You can have it all — just not all at once, says first woman to head major Wall Street bank

Jane Fraser, CEO of Citigroup

Jane Fraser's appointment as the first woman CEO of a major Wall Street bank was a huge feat, not only personally but also for others hoping to balance professional ambitions with their private lives.

But she is adamant other career-climbers can have it all too — perhaps just not all at once. 

Fraser was named CEO of Citigroup in September and will take the reins from Michael Corbat next year. She will be the first woman to helm one of Wall Street's four major banks which include Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo.

"There is some crazy pressure on women, and on men, to almost be superwoman or superman, and that's just not realistic," Fraser said Tuesday at Singapore's FinTech Festival.

"The advice to everyone is, you can have it all, but don't expect to have it at exactly the same time," said the 53-year-old mother of two, who worked part time at consulting group McKinsey for five to six years while her children were young.

As such, young people shouldn't feel in such a hurry, she said.

"Your career is going to be measured in decades, and you'll probably have many careers in your life, so make sure that you really enjoy each period of your life and make the most of it," Fraser said. "Don't try and achieve everything at the same time and put so much pressure on yourself."

Advice from CEO to CEO

It's a work philosophy inherited in part from Citigroup's former CEO Vikram Pandit, under whom Fraser served during his tenure from 2004 to 2012.

Vikram Pandit, former-CEO of Citigroup speaking in June 15, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan.
Bill Pugliano | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Fraser recalled how, one day, Pandit invited her to share her career goals. She duly presented him a sheet of paper mapping out her promotional aims and the skills required to achieve them, to which he pushed back.

"He said: You've got to think about how do you collect and gather the experiences that will make you successful in the role, not the experiences that will get you to the role," Fraser said.

That was a game-changing piece of advice for me ... I started doing completely different jobs and ones that weren't necessarily logical.
Jane Fraser
incoming CEO, Citigroup

"That was a game-changing piece of advice for me, because then I started doing completely different jobs and ones that weren't necessarily logical to most people's thinking," she added.

Indeed, during her 16 years at Citi, Fraser has navigated roles within the group's investment and private banks, as well as its mortgage business and its operations in Latin America. That diversity has given her exposure to the operations, technologies and risks of a range of business areas, she added.

"That philosophy very much guided me to start thinking what are the things that would equip me better for a more senior role further down the path," said Fraser.

Leading forward

Fraser said she hopes to instill that overarching attitude among her workforce when she takes over from Corbat next year, learning from the policies he implemented during the pandemic.

He was clear on putting employees first, she said.

If we didn't put our people's health and safety first ... I think we would have done a very poor job managing the bank.
Jane Fraser
incoming CEO, Citigroup

"We've been in the midsts of a health crisis, and if we didn't put our people's health and safety first and understand what's going on in their lives, honestly, I think we would have done a very poor job managing the bank through the crisis," said Fraser.

Such supports included health and child care benefits, additional time off, and $1,000 awards for select employees earning under $60,000 a year.

"Our employees have then rewarded us incredibly because, secure in that and knowing that they were going to be okay, then meant that they would focus on our clients and look after them too," said Fraser.

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