The Beqaj Interview

posted April 15th, 2011 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

This is the sixth 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 if he thought it was a good idea for women to have alliances with other women either informally or formally, in the latter case, like Women in Capital Markets or the Women’s Network or other similar associations, whether he thinks that helps them or hurts them. He said:


“Well, I think exclusive clubs are frowned upon.  I don’t care if it’s an all-Jewish club or if it’s an all-rich club or an all anything. I think people frown upon it.  I think people look at it and see it as basically self-serving and it is all of those things.  Obviously, everybody has the right to do what they want but the irony of Women in Capital Markets is that if they had Men in Capital Markets people would be up in arms.  It’s like the tv shows which make me crazy – the Latino Awards or the Black Awards.  If you had the White Awards, people would be up in arms.  So I think anything that promotes exclusiveness by gender, by race or by height or whatever it is, by its nature is going to draw criticism.  I mean, I would think that they would be far better suited if they had just young people in Capital Markets or young professionals in Capital Markets and covered a range of issues: women’s issues, young people starting out issues, gender diversity, racial diversity, had a more broad-based mandate. So that’s my view of clubs period.”


“I think that for women to be successful in the financial securities industry in many ways they have to have a champion.  They have to have lots of champions within the institution.  You know, CEO’s can talk about the importance of women in the business and everything else but you’ve got to be able to say okay, well here’s where we start, right.  Here’s where we start recruiting women.  It’s a smaller pool, so if it’s a smaller pool we’ve got to start earlier because they get weeded out, right.  We’ve got 100 guys to look at, we’ve got 20 women to look at.  Of the 20 women, 10 aren’t coming to financial services.  Of the 10 that are left we’re competing against Goldman or the Asset Management business or consulting or whatever.  Now we’re down to three, right.  Well, you’ve got to work hard to get those three, right, and you’ve got to convince those three that there’s a real opportunity for them and that’s hard work but at the end of the day it pays off, right.  I think it pays off.  I mean, I was blessed.  When I look around the street I probably had more of the best women and I’ll tell you they weren’t easy.  I mean, they stuck it to me, right.  They were right in my face and they were less afraid than any of the guys were.  I could bark at the guys and they’d run like dogs with their tails between their legs but the women, they called me out, and it was good for me.  It was good for me as a manager, right.  They would call me out and, you know, I had times where I had a gender bias on something and they’d just challenge me directly, like, seriously, are you kidding me they’d say and I’d go,  my G-d, you know what, you’re right, you’re right.”


“On the male side you’ve got to start educating those young guys early on and not making them feel pitted against young women, right.  It’s like affirmative action.  It’s the same thing.  Affirmative action can make the young white male feel like no matter how well he does somebody’s going to pass on him for somebody else. They can’t see the whole picture.  So I think for institutions to really do well, you’ve got to start right at the university level.  I think you’ve got to start looking deep and taking the time and finding those people.”


“I think the other thing that institutions have to get really good at is recognizing that relationships will take place within institutions and that they have to find a way to deal with them. And I don’t mean extra-marital affairs, I mean relationships. They happen because people are people. And you can’t create a place where it’s not a replica of real life. Those situations are part of real life and it only undermines people’s credibility if they feel that… and I’ll stay away from the infidelity ones… but just the relationships where people feel that are not able to let someone know that they’re dating someone on another desk because it wouldn’t be good for them.  I think institutions have to become more tolerant and understanding of the fact that a husband can work over there and a wife can work over there and maybe they can’t work reporting to each other, and I understand that, but they should bend over backwards to sort of say, listen, you guys are in a relationship and we are okay with it.  If you’re happy with where you guys are, we are okay with it and if things progress and you feel uncomfortable you should know that we’re going to do everything in our power to find you equivalent other jobs in different parts of the organization where you can continue your career and those types of things and I don’t think they do that in particular or well.”


“I mean, I remember when I got married the first time they made it very difficult for my wife to stay in her job and she had to go and work somewhere else and that only compounded the stress on the marriage, right, because then you’ve got someone out there in the same area competing with you and some people are okay with that but I wasn’t okay with that but the firm could have easily moved her over into equities or into another part of the firm.  She was a talented individual and they had certain rules; certain places she could move to, she could go into retail but she couldn’t go into equities.”


“I think if I left you with one message, and I talk about this all the time with people and whenever I’ve been to Western and Queen’s, I’ve talked to professors about this, if you want to change the way things are done you can’t change it with 40 and 50 year-old people.  You have to change it at the beginning and at the beginning it’s the intake number.”


“I had one of the CEO’s of one of the investment banks say to me, I want you to get me a course on relationship management because my investment bankers are brilliant but they’re lousy relationship managers.  I said I can get you a course, I can charge you whatever you want for the course, but that’s not going to change anything.  You didn’t hire relationship managers, you hired geeks and now you want them to be something other than what they are.  I said you wouldn’t hire relationship type guys coming in because you’d say, oh, they’re not smart enough, they’re not product-oriented enough, not mathematical enough, and so you’re looking for the perfect combination of relationship skills and technical and mathematical abilities and it doesn’t exist.  So if you want more of a relationship management nature to your business, well, you’re going to hire different kinds of people at the intake, right.  If you want all quants and those types of people, it begins at intake. Well, why would that be any different if you want more women to have an opportunity to grow in an organization.  You’ve got to hire more women.  And what’s your hiring practice?  Let’s wait and see if they apply, right.  Right?  That’s your model!!  Well good luck.  It’s like saying I want to get married and I’ll just wait and see who calls me to ask me out on a date, right.  It’s not going to happen.  You put yourself out there.  You put yourself in situations, in environments, and so if you like blondes you’re dating blondes, you’re not dating brunettes and redheads.”


“So it’s the same concept for me in that if you want to create a pool of more women you’ve got to start at university.  You’ve got to start in first year. You’ve got to start when they first get there.  You’ve got to take the entire class and you’ve got to start throwing events and being there and keeping in touch with them and saying, listen, this is your guy over here at our firm, you keep in touch and through the year there will be a few events.  At Christmas time, if you want to work for a couple of weeks, we’ll get you a job for a couple of weeks, it will be a great opportunity to watch you and see you, but it will be real work.  This gives your firm a leg up on everybody.  When these kids graduate, they’ve worked with you for four years, they’d love to come back and you’ve had a great opportunity to see them, you can rotate them through retail, through investment banking, through all kinds of things where people actually get a real look at them. So if I was to sort of leave one message that would be it.”


What Strikes Me?

For women to be successful in the financial securities industry, they have to have a champion


For institutions to really do well in terms of recruitment and retention of women they have to start at the university level. They have to look deep and take the time to find the right  people


If you want to change the way things are done you can’t change it with 40 and 50 year-old people.  You have to change it at the beginning of the process and the beginning of the process is recruitment and the intake number


If you want more women to have an opportunity to grow in an organization, you’ve simply got to hire more women


If you want to create a pool of more women in your organization, you’ve got to start at university. You’ve got to start first year, you’ve got to start when they first get there


What Strikes You?



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