Robin. Early Life Experiences. Career Milestones, Career Road Blocks, Obstacles and Challenges. Dealing with Difficult People

posted January 10th, 2012 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

I asked Robin to tell me about the experiences in her early life which she believed had the greatest impact on her work life and career. She said it was probably her observation of her mom who was a stay-at-home mom who did everything in the household. Robin said: “She was the stability, love and nurturing for the four kids and in addition, did the cleaning, cooking, shopping, washing and ironing.  I would come home from school and watch her iron while I did my homework. I remember coming home from grade one when Kennedy had been shot and we cried together watching our black and white television, standing in front of the ironing board! It wasn’t that I disrespected what she did.  I had the utmost respect for what she did; there couldn’t possibly have been a better mom in the world.  She didn’t have a driver’s license, so she walked everywhere. She was amazing. And it’s the reason she’s still in great shape today. But I didn’t want that lifestyle. I thought this is crazy, the man is the bread winner and the woman is uni-dimensional at home.  It was probably one of the main reasons that I was determined to have a career.  I didn’t know what kind of a career it would be but I would say that’s probably one of the earliest experiences which subconsciously impacted me and the reason I pursued a career as the only way I wanted to live my life. And I just loved school and learning and people.”


“My dad sweated it, literally, and it took my parents and family a long time to become comfortable. Along the way, they instilled a lot of good values in the four of us kids.”


I asked Robin what milestones stand out when she looks back at her career and what she learned from them. She said: “In the beginning, being a several time recipient of gold and silver awards for achieving certain sales levels while I was in retail brokerage was a cool milestone. A bigger milestone was to become first a vice-president and then a director of my firm.  There was some prestige involved and that helped to generate business. When you have a prestigious designation and it’s on your business card, people are impressed and that creates business.  Other milestones include opening my own business at age fifty, after leaving Bay Street because everyone around me was twenty-five. It’s been five very difficult years because markets have been crazy. I’ve never seen markets like this in my career but timing is everything.”


Robin continued: “Opening this business was a real milestone.  It hasn’t been great performance-wise but it was a milestone because there’s so much involved.  When you have your own little gig going, you bring in the paper towel,  kleenex and toilet paper. It isn’t supplied by the big corporate organization, the way you’re accustomed to it being. You do everything from opening the mail, to paying the rent, employees, auditors and lawyers, to dealing with clients and regulators.  There are no departments to take care of these things, however the offset is the entrepreneurial nature of the business, which is different than working in a large organization. Another milestone is when I first started in the business, I did retail brokerage sales and when I left the first firm I was with to join the second firm it was to take a position in institutional equity sales and there’s a big difference between the two.  In the wholesale business, you are dealing with professionals and portfolio managers, so their mindset is extremely different from the mindset of retail clients.  And looking back, it was a really good choice on my part.  I didn’t want to leave the first firm I was at but I did because I didn’t feel that we, the retail sales people, were treated fairly.”


“The retail sales people in the firm were not given any kind of equity shares of note in the firm and a huge part of what motivates people like me is if they own a piece of the company they work for and equity shares in this firm were reserved for the investment bankers and the corporate finance people. There were many of us who decided that this just wasn’t fair and we left the firm en masse.  At the time, there were forty of us and part of my agreement to leave was based on switching careers – to take on the institutional sales position which turned out to be great for me.  I really loved it.”

I asked Robin about the major obstacles, difficulties and road blocks she faced in her career. What they were, what she did when she faced them, where she turned for support, and what she learned from encountering them.


She said: “I didn’t have any major road blocks for the first ten years.  It was so unique for a woman to be in the position that I was in because there weren’t any.  When I looked around, it was all men.  So there were no road blocks in the early days and there was no pay differential either because we worked on commission and everybody had the same commission structure. Road blocks came later in my career and I don’t know that they had anything to do with my being female. They had everything to do with politics in the office.  It happened when our firm was about to be taken over by another firm and people became extremely self-absorbed and had the me, me, me complex going. I ended up having my title taken away, although it was given back a year later when a new group came in. It was more politics than anything.  How did I deal with it?  The same way I deal with everything.  I just talked openly about it to the various people I was dealing with including management at the firm and sometimes I talked to my friends and my siblings who I’m very close with, but I’m not a big talker or gossip or anything like that so I pretty much kept it to myself.  I learned that not everyone is as honest as they should be and not everybody has the same standard of friendship and dedication that I do and that people really don’t care about others. Many people really don’t care. It was a hard lesson in human nature but I also learned who my friends were and who supported me.”


I asked Robin to think about the people she has had the greatest difficulty with and how she would characterize them and their impact on her and the world. She said: “There would be four people I’ve had great difficulty with and it was always politics. It was what was going on in the office at that time and who was covering their own ass and who wanted to gain prestige or a title at someone else’s expense. That has happened three or four times in my career, where someone was trying to destroy me based on their own climb up the ladder.  In their minds, it would look good on them if they could do it and I have to say that in all of those circumstances, they did not win.  So impact?  You don’t sleep at night and you’re totally destroyed by the lies and fictions. For the first ten years of my career, I thought everybody was completely honest and wonderful but when you start catching people red-handed in lies, it’s a real eye-opener.  In those cases, I would say that it was completely political and their impact was very negative during the episodes, but ultimately they were found out. It was definitely a power struggle and even though I was not in the ring or in their match, I was someone they could use to get where they wanted to get.”


I asked Robin when she considered her career in its entirety what she would do differently, if anything. She said: “Nothing.  Because when you look back, I know you can’t change anything but maybe the one thing I would do differently would have been to take more time off or at least some time off between leaving Bay Street and starting this business, this hedge fund business.  Hindsight’s always perfect. It would have been a good idea to have taken a break but I didn’t.  I slipped right into exam-writing mode to get qualified to do this.”


Robin told me the markets had been terrible since she started her new business, so I asked her whether it would have been different if she had left Bay Street five years earlier and she said: “If I had left five years earlier, I probably would have done the same thing and I would have had a much better experience in the first five years and then I wouldn’t be saying what I’m saying.  It’s all about experience and timing.  I wouldn’t change anything.  I had a wonderful career and many would say I still do but I’m not having as much fun as I did in my earlier years.”


What Strikes Me?


Women make decisions to have careers early in their lives based on their family experiences


A mother’s role in the family allows the daughter to see one of her options


Women begin to face roadblocks later in their career when power dynamics enter the picture and men are reluctant to share it with them


Politics and politicians are a negative force in the workplace for almost everyone around them


Hindsight’s always perfect


What Strikes Me?


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