Why are you so dressed up?'" Antonia laughs, then continues: "It's really substance over form. It's a healthy environment where people can thrive."
What individuals and leaders can do to promote inclusion at work
As an executive director, Antonia oversees several BMS teams. She knows there are certain things individual employees can do to advocate for themselves at work.
Here are her top tips for PowerToFly readers who are individual contributors:
1) "Recognize if you're missing information or relationships to do your job." If you're not invited into those conversations, lean in through your job responsibilities and ask." Antonia gives the example of taking on a new responsibility recently of overseeing BMS's digital therapeutics delivery and proactively asking if she could join that team's weekly forum to get up to speed. "I could've sat back and said, 'Well, nobody's invited me.' Don't act like a victim," she says.
2) "Have an honest conversation with yourself about the environments you feel safe in and the ones you don't. If you feel like you aren't being recognized, like you're falling behind, or like you're being bypassed for opportunities, that's an indicator that this may not be the right environment for you. Have a conversation with your boss or HR and see if you can turn it around."
3) "If over time you continue to experience the same toxic feeling, it's time for a change." Antonia calls this "leaning to the side" as opposed to "leaning in": "Recognize you're being wronged and say, 'Okay, I'm going to let that go, and I'm going to put my energy in a situation that is more amenable to how I can thrive.'" She recommends looking for a new role within your company or, if you think that's not far enough away from the toxic behavior, at a new organization.
But as vital as those tips are for individual employees to enact, Antonia knows that the real responsibility—and real opportunity—for creating safe and inclusive workplaces falls to managers and other leaders.
Here's what she recommends those leaders do:
1) "Educate yourself on inclusive habits." She cites the problems associated with certain boys'-club ways of thinking about building relationships work, whether that's doing team building in a way influenced by unconscious biases (like not inviting women to after-work drinks) or expecting everyone else to engage in the same way that you do (such as being an extrovert who loves big brainstorming sessions). Start by signing up for anti-bias training if your work offers it, or advocating for it if it doesn't.
2) "Lift up every voice without making them feel uncomfortable." For Antonia, that's meant providing various avenues for employees to present work to her, from scheduling one-on-one meetings to giving ample notice before expecting a team presentation.
3) "Understand that 'We need to get this done by Friday' doesn't work for everybody." Instead, try experimenting with flexible working hours or deadlines. "Create a safe environment where [individuals] are aware that you want to listen. Be patient to work through situations and come up with solutions," she says.
If you're interested in learning more about BMS or seeing their open roles, visit their PowerToFly employer profile.
Meet Michelle, Technology Risk Officer at Synchrony
At Synchrony, we're pioneering the future of finance and Technology is at the forefront of what we do. Hear how Michele is achieving her ambitions and building meaningful relationships with us as a Technology Risk Officer, and learn more about our Technology team and open roles here.
About Synchrony: Synchrony (NYSE: SYF) is a premier consumer financial services company delivering customized financing programs across key industries including retail, health, auto, travel and home, along with award-winning consumer banking products. With more than $130 billion in sales financed and 74.5 million active accounts, Synchrony brings deep industry expertise, actionable data insights, innovative solutions and differentiated digital experiences to improve the success of every business we serve and the quality of each life we touch.
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