Opening Remarks from Barbara Byrne

Barbara Byrne is the Vice Chairman of Investment Banking at Barclays and a member of the Barclay’s senior leadership group. Her long career included four decades at Lehman Brothers, where she was the first and only woman to rise to the position of Vice Chairman.  She supports women’s advancement at Barclays, evidenced by her launch of the “Women in Leadership” index, which allows investors to back companies that have at least 25% of their chief executive roles held by women.

Byrne graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a degree in economics. After deciding not to finish an MBA in NYU, she spent the beginning of her career focusing on finding her ideal work environment. She decided to go into investment banking because she found her co-workers were smart, creative, and energetic. She has passion for finance as she finds it tells stories through numbers and is inherently geopolitical – she enjoys understanding global situations through economic thought. Moreover, she is a client-focused worker who strives at building bridges between individuals and organizations through finding key commonalities. However, she finds creativity exists when people respectfully disagree, as she finds innovation causes people to push their thinking.

She started her career working in natural resources at Mobile. She went onto Lehman Brothers, and was ultimately devastated by its collapse. She lost 60% of her net worth, forcing herself to rebuild mid-career. She chose to think of herself as “10 years younger” and continue to dedicate himself to new opportunities. At Lehman Brothers, she was initially quiet – she did great behind-the-scenes work but struggled to assert herself. At the beginning of her career, she learned to talk and pushed herself to more actively engage in meetings. She found that questioning ideas on the edge helped create engagement with colleagues that allowed her to open up to opportunities for advancement. She finds that her wry sense of humor helped her create a voice for herself.

When she started her family, she found that people expected her to restrain her work. However, these expectations caused her to only further dedicate herself to advance her career. She also notes that her strong relationship with male businessmen helped her gain more leadership positions. She was mentored and often sponsored by men, though she was friends with women who supported each other through business struggles.

Throughout her experience, she noted there some industries consistently fail to advance women. With the Women in Business index, she shows the dynamic measurement that describes companies that have significant female leadership. Certain industries, however, fail to meet that qualification, such as natural resources and media. Her goal is to highlight this disparity in certain fields and celebrate companies that have significant female leadership. She wants companies to feel compelled to created more gender-balanced leadership. She finds people are naturally competitive – if you give awards, they’ll make changes.

Moreover, she emphasizes the importance of creating a successful team for success. She joined the technology team in the late 1980s at Lehman Brothers, though she knew very little about technology. She ended up working with the account for nine years, staffing with an almost all-female team and achieving incredible success. She found she had a skillset for taking broken relationships – companies and executives that the firm disappointed and helping ameliorate them. She also likes working with a team and figuring out who the right people in the room are.

She advises students to consider education as ongoing and to continually adapt to new technologies. She values passion and engagement over GPA. She notes you need to be a member of a team and need to play well and work well with others. One of the best ways to have life balance is to have friendships and to have the ability to rely on others. Mentorship is explaining and giving background, whereas sponsorship is about relationships. One cannot ask for sponsorship, but only a good reputation and advocacy will yield sponsorship. Trust takes a long time to rebuild, so quality friends are essential for helping work through career and other struggles.

She believes the key to success is ongoing active engagement. Even if you know you won’t win the proximate assignment, you should play to win for the longer period of time. Choose partners wisely, and understand you cannot be all things to all people. Be kind to yourself. Stand up. Take a seat at the middle of the table. Women tend to strive to be perfect; for men, good is good enough but even better if you can get someone else to do it. Admire and emulate that skillset – delegate and trust that they will be so good that your team will not fail. Trust people who are smarter than you to think as a team.

Remember to engage your life in a variety of ways. If its important to be a CEO, that’s fine but you’ll have to make trade-offs. Personally, she chose to balance a high stature position with a family. Generally, she hopes to see more diversity in the voices at the table in meetings. If you have 20% of any minority in a group it will change the dynamic at the table. If she’s the only person who’s the other it makes it harder to be heard. In any job, there are various and surprising ways to create space for yourself and earn respect. Men tend have ability to isolate themselves from failure – that’s how you get admired. Your capability and potential are more central than someone’s actual numbers.

As a woman, she has exhibits greater compassion than some of the men she has worked with. She argues that women tend to have strong perspective and the ability to read a room a little bit better than men. She says that she was better at bringing teams together through encouraging diversity – background, age, etc. Women notice when someone doesn’t look them in the eye. Men don’t perceive people quite as well. However, women also tend to be harder on each other. Women tend to assume they’re all in competition with each other, even when they are meant to work together. She’s always been a supporter of women and fully believes in the power of putting people forward. Overall, Barbara Byrne encouraged the attendees to use their strengths as women to their advantage but to also observe and learn from their male counterparts in order to become the best business executives they can be.