The Beqaj Interview

posted April 13th, 2011 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

This is the fifth in a series of posts I will publish based on an interview I did with Jim Beqaj to gain his perspective on the progress of women in the financial services industry. Jim is a respected veteran of the financial services industry and author of the recently published “How To Hire The Perfect Employer” which I reviewed in a previous post. (Check out my review; I loved his book!!)

 

 

I asked Jim what advice he would give to women in the securities industry, in particular young women. He responded:

 

 

“Don’t go.  No, I’m only kidding.  I think that… well my own daughter’s not going into the securities industry.  She’s going to go into the television industry.  The advice I would give to women in the financial services industry would be to really… and probably not dissimilar to any other industry they go into… would be to really understand what you want to do and once you have decided what you want to do you have to be really good at it because you’re a smaller group, you’re a minority, you’re going to be under a greater microscope, you’re going to be watched, and you’ll always be second-guessed about your success which is the case whether you’re a woman or not when you’re really successful, sorry, life’s tough and that’s the reality, right.  I felt like that growing up with a name like mine in a firm like Wood Gundy.  I didn’t fit, right?  And if you didn’t fit in, people would look at you harder, you know, and so I think there’s a socio-economic sort of reason for looking at people and then there’s gender and then there’s diversity and there’s all of that stuff.”

 

 

“So I would say be really focused.  Make sure that what you’re going to do you really, really want to do because I think the margin for error in the securities industry of just being okay is much, much smaller than it is, perhaps, in larger corporations.  You don’t have the diversity of jobs, you don’t have the diversity of opportunities, it’s investment banking, it’s the training program, it’s all of those things.”

 

 

“In addition to that, don’t stop being a woman. I don’t think you have to act like a man.   You can still be a woman.  You can still be strong.  You bring a unique and different perspective that men don’t have.  Use it.  Share it.  Simply say it. If ten people think one way and there’s one person that says I’m not sure about this approach, it looks to me like we’re might be going off the cliff, it’s a good thing.  They may not all listen to you but don’t be afraid to speak up and say, you know, I have a different view or here’s a different perspective.”

 

 

“I think the single most important thing is you’ve got to find someone early in your career and I say this to men and women but in particular to women you have to find someone early on that’s going to watch your back the whole way because I think one of the difficulties of growing up in the securities industry is that people put you in a box quickly and don’t let you out, in terms of how they see you.  She’s a ball-buster or she’s too weak or she’s this or she’s that and I think they do the same with men, you know, he’s a bully or he’s a pansy or he can’t get anything done.  The securities industry is very quick to judge and I think it’s hard to see yourself clearly when you’re in your 20′s and 30′s let alone when you’re in your 40′s and if you have people that you find that will be honest with you and say, you know what, I got to tell you, sitting in that meeting I know this wasn’t what you intended to say but this is how it came across.”

 

 

“My daughter’s a perfect example.  I was on the phone with her yesterday.  She had a phone interview for the Food Network and I said to her, okay, so now when you send your thank-you note… she has a blog; it’s called emmaseatery.blogspot.com which I suggested she do… I said make sure you put the blog link in.  She goes, dad, I told her about the blog and she didn’t say anything about it.  I said, Emma, I’m trying to help you here and she genuinely didn’t see how she was coming across to me.  She just couldn’t see it. So I said, well, just make a special note of it in your letter.  She said, well, I’ll add it but she obviously wasn’t interested in it.  She just couldn’t see I was trying to help her and I’m her father who loves her the most but someone else that she’d spoken to would go G-d, what a bitch, right. And I’m trying help her, right.  So I think that you need to find people that you can count on. I had Peter Campbell but then I had no one, right, and in the end I got fired and it was kind of like, well, nobody told me I was doing anything wrong type of thing.  I think for women it’s even more important because there’s not a natural network for women.”

 

 

“So my advice would be to really hone in on what you’re going to do and understand what the job is all about. If you want to go into investment banking, you have to understand that it is a 100 hour a week job. Don’t go in and say, well, I’ll see what it’s like and decide whether I like it and really want to work in it while I am doing it. I say don’t go, because everybody else there is going to work 100 hours a week because they really want the job.  If you’re going to go work on a trading desk you’d better be mathematically oriented, you’d better be able to add value and figure things out quickly because the thing in the securities industry… it’s the golden rule … he who makes the gold makes the rules, right?”

 

 

“So if you want to be successful, boy or girl, man or woman, figure out how to make money, add value. It’s even more important if you’re a woman to be able to say, look  right here, see that, that’s how much I generated.  If you don’t want to do that kind of thing don’t go into it, because it’s success-based.  It’s not a feel good kind of thing.”

 

 

I asked Jim whether his advice to a young man would be any different. He said:

 

 

“No, no.  In fact, I would tell a young man it’s going to be tougher for you because you’re going to have ten guys competing against you rather than one but my advice would be exactly the same.  The harder part with young men going into the securities industry is they have a greater sense of entitlement. At least, I believe they do.  They think it’s their industry and they have that sense of I’m going to live the Bonfire of the Vanities life, that type of stuff.  I think that also by the sheer numbers of men, they know they’re not all making it to the top, and men know very quickly who’s not making it. You can quickly see in the first several years who’s going to remain a bond trader or an equity salesman.  They’re going to be in the business for a long time and they might do well but they’re not going to be moving up and running large areas. There’s only one person who can run all of global fixed income and there are eighteen hundred people in the room.  So I think that men come to that point in their careers sooner than women and they say this is my lot in life, I’m well paid, I golf, I hang out with my buddies, my family, my wife, and so they don’t feel that same sense of I’ve got to drive to the top.”

 

 

“I think for women, their sense of I’ve got to drive to the top is because there aren’t a lot of women in the business.  If there were 100 women at the top then women would say, well okay, so I’m not one of the 100 but I feel better because at least there are a lot of them up there, but there aren’t, right, and to me it all starts at the core.  It all starts in the schools, it starts at university really.  I mean, if you want more women in your organization you’ve got to get to the universities.  It’s like I said to my friends at the banks, you know, if you want more retail bank accounts you have to give out free banking at the universities.  I bank at my bank and it’s the same bank I had at university, the first account I opened, probably yours too and everybody else’s.  Have you ever been to campus when the kids arrive in the fall and there’s a sign and a phone or a brochure or pamphlet on opening day and all the banks are there? I said to them why don’t you host a massive party and bring all the women together, doing the same type of thing.  If you want women in your organization why wouldn’t you get all of the women together separately at the beginning of their university career.   I mean deal with the men and women separately.  Take some of your best people and send them down there, both women and men, and tell them they’re going to mentor these five women.”

 

 

What Strikes Me?

 

Young woman should be very clear about what they want to do

 

Once you have decided what you want to do, you have to be really good at it because you’re part of a smaller group, you’re a minority and you’re going to be under a greater microscope

 

Be really focused

 

Make sure that you really want to do what you’re going doing because the margin for error in the securities industry is much, much smaller than it is in larger corporations

 

Don’t stop being a women. You don’t have to act like a man to be successful. You can  still be strong

 

Women bring a unique and different perspective which men don’t have. Use it, share it. Give it voice

 

Don’t be afraid to speak up

 

Find someone early on that’s going to watch your back the whole way because one of the difficulties of growing up in the securities industry is that people put you in a box quickly and don’t let you out, in terms of how they see you

 

The securities industry is very quick to judge and it’s hard to see yourself clearly when you’re in your 20′s and 30′s let alone when you’re in your 40′s and if you have people that will be honest with you and treasure them

 

You need to find people that you can count on because there’s not a natural network for women

 

If you want to be successful, boy or girl, man or woman, figure out how to make money and add value

 

This industry is success-based.  It’s not a feel good kind of thing

 

For women, their sense of having to drive to the top comes in part from not seeing a lot of women at the top

 

If you want more women in your organization, you have start at the universities

 

What Strikes You?


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