Interview with John Smith

posted June 14th, 2013 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

Today’s post is the final of three excerpts from my interview with “John Smith.” John is a hugely successful participant in the Canadian securities industry and I thought his perspective on a variety of issues would be interesting to consider!! I was thrilled he agreed to be interviewed. I hope you enjoy reading what he has to say and as usual your comments are most welcome!!


I asked John whether he saw himself as a mentor and if so, how these mentoring relationships had developed and whether he had mentored women.


He says: “Yes, I do see myself as a mentor.  Yes, I’ve mentored women.  But my advice to anyone is the same.  You have to do it on your own.  You have to show that you’re capable of advancing and if you show that you’re capable of advancing we will advance you.  I’ve had lots of people here that were hired on as a sales assistant and they became an assistant analyst, and then an analyst, or they could become an assistant trader, and then become a trader, move up in the firm. I’m not that connected with the back office these days because I don’t know what happens back there but somebody else, hopefully, if they have the same view as me may see someone who is doing a much better job than someone else and would make opportunities available to them, whether they are male or female.”


I asked John what advice he would give to women in the corporate world, in particular young women.


He says: “How would I advise a young woman?  I’d tell them, you learn the skills of your trade, you show that you come to the office all-knowing and ready to go and ready to put in the extra energy which all successful people need to put in, right? You don’t get ahead without being one step better than the next person.  You have to be a little different but that’s just having the brain power and the energy and the time to do it.  So anybody can advance.


“I would tell them you are equal if not more than equal.  Women are smarter than men.  I just believe it, okay?  Women are better employees than men.  In terms of moving up the ladder, I just go back to the same thing.  Just ply your trade well and show that you can do it better than somebody else.  That’s presumably how everyone advances, right?  You have to be aggressive in the sense that if you believe in something, say it.  Don’t let anyone else steal your thunder.  If you’ve come up with something, if you’re, let’s say, an assistant research analyst and you’re working for some guy and you come up with an idea, don’t let the guy get away with saying it was his idea when it was your idea because you’ve got to stand up for yourself.  That’s all I would say.  You want to be in the game, it’s a bit of a man’s game, and some of the game has to be played by men’s’ rules.  You have to prove that you’re better than the next level above you so that you’ll move up in that hierarchy. You’re going to move up by your own success, so you have to create it yourself.  You just can’t get dragged up.  To get to the top you’ve got to push your way up, right?  You have to work hard and be recognized and maybe the worst thing for women is making sure you get recognized.  It’s probably the biggest reason they don’t get there because maybe some man’s more willing to claim something than a woman.


“Women do tend to be more outspoken than men.  I see women in day to day things and if they don’t like something, they’re way more likely to speak up than a man is going to speak up, which is a good thing.  Women come by this very honestly.  Women are better able to communicate. Men are physically stronger and in order for a woman to succeed she has to listen hard and talk. A woman is not going to win a physical fight, so you have to learn to see everything around you, you have to be taking in all the information because you’re in a loser’s position in a physical world.  In order to combat that you’re not going to threaten the guy, okay?  You’ve got to win with logic and discussion and therefore you have to be more sensitive to receiving everything.  One of my most interesting observations is when I’m at a social function where there are young people, let’s say an office party, and some music comes on, the women know every word of the song, and it blows me away.  I’ve listened to the same songs and I don’t know the words and these women know every word. A woman’s mind is more receptive to things.  They’re listeners, they hear things, whereas men, they just bluster along and they get the beat but, you know, they don’t pick up the words.”


John shared a little of his management philosophy: “One of the things that I don’t do is when it’s not working for somebody, I don’t want to beat up on this guy, I already know it’s not going to work.  The last thing I’ve got to do is beat up on him.  I’m more likely to beat up on a guy who’s my equal, or confront a guy who’s my equal, rather than somebody who’s just not going to make it.  It doesn’t serve any purpose for me grinding the guy because what am I accomplishing.  In my mind, I already think this is not working. In an Executive Committee meeting, I don’t have a problem because essentially I am there with equals but when you’re dealing with someone who’s not really doing that great a job, boy, it’s tough. There comes a time when you’ve got to make a decision, not that we make many decisions of that ilk often, that’s one of the worst things. My theory is I can put up with the guy because I’ve got enough horses here that will pull people along until he starts negatively affecting us, then it’s over. In the meantime, he serves some role.  He’s not advancing in the company but there’s a role to be served because you can’t all be bosses.”


I asked John whether he would advise a young woman to establish alliances with other women.


He says: “I don’t know.  I mean, I’ve never even thought of that.  I don’t know what purpose it would serve in comparison to establishing alliances with men, unless it is a particular female oriented business or something, so I don’t really have an opinion on that.


At the end of our interview, John says: “I think the deck’s stacked against women.  That’s the problem and you’d think it would change with time.  I can’t believe there hasn’t been more change in the number of women on Bay Street and there’s nobody making any real progress, that just blows me away okay?


When I asked John to think about how many female investment bankers he knew, he agreed there were very few.


“Well, you know what the trouble with investment bankers is.  They’re tough damned males.  They are the toughest people in the world.  I can’t believe how tough they are.  My biggest blow ups have always been with investment bankers.  It’s like they eat nails for breakfast.  They are tough.  I can’t even imagine a woman dealing with them. It’s tough enough for me to deal with these guys.  I don’t know where they grow ‘em.  I mean, they’re just nasty.  It’s an all-out war.  I know why, though, because when there’s a deal to be done, it’s that one time and there isn’t another time, so if you’re going to be the nice guy it’s going to take you a long time to win, particularly if you start losing the one-offs because some guy’s more aggressive than you.”


And on this note, our interview ended.


What Strikes Me?

You don’t get ahead without being one step better than the next person


You have to be a little different to be successful but that’s just having the brain power, energy and time to do it


Anybody can advance


Women have to work hard to be recognized; it’s the toughest thing for them to do


The biggest reason women don’t get to the top is because a man is more willing to claim his place than a woman


What Strikes You?


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