FLAX e1534823568213 - Winners of WealthTech: Catherine Flax

Winners of WealthTech: Catherine Flax

This month’s Winners of Wealthtech interview is with Catherine Flax, CEO of AI-powered robo-advisor Pefin. Catherine was named the Most Influential Woman in European Investment Banking in 2012. Catherine has an MA from Brown University and a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University. 

You can read my previous interviews with Brian McLaughlin, CEO, RedtailAnil Arora, CEO, Envestnet | Yodlee,  Angela Pecoraro, CEO of Advicent, Eric Clarke, CEO of Orion AdvisorBill Capuzzi, CEO of Apex ClearingLori Hardwick, President of Advisor Innovation LabsCheryl Nash, President of Fiserv Investment ServicesStuart DePina, President of Envestnet | TamaracBill Crager, President of Envestnet and Aaron Klein, CEO of Riskalyze.

I was inspired to start this series by one of my mentors, Tim Ferriss, who is a best-selling author, incredibly successful investor, entrepreneur, and podcaster. Actually, Tim doesn’t know that he’s one of my mentors, since we’ve never met. But his work and his writing have been a big influence on me, so I’m going to keep saying it until he tells me to stop. (By the way, I highly recommend Tim’s latest book, Tools of Titans, which you can buy online or even in a brick and mortar bookstore.)

The feedback on this series has been overwhelming! If you have a suggestion for someone you think I should interview, please send it to me at craig@ezragroup.co.

I was looking at your LinkedIn profile, and you have a very interesting career arc.

Yes, probably even more interesting than it shows on LinkedIn actually, because there’s a bunch of stuff at the beginning that’s probably not even there.

CI: Why, what are we missing?

Well at the very beginning of my professional career, I was teaching at the University of Nebraska. And in that capacity, the faculty could be essentially farmed out to local businesses. So I got into some consulting work there, which led to doing also some political consulting for somebody who was running for Congress. And that turned into being a regular guest on a local radio station, which then turned into me having my own radio show. So that was a really fun part of my early life.

Then as a family, we picked up and moved, so that kind of ended and then I started all over again. And I somewhat randomly started a job where I was in charge of issuing municipal bonds for the city of Tulsa. This was interesting because most municipalities use investment banks to do their bond issuances, but Tulsa did it on their own.

It was very much trial by fire for a 28 year old, since I had never issued bonds before, but it was really, really fun. Although that municipal job did not pay all that well and I had children that I wanted to send to school. Even though what i was working on was super interesting, I decided to look for something that’s a little more lucrative. That’s when I got into working on a commodities trading floor in Oklahoma, which ultimately is what took me to New York in my banking career. So that was the beginning of that.

CI: Your Masters in Economics should have been helpful when you were trying to figure out how to issue muni bonds.Oil Gas 300x260 - Winners of WealthTech: Catherine Flax

Exactly! And the reason that they brought me onto the trading floor was because they had a lot of physical commodities contracts (mostly oil and gasoline) with embedded derivatives and they needed somebody who had a firm handle on derivatives pricing. I had to disaggregate those contracts and model the valuations, and then actually do the coding and build the valuations.

I knew nothing about oil and gas before I started that job. I remember my first day so clearly, asking somebody to help explain exactly what it was that I was modeling. I’m thinking to myself that it sounds like English, yet I have no idea what they are talking about!

That was a great challenge to overcome. Professionally, that’s been my pattern — entering a role where I don’t exactly know what’s going on, but figuring it out along the way.

And I think that’s what makes it fun, where you can keep growing and learning and be challenged.

CI: So where else in your career did you see the same pattern?

CF: Well, I can think of a few off the top of my head. One is when I was at JP Morgan, I was running the commodities platform for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa out of London. At that point, I had been in the commodities business for around 20 years, and I loved it. But I started thinking that it would be really great to understand what these other hundreds of thousands of people are doing here at the bank.

So I went to my boss and I said, “I’d like to think about doing something completely different, where I can get a very different lens on the bank.” At first, she came back and said they really needed me to stay in this job for another year, so I was disappointed. But then a couple weeks later she came back and said, “I think a job opening just came up which is exactly what you’re looking for, and you should take a look at it.” She sent it over to me, and it was the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for all of JP Morgan. And I thought, “why would this have anything to do with anything I know anything about? I don’t have a marketing background, but being the CMO seems like a place where you would actually want to know something.”Screen Shot 2018 08 21 at 11.37.53 PM 191x300 - Winners of WealthTech: Catherine Flax

Their marketing organization had about 700 people across multiple lines of business and it was completely disjointed and not being run efficiently. What the bank wanted was a business person to come in and create a strategy that would align with the rest of the business goals, drive out the inefficiencies and create opportunities to work together. Once I understood what they wanted I thought, okay I can do this.

And maybe I didn’t need to know that much about marketing because there are 700 experts on my team, I can probably leverage some of them to figure things out. I did that for a couple years, and it was really interesting.

And then the second time I noticed this pattern was when I was at BNP Paribas, again running commodity derivatives and the sales and trading groups. Then an opportunity opened up to run foreign exchange and emerging markets sales and trading. I knew that it’s not uncommon for banks  to combine commodity derivatives with f/x because there are some synergies betwee them.

So I went to my boss and said, “I noticed you’re looking for somebody to run foreign exchange and emerging markets. Why don’t you just let me run that too?” And they said, “sure”.

This threw me into areas of the market I had never really looked at before, and it was interesting on a number of different levels. One, in particular, was that once I started running foreign exchange and I saw how completely different that market was from a technology perspective, and I had an algorithmic trading team working for me in foreign exchange, it was such an eye opener about how banking is being transformed by technology. And how having been in commodities for so many years (which is notoriously not tech-savvy) I thought that this whole thing was changing and that I better figure it out.

That was the beginning of my personal journey and jumping in with both feet into fintech. Initially, I was just focused on making sure that I can grow my businesses without being blindsided by the inevitable changes? But then as I got deeper into it, it took a lot of different directions, and I ended up here (at Pefin). This turned out to be the next “thing”, being CEO of a fintech company, and required another “jumping into the deep end” situation. I had been an advisor to Pefin for a couple of years before I took the CEO role.

CI: How did you come to become the advisor to them, being the Head of Commodities and Foreign Exchange at BNP Paribas? How did you link up with Pefin?

CF: I’ve known the founder of Pefin, Ramya Joseph, for 20 years. Before she started the company, she was at Goldman, but I’ve actually known her since college. And when she decided to start Pefin, I was at JP Morgan at the time, and she came to speak to me about what she was doing.

At first, she asked if I would be on the board. But JP Morgan said no because it was a conflict of interest, but we were friends, so we kept talking, and I followed what was happening here in the company.

Then when I moved over to BNP, the company then had gotten to the point where the product was beginning to get commercialized and they were in beta, and they had started to receive a lot of inquiries from large institutions around the globe around partnerships, which is something that I had a lot of experience with.

Ramya approached me again and said, we’re entering this new phase of the company – can you be an advisor now and lend some insight into this aspect of it? BNP did not have the same restrictions as JP Morgan, and they were fine with it. So I started as an advisor then.

Soon after this, Ramya realized that she really didn’t want to be the CEO. She is very much grounded in technology and likes to spend her time thinking about how to improve the product, so she wanted to kick off a CEO search. And at that point, it never occurred to me that I would be the CEO, but she asked me if I would help her interview CEO’s.

We started on that, and we did interview some great people. It was an interesting process for me to understand why some of them would not be a good fit for the company. As we went through that process it became almost an organic conversation around me considering taking the CEO job myself.

But I didn’t accept the job right away. We took together a number of months to do a deep dive on where the organization is, where does it want to go, and who the right CEO would be. I have a number of friends who are CEO’s of technology companies, both coming out of banking or growing up in technology. This was really, really helpful.

One friend in particular, who is the CEO of a company based in Germany, gave me two pieces of advice. One is, most technology companies and most startups fail. You have to know that going in, and if it fails, you need to be comfortable that it’s not going to ruin your life. And the second thing was, that I had no idea how spoiled I’d gotten working in banking. I always flew business class, I had assistants and stuff. And I thought, well I don’t care about that, that’s not a big deal. But what I realized when I got here was that that wasn’t exactly what he meant.

What he really meant was, when you’re in a big institution you have a lot of resources. If you have a question about legal or compliance or marketing, there’s an army of people that you can turn to. Or if you’re running a 700 person team, you create the strategy and then hand it to somebody else to execute.

When I took over at Pefin we had 18 people and we have 28 now. But still, it’s so tiny when compared to a global bank. And of our 18 people, 16 were technologists.

It was just me and one other person who were essentially doing everything else. When I came up with a marketing strategy, I handed it back to myself to implement it! When we needed a compliance policy, I wrote it. It was very hands-on, but the ability or need to flex between tactical, detailed stuff and big-picture strategy and direction happens on a minute to minute basis, which is not the way it works in banking.

One of the things that I had observed was both of my bosses at JP Morgan had this innate ability to flex between incredible detail and big-picture strategy. And I recognized then that that was a skill that I wanted to develop. So this past year and a half has been building that muscle and getting comfortable with that, which has been a tremendous education.

In terms of your personal life, what’s become more important to you over the past few years?

I think to some extent, that hasn’t changed. I have three kids, I’m married, and there’s no question for me that jobs are great and they’re fun and it’s nice to be intellectually challenged. But at the end of the day, when I’m done doing whatever I do professionally, five minutes later no one’s going to remember.

A number of years ago there was a fellow that worked for me, and we had to let him go as we were downsizing a business when I was working in London. I felt terrible for him since we were friends.

A few weeks later, we went out to lunch and I told him how badly I felt about him being let go and I wondered how the firm would get along without him. He told me a story that he learned during his time working in Africa. When you go on safari, you sometimes see a lion eat a baby gazelle. For the next five minutes, the mother runs around frantically looking for the baby. But after that, it’s like it never happened and she forgets, and she goes off and eats grass. He said that’s the way it works when somebody leaves a business; it seems like a catastrophe at the moment, then it’s over and life goes on. And that’s the way it should be. If I’m doing my job, when I walk out of this place or I walk out of any job, the organization should be resilient enough that it absolutely just continues to roll on.

But that’s not the way it is with a family, right? With a family, that’s not the way it goes. So to me, perspective is super important, and understanding that I’m not curing cancer here; I’m not launching the space shuttle, even though maybe that even isn’t that important. But it’s all about keeping things in perspective.building robots 300x218 - Winners of WealthTech: Catherine Flax

My youngest son is 13 and he’s going to a robotics camp this summer. So I left early to go see the robot and the programming that he did to get it done. Stuff like that, if you don’t realize that is way more important than work, then I think it’s very sad.

It’s funny because for whatever reason they have these kids programming in C++, which I’m not sure is the best decision. But it teaches them the logic of programming anyway. I was programming in C++ 20 years ago so it can’t be a good idea, but whatever.

But it’s so cool for the kids to do this in a hands-on way. While I think my son liked the programming, he really loved the robotics. Actually building the physical robot, the circuitry, and stuff, that’s more of what he likes to do. It’s cool for kids to be able to try this stuff out and see what they really like, but can also be useful with the way the world is going.

I think it’s shocking, that there is a huge variance in terms of young people’s awareness and education about the way the technology is impacting the world. I realized this because we’re going through the high school search process right now. Because my son has a huge interest in technology, one of his requirements is that the school have a good technology program. What’s amazing is how even college preparatory high schools have virtually nothing. One has just two programming classes in four years. My high school a million years ago had more than that!

CI: I don’t remember how many programming classes my school had, but I do remember spending an inordinate amount of time in the computer lab fooling around with the brand new Apple II’s that had just arrived.

CF: And so you wonder, are high schools doing these kids a favor? Not that everybody has to be a technologist, but almost every job in the future will demand at least some understanding of how this works. Why not at least expose them to it?

On the flip side, it’s interesting how many of these boot camp programs like General Assembly have sprung up, that provide focused courses for people who want to switch into technology. And they’re not bad programs. The vacuum is being filled by companies like that.

CI: They certainly are. Programming has become a lot easier with all of the tools available now, so it’s a very different world. I have a computer science degree, and I was programming 30 years ago as well. It’s nowhere near the same as it was then.punch 300x208 - Winners of WealthTech: Catherine Flax

CF: It’s funny, my husband grew up in Poland and was telling my son the other day about punch cards, and it was really hard to explain the punch card process to somebody today. Because it’s like, why would you have that? It’s amazing how the world has changed.

CI: Punch cards! And if you drop the deck of punch cards you were screwed. People now don’t understand what it was like to rely on analog storage like tapes. My first computer was an Apple II Clone, and in order to load the program, you had to load it from a cassette tape that took twenty minutes!

CF: And it’s not that long ago really, it’s amazing the transformation that’s occurred in just the last few years. My undergraduate alma mater is Texas A&M, and I’m very, very involved with that. They have a program called Aggie’s on Wall Street, and I’m on the board of that. So a group of top performing kids who want to work on Wall Street come up every year, and when I spoke to that group this year the kids were asking me (they’re mostly finance majors) how much knowledge of technology should they have to really be successful? And it’s actually a baseline expectation at this point, that at least you have some facility with all of this.

CI: No more than the congressmen and senators who were interviewing Mark Zuckerberg.

CF: I once was in a meeting with the CEO of a major bank (who shall remain nameless) and somebody else in the room was talking about cybersecurity and the risks. And the CEO stopped him mid-sentence and said, “I’m not really concerned about this.” And the guy was like really? Because everybody is concerned about cybersecurity. And the CEO said all of the bank’s systems were written in the most antiquated languages that nobody knows how to program in them anymore, so nobody can hack their systems!

And I was thinking, oh my gosh, that’s not how any of this works! And the Head of Cybersecurity quit the week after. He was like, I can’t work here; this lack of awareness is ridiculous.

I would hope that even people who don’t have any programming experience will have some level of awareness and understanding of how this technology works, just so they don’t make decisions like this guy was making. So yeah, it’s challenging because the world is changing so quickly. But at the same time that’s your job, to be on top of this sort of thing.

CI: Exactly. And if you don’t have enough awareness to at least know what’s important, then it’s probably not the right place for you.

What do you do you to stay motivated?

Well for me, my main goal is to always have something that I’m excited about learning. It sounds corny I guess, but I really want to always find myself in a professional position where I can’t wait to get to work in the morning because there’s something interesting out there that I need to grow into.

Even though I was in different places for long stretches of time, within those periods there were always new roles and new challenges. For me, I tend to perform badly when things become routine; that is not what I like at all. At Pefin, you have to think more entrepreneurially and there’s so much for me to learn, that’s what keeps me motivated and excited. I need to be proactive to ensure that I’m always in a position where I’m being freshly challenged. If I don’t, then that’s when bad things happen.

What is one of the most important things you’ve learned in your time with Pefin?

Coming into this, if somebody asked me if I was a patient person I would say, absolutely! What I’ve learned in the last year and a half is that I’m not a patient person at all! It’s been very interesting.

I think the corollary to that is if you asked me if I’m comfortable with uncertainty, I would say of course. But what I’ve realized is that in a startup environment, the uncertainty is so much larger than it is in an established organization, and the need to see how things play out is far bigger as well.

It’s always not particularly fun to identify areas of weakness and recognize that we need to work on these things. Somebody said to me when I first started in this role that working in a startup magnifies all of your strengths and all of your weaknesses, and puts them on display for everyone to see. And that has been the truest statement.

I didn’t even realize when I heard it that it was going to be an accurate summary of my last year and a half. So from a personal development perspective, I can’t think of anything better. It’s not always pleasant to have to do that, but it’s very helpful. From a business perspective, when you work at a large bank one thing you don’t have to do is raise capital.raisinng capital 300x300 - Winners of WealthTech: Catherine Flax

I’ve done a lot of large institutional, structured deals and there are similarities between that and capital-raising, but capital-raising is really its own animal. I wish that I would have known a year ago what I know now, but that’s the way that goes.

There’s an aspect of capital-raising that’s very much like dating, where there are lots of companies and there are lots of investors. It’s sifting through that experience of who am I and what I’m selling, and who are you and what are you buying? It’s a very different kind of interaction.

And like dating, if it succeeds, it’s an ongoing relationship. So it’s not just transactional. It’s been very enlightening to try to understand what investors are looking for, and what a wide range of needs there are on their side.

You have to be self-reflective as a business, and understand who are we and what we are actually offering. And how do you crystallize that message in a way that is clear and understandable for somebody?

What does your morning routine look like? What do you do the first 60 or 90 minutes of your day?

I always have breakfast with my family, unless I’m traveling, of course. As a family, we’re really big on eating meals together. I understand that there’s a trend in America for families to either not eat together or to eat in front of the TV or something like that. We do none of those things. We cook together and we eat together. We have a very family morning kind of situation.

Similarly, if I’m not traveling, I’m also home for dinner. I get home and we have dinner together as a family, we typically cook together as a family and then have dinner together. And then if I need to (like I did last night and the night before) I go into my office and close the door and continue working.

But meals are really important to us because I really feel like that’s where you hear what’s going on in everybody’s life. That’s where you can really have those conversations that if you’re just running, you don’t get to hear.

Living and working in Midtown makes all the difference. I had one year where my office was in Connecticut, and it just didn’t work for me. Because spending two hours a day on the train makes it really hard to do all of those family things.

But now, if I walk really slowly, it takes me 10 minutes to get to the office. I know not everybody has the luxury of being able to construct their life this way. I lived in London for two and a half years, and it’s really hard to live and work together in London, just by the way the city is laid out. So it was really hard to be together for meals all the time, just by virtue of everybody having so much travel time.

What I learned when I first got into banking was, if you don’t create your own boundaries in your life, no one’s going to create them for you. Because honestly, why does the bank care if you ever spend time with your family? That’s up to you to care about that.

You need to be able to identify what’s important to you and say this is the line that shall not be crossed. I didn’t know this earlier in my career. and then you get a little older and you realize we actually have to do that. And so you create these lines and say this is what I’m going to do and I’m not going to do, and protect your family time. And that’s all there is to it, it’s very simple.

What would your close friends say that you are exceptionally good at?

I think they would say that I’m very good at listening and empathizing because I love hearing from other people. Everyone learns in different ways, and the way I learn best is by hearing what other people have to say. And as a result of that, I’ve gotten very interested in listening and it then becomes more natural. I think like anything else, there are muscles you have to build.

Once you see how much benefit you get from really listening to people, then you want to do it more. I think that’s one thing. And then the other thing too that is the biggest driver in my life is my faith. So I think because that’s such a huge part of how I think about what I do and why I do it and things like that, that helps to drive the empathy aspect of it because I think that that’s what I’ve been asked to do.

Are there any new behaviors or beliefs that you’ve recently adopted or changed?

Yes, and it’s rooted in how different it is to work at a technology company compared to working on a trading floor. When you’re on a trading floor, the people that you’re working with are massive extroverts; very aggressive and loud. You’re in a constant frenzy of activity with a lot of type-A personalities. That was my world for 25 years.

When you come to a tech company, people tend to be much more introverted, much quieter, and much less likely to be very aggressive and assertive in their demeanor. When I first started working at Pefin, I thought it would be a struggle. But in the last year and a half, I’ve come to appreciate that the visible and external signs of activity have no relationship to actual activity, necessarily.

Even though somebody might be an extreme introvert and not necessarily have an aggressive personality doesn’t mean they’re not interesting, funny, fun to work with, or have a lot to say. It might take a little longer to get to know people, but ultimately it really doesn’t matter. The people are great and they’re fun and they’re they’re nice, so I think moving from external, superficial signals to what’s actually going on here can be a refreshing change. That’s certainly something that I think differently about now than I did a year and a half ago.

Do you find that you miss the trading floor? Or are you completely adapted to the new environment?

There are aspects of it that I do miss, but what I’m finding is that while we’re growing as a company and we have more people coming into different kinds of roles (because now we’re hiring also people in HR and business development) there is more diversity of personality types.

It has it’s moments where you get a little bit of that more extrovert kind of loud conversation. So I think that you can have the best of both worlds. But there’s definitely a camaraderie and a jocular environment that’s typical on the trading floor that it would be fun to have back again.

Have you tried to infuse any of your current workforce with any of the good trading floor aspects?

We do, and it’s one of the nice things about having a couple new people. We do things like a monthly birthday party for everybody who’s birthday is that month. We do team building things, also about once a month. It can be anything from ordering pizza and beer and playing charades in the office to volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House and serving breakfast; there’s a huge range of things that we do together.

This helps because it gives people an opportunity. And also, if you allow for people to make suggestions about what would they like to do together as a team, you see different sides of people as well. It just takes a little longer, because on a moment-by-moment basis they are busy coding, which requires concentration and quiet; you don’t want to be tossing the football around. Nonetheless, I think there are ways that you can try to have that aspect of a team environment that doesn’t necessarily require being on a trading floor.

Who was your biggest influence growing up?

Oh easy, my father. My dad was a very quirky, possibly eccentric person who very much marched to the beat of his own drummer. He also had many different aspects to his work life.

When I was a little kid he was a history professor and hated it, so he tried different things. When I was 11, my dad bought a pizza shop, which became the experience that influenced me the most. During my teenage years, my sister and I worked with my dad. My mom was a schoolteacher, so she would help out before and after school.

My sister and I would go after school and on the weekends and all summer. Basically from when I was eleven until college, working in the pizza shop. My dad didn’t treat us like children in this respect. He believed that our family needed help, so we helped out.

I actually loved it! I feel like I learned so much in the experience of working essentially like an adult from a young age. And I felt like my father did a great job of demonstrating his confidence in me and in my ability to do things. Giving a lot of responsibility to kids at a very young age is helpful.

This wasn’t a game, it was our family’s livelihood. But that was really cool for me. And there were a couple of moments in that that were just to me so clearly, I just remember them so much. One, I was probably about eleven and my dad and I would listen to talk radio while we were working. It was a tiny pizza shop, one of those little family places. And so as we’re working together and we’re listening to talk radio, the guy on the radio was saying something and I mentioned to my dad that I thought what the host was saying was so stupid. So my dad tells me to call the station. But I said, nobody cares what I think; I’m a kid. But he insisted. He gave me a dime, told me to put it into the pay phone, call those people, and tell them what you think.

And so I did; I got on the radio and I told them what I thought and had a nice conversation. It made me realize that even though I was just a kid, my opinion could matter.

A few years later, I was probably 13 and my dad left me alone to manage the store. And as soon as he left, it became super busy. Deliveries were coming in and then a whole bunch of customers came in, it was crazy madness. I was friends with all the kids there but it was still kind of a rough neighborhood.

While I was running the pizza shop by myself, one of the neighborhood kids thought it would be really funny to drop his pants right in the middle of the store, figuring that that would get me flustered. Instead, it was such a moment of clarity for me because I him and his dropped pants. I just had to focus on what I was doing at the time.

That particular incident stuck with me because there have been many times in my professional life where it’s more the metaphorical “dropping of pants”, or just the things that happen when you’re at work and you can’t get flustered because you have to focus.

My dad and I just were very close and I could talk to him about anything. His message to me was that, “there’s nothing I couldn’t do” sort of thing. Whether true or not, is always a nice thing to have as a parent messaging. He definitely made a big impact on me.

Besides your father, who do you think of when you hear the word successful?

It might sound corny, but I think of Mother Teresa. I’m a huge Mother Teresa fan. I think people underestimate her organizational abilities and her ability to lead and mobilize like nobody’s business. When you think about somebody who, by and large, shouldn’t have had the amount of influence that she had, but was so determined and focused and clear on her mission and then able to make such a massive impact as a result.

It’s hard for me to find somebody else who became as influential with as little as she had to start with. And also, she was a very tough cookie.

Because she was so clear on what she needed the other women in the charity to do. But if they weren’t able to do the things that needed to be done, they just couldn’t be a part of it. So it wasn’t like she was some kind of wilting flower or something like that. She just said, this is the way it has to be. So I think it’s really neat to see how the world can be changed by somebody that is so clear about their mission.

CI: That’s true. People don’t realize that one person can have that much impact.

Exactly, and I think that’s what happens a lot of times. People think I’m only one person, but you can create a long list of only one person people who are incredibly impactful. Mother Teresa actually got a lot of grief from people, because they said even though you’re helping thousands of people, but in the grand scheme of things, that’s just a drop in the bucket. And she was very relaxed about that. She said that’s what I can do and that’s what I’m going to do, and I’m not going to lose sleep over the fact that it’s not millions of people, because that’s not what I can do.

What’s some bad advice you hear being given out a lot?

There are so many young people who are encouraged to get their career established before they consider starting a family, which is why a lot of people are so old when they start their families now compared to what it was. And I think that’s a horrible mistake.

I get young women who ask me all the time about starting a family, and again it goes back to what do you think it’s going to matter? When you’re on your deathbed, are you really going to care about your promotion? Ridiculous, of course not. And to think that that’s the case is so saddening to me, but it’s shocking how many young people are actually getting that as advice right now, which to me is just such a complete misunderstanding of what really matters. But then again, I have three kids and I wish I had 10.

What book have you gifted most often?Screen Shot 2018 08 23 at 8.55.33 PM 203x300 - Winners of WealthTech: Catherine Flax

Oh that’s a good one, I gift books all the time. Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and First Break All the Rules.

Somebody gave it to me when I first became a manager, and I’ve given it to everybody else who’s started being a manager.

What message would you send to your 25-year-old self?

When I first came to New York, I was a single mom and I was working at Morgan Stanley. And I was super focused on making sure that under no circumstances would be a single mom would impact my job. And so I went way overboard in terms of working overtime, ensure that the things that kids had to do at school wouldn’t be noticed by anybody else. And after I got a little bit older, I realized it’s so dumb; nobody cares. And also, they all have kids too and they’re going parent-teacher conferences too. And I created this whole thing in my head, that people care I’m a single mother and I need to prove that I can work harder than everybody else. In actual fact, that was my own story and that was nobody else’s interest. So I would say to my 25-year-old self: relax, do a good job, and don’t get caught up in what you think other people are thinking about you, because they’re not; they’re thinking about their own stuff.

CI: So relax is your message. Now would it change if you were sending the message to your 35-year-old self?

CF: No, it’s probably useful to relax when I was 35 too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *