Olivia. Relationships, Role Models, Mentors and Heroes

posted October 14th, 2009 by Janet Graham - One Comment



I asked Olivia to tell me about the relationships in her life which she believed had the greatest impact on her and in particular her work life and career. She says when she left the accounting world she went back to the University of Western Ontario where she had obtained her undergraduate business degree and looked at all of the job postings for  that year, both undergraduate and MBA postings, wrote all of the company names down and sent letters to each of them and went to see all of them. At the time, the Schedule B banks were all coming to Canada and one in particular was hiring and Olivia went to see them.  She says she wrote them a letter, got an interview and went through the whole process and ended up taking a job with them. 


And she says there is a funny little aside to this story which I have included because, she is right… it is funny!!! When Olivia was doing all of the final paperwork, after being hired by this American bank, they asked her what her undergraduate degree was in and she told them her undergraduate degree was in business and because it was an American bank and US universities do not offer undergraduate degrees in business, they had assumed she had a graduate degree in business. She says: “They had made me an offer and in their minds I had an MBA and at the very end of the process they realized I didn’t but by then they’d already decided to hire me and they said, oh well”.


In any event, she says she thought of this American bank in terms of relationships because she was thinking how important mentors are in the early years of any career and she had missed out on this in her early career because she had skipped around a little bit in terms of jobs. When she was at this bank she says: “there was a wonderful man who had been over in our London office on the merchant banking side of the business who was just a brilliant guy. He was in his early 40’s and at the time it seemed to me he was an “older guy” but if I look back on it he was quite young and he was just a great mentor.  He told me I should do all sorts of things and he set me up to do them. In 1982, he had me start covering the brokers on interest rate swaps which were brand new. He sent me over to London to interview with the merchant bank. He was wonderful.  He had me think big about things as opposed to thinking “I can’t do that”.  He would say yes you can, you can do whatever you want.  He was a huge influence in terms of my perspective. I ended up leaving the bank to join an investment dealer – but he was the guy who told me to think big”. 


She says another relationship which had an impact on her work life and career was an early one she had with a friend at university who introduced her to the idea of business school. She went off to university wanting to be a painter, although she took a bunch of math courses because she liked it and she took English because she had a “little” English scholarship, but she really wanted to be a painter. However, she realized that she identified with all the people in her business classes and her other economics classes more than she identified with the people in her painting classes.  She says now she just buys paintings, she doesn’t paint them. This friend she met at university decided to go to business school and so Olivia said: “Okay, I’ll apply too.  I had no idea what business school was about but I got accepted and off I went.   It was a matter of opening yourself up to new things, rejecting things that you knew didn’t fit and not being afraid to try other things. I think this early relationship and my relationship with my mentor at the American bank were some of the big influences in my career in terms of opening my mind to other ideas and perspectives”. 


In terms of her career, when she left the investment bank, following the market crash and not knowing she was pregnant, she was going to look for another job.  When she found out she was pregnant, she thought: “Well, who’s going to hire me now?  So I ended up luckily staying home for a year and a half.  I wouldn’t have had the courage to do that – circumstances forced me. That was a great thing to happen to me. After two years, I needed to go back to work.  I said, okay, I’m not ready to quit forever.  What does a bond person like me do in Vancouver. So one day, my husband came home and I said I’m moving back to Toronto. I phoned a friend in Toronto and said can you give me any connections to get back into the work force. Being out of the market for two years is a long time. She set up an interview for me with a vice chair at one of the big firms in Toronto.”


Olivia says the woman who set up the interview for her had a significant influence on her in terms of her work and career. At the time, this woman was a very senior lawyer in Toronto. Olivia said they had become friends through the business, working on a bunch of things together. When she described her she said quite simply: “She’s very good”. What Olivia did not say was that this meant this woman had enough influence in the financial services industry, to arrange for Olivia to be interviewed by a senior person at one of the major firms in Toronto and to influence the hiring process by her well deserved reputation.


Unbeknownst to her, the firm Olivia interviewed with wanted to hire more women. She says she got the interview and was hired because at that time the firm felt it needed more women. She says she was lucky because they hired her for a job completely unrelated to her previous experience. She moved her kids back to Toronto with her and her husband stayed in Vancouver for a time to complete his work there. She says this was a major challenge. She had a one year-old and a two year-old and was working in Investment Banking. In her words: “Oh my G-d that was hard, really hard.  My husband came back and forth for about nine months.  I look back and I don’t know how I did that.  It was brutal. I remember I lost 15 lbs in three months because I was exhausted.  It was so hard, really hard, these two little guys at home.  I’d never eat dinner; I’d just come home and I’d sit myself on the bottom stair.  They’d play and we’d have a visit and we’d lay in bed together and we’d read stories and then I’d go to bed.  And I would get up the next morning and start again. You know I was simply exhausted all the time”. And I asked her whether she had any one to help her and she said she had one nanny but she says it was exhausting nonetheless.


When Olivia went to back to work in Toronto, the firm she joined was one of the major Canadian securities firms and there were other women working at the same firm and she says it was the first time she had met a bunch of women in the business.  She says she had not had that experience before and it was only fleeting because she ended up leaving the firm. She stayed there for five years and moved to her current firm where she has been for the last 11 years.


Role Models, Mentors and Heroes


I asked Olivia about role models, mentors and heroes and if she had them how they behaved that she found admirable or influential. How they helped her to grow? The impact they had on her success? She said she can’t say she had a role model. She says women don’t really have many role models because their lives are so different from men and as a result, men can’t really be role models for them.  She says men can be mentors, like the one she had mentioned at the Schedule B bank but not role models. She says: “As a woman you have to find your own way in everything.  You really do”. 


After thinking about it, she says she doesn’t think she has had any role models or heroes in terms of her work life and career. She says there have been people she respected and liked working with and great partners and people that have been good to work with but not role models or heroes. And she wondered whether that was unusual.


In her words: “I think if you’re in a corporation you can end up having a mentor that helps you through. In our business, in the early years, it is pretty dog eat dog you know.  It’s less so at very senior levels and there’s collaboration at this level and I certainly try and mentor people and I think I do.  I value it and I think if you asked the team of people I work with I think they would view me as a good mentor but, no, I found in our business that people tend to look after themselves too much.  I don’t know that young men would say much different.  I don’t think it’s a gender issue in terms of the absence of mentors and mentoring behaviours”.


I asked Olivia whether she saw herself as a role model, mentor or hero. And she said immediately: “So no to hero.” I asked her whether home might be an exception and she said: “On some days, maybe with my youngest but the teenagers no.  I think my husband sometimes thinks I’m a hero. I hope I’m a good role model.  It’s important to me.  I mean I view, as a manager of people, that one of the most rewarding things for the last 11 years was that I got to form my whole team from scratch. The best part is my team of people. I have my team over to my home.  We go out together, I know them all.  I try and give them a good career path, I encourage them to move out of the group, I try and get them jobs around the firm.  I’m a big believer in intake and recruiting and all that stuff, so that’s really important to me and I think most women are good at it.  I mean, there’s not many women so they tend to want me on recruiting and I do as much of it as I can because I really enjoy the young people.  It’s one of the joys of the business”.


What Strikes Me?


It’s hard for us to recognize ourselves as heroes


The importance of thinking big


What a difference it makes when we trust our instincts, call it like we see it and have the courage to move on rather than questioning our judgment and continuing to suffer


The magic which happens when we open ourselves up to new things, reject things that don’t fit us and are not afraid to try new and different things


Sometimes the “universe” conspires for us and places us in situations we would not have to courage to pursue on our own and they are the perfect places for us to be at that moment in time


The absence of mentors in the securities business is not a gender issue; it’s a cultural issue. Mentoring behaviours are not rewarded and what’s not rewarded doesn’t get done


What Strikes You?


Please add your comments.

Be Sociable, Share!

One Response to “Olivia. Relationships, Role Models, Mentors and Heroes”

Comment from Multi-tasker
Time October 17, 2009 at 9:03 pm

Inspiring…mentors are so important for one’s career. Unfortunately they are hard to come by

Write a comment

You need to login to post comments!