The Road Less Traveled: How Paying it Forward Makes Your Career

February 10, 2019

 

An Interview with Marcie Wright, Senior Vice President, Managing Director, Private Bank Portfolio Management, Fifth Third Private Bank 

 

I recently had the honor of meeting Marcie Wright, senior leader at Fifth Third and Executive Board Co-Chair for Women United (United Way of Metropolitan Chicago) and Women’s Board Member of The Joffrey Ballet. What I especially loved about our conversation was Marcie’s highly collaborative approach to leadership and passion around paying it forward. And because of that, we are pleased to feature Marcie as our next Inspiring Interview.

 

WeInspireWe: Marcie, it’s so good to talk to you today. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Marcie Wright: I’m Marcie Wright, I lead personal investment management nationally for Fifth Third Private Bank. I’ve been married to a great guy for over 18 years, I’m a lucky mom of two strong-willed, beautiful teenage daughters and I’m passionate about leadership and supporting others in their quest for success.  I enjoy travel, cultural experiences, music, food and giving back - and I treasure quality time with family and friends.

 

WIW: Have you always been in this industry or were there other experiences you’ve had on your career path?

MW: I started with the bank when I was 18 years old. I first started working in bank operations—filing signature cards and answering customer phone calls on an 800-line. I was with the bank for 10 years through four bank name changes, and during that time worked in a number of roles. I moved from operations to the “trust department” in 1996. And then I moved into an investment management role. I’ve been a portfolio manager since 1998.

 

I did leave Fifth Third for two years and worked at a small private accounting firm where I started a brokerage office building it from the ground up. That was a great experience where I got to be a little more entrepreneurial.

 

And then after two years, the bank called me back. At the time, I was not planning to make a move and go back - I certainly was not unhappy with what I was doing - but was swept off my feet (which does not happen easily).  All of the great developments that transpired to serve our clients were extremely impressive.  Over 13 years later, I continue to be swept off my feet. I’ve taken on a number of different roles too, from being a Senior Portfolio Manager to now being the head of personal portfolio management nationally.

 

WIW: Having a vision for what you want is powerful. When you think about your career path and trajectory, when would you say was the first time you started thinking about leadership?

MW: Throughout my career, I was always moving myself into leadership roles.  A lot of the time, it wasn’t a formal leadership role, but I was always taking on new things or new projects and leading the way without really thinking about the fact that I was being a leader. I was just doing these things because I was passionate about driving the business and giving our clients a great experience – and I’m restless, always looking to do more.

But it wasn’t until my boss asked me if I had thought about being in a leadership role that it began to be more formalized in my mind. I just thought I was doing well with what I was doing, I was happy, things were rolling along fine. I didn’t think about leadership as a career path until someone else opened the door and asked me if I was interested.

 

I can tell you that this has happened a number of times in my career, that I haven’t always seen what the next opportunity is, but people would come to me and say, have you thought about this opportunity? There are lots of people that I’m surrounded with that have opened doors for me which have turned into greater leadership responsibilities. It has been fun – and that is something I try to do for the people around me too.

 

WIW: That’s always so impressive when other people see potential in you that you don’t necessarily see in yourself – and then get to figure out what to do with that. So, you had this awakening where people were asking, “well, what about leadership for you?” and then you started to be interested and dig in. What did that look like for you?

MW: There was initially a learning curve for me because I was moving from being a peer on a team with a number of people, many of whom had been in the business for 15 plus years, into being their boss. That was one of the biggest transitions that I faced – and would recommend to never underestimate the complexity of that kind of move and to always be open to asking for support.

 

At the time when that occurred, I worked with a career coach to help and guide me through the different situations and to position myself as a leader. Moving from peer to leader was a big jump for me and certainly one that I was glad to get some extra support on.

 

Once I felt I was on solid ground, I thought about what else I could do to expand my role and how I could gain exposure to more regions and take on more. As I transitioned into a new role with broader responsibilities, it made me want to do more and lead more, and it lit a fire for me to work to raise the bar for myself and find more ways to provide value to others.

 

WIW: As you’ve grown, so has your leadership style. We would love to hear how you view your personal leadership style and outlook.

MW: I would say I have a hands-off approach. I am a big fan of the book, Good to Great. In that book, the focus is on getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats on the bus.  And by doing that, you’re creating a great talented team to surround you, which means you have a group to lead and guide and not have to manage.

 

With my team, it’s making the expectations very clear. Every time we have a meeting, there are core expectations of the team and those are at the bottom of every one of my meeting agendas as a reminder. Everyone knows what is expected, and there are no surprises. Everyone knows what needs to be done and I count on these strong, talented individuals to execute.

 

Once you have the team built, and you have clear expectations set, you can start to see that you’re coaching and guiding, but you’re not managing, which can take a lot more energy. My style is to empower talented people to do what they do best and for me to get out of their way. 

 

WIW: In our last conversation, you mentioned the idea of bringing people along with you and making sure you’re not rising up and not looking back. Can you talk a little bit more about that and how you build your team up?

MW: The focus I’ve always had is that we need a bench of talented people behind the people who have the roles today. I always want to have a focus on who is a successor for my role and every role on my team.  I want people to want the job that I’m in at some point.

 

I had one individual on my team who moved through the organization, full of energy and extremely sharp on his own, but needed more experience.  We worked together closely for about a two-year time period, where we went on pretty much every single meeting together. And then ultimately, I had to tell myself that he doesn’t need me anymore, I had to step away. He has continued to “knock it out of the park” on his own. 

 

The other piece is realizing that even if you’re in the same role and the same title, there’s still so much that you can do to learn and grow.  It doesn’t always have to be a promotion.  It can be reinventing the way you do things in your current role to keep it fresh, rewarding and challenging. 

 

Really investing in people is incredibly important. Once you have someone on a path, and you’ve given them the support to grow, and you see their passion take them to new heights - I can tell you that’s one of the most rewarding things in my career. I love seeing others achieve success!

 

WIW: Yes, that is very rewarding. You work in the financial industry, which is very male-dominant. And we know that can be a very common source of frustration for women in the industry. We’re curious about your thoughts around male-female leadership dynamics for you, as you have advanced and grown your career.

MW: There are a lower number of females on the investment management side of the business, and one of my focuses is to be very intentional around having women applying for senior roles or junior roles or anything in between. You can’t wait for these candidates to find you, you have to go out and find these women and help to bring them to the organization—so I think being intentional is one. I do think that there’s still some work to do, and I think it’s all of our responsibility to try to get more women into senior roles particularly. All the statistics tell us that it helps organizations achieve greater financial gains.  What organization doesn’t want that?

 

This is one of the reasons why I co-created a grassroots program called Women of Wealth (WoW) inside of the organization. Our focus is to attract, retain, develop and recruit high-performing, high-potential women in the Wealth and Asset Management Division. We wanted to help and support women in their career growth, give them exposure to senior leaders, a formal mentor, raise their profile, help them to position their brand and their executive presence—and ultimately have these women pay it forward to others.

 

We all need to raise each other up, we all need to be there and support each other. With the pay it forward component, I’m working to cultivate more women who are engaged, more women who are getting promoted, more women who are confident in taking risks and more organizations who are recognizing what this can do to grow their business.

 

WIW: We think it’s amazing that you created your own program! Tell us a little more about what it entails.

MW: Women of Wealth is a 12-month program with a series of in person meetings throughout the year.  Each time we get together, there is exposure to senior leadership, the opportunity to build career skills and sharing of best practices and ideas. And it’s a lot of making sure that you are networking and getting your name out there, creating your personal brand, having a trusted mentor as a resource and sharing experiences. We want more  women (and men) to know each other -  the more people they know, the bigger network they have, and the more synergy and opportunity it can create, and the more people you can bring into the group, etc.

 

All the women in the group are high-potential, high-performing women already. The Women of Wealth program is an investment in individuals and a way to say we really want to support you personally and professionally – we want to retain our talent and we want these women to know we care deeply about their development and career.  As the program closes, a strong network is clearly established and that individual can take what they have learned and pay-it-forward to others and to their clients.

 

WIW: Can you reflect on a time when you were going through a particularly challenging situation that you’ve dealt with in your career, and any aha’s or learnings that you’ve applied to your future?

MW: A big learning lesson for me was earlier in my career when we had a change in our reporting structure. I was originally reporting to someone in the same office where I was located and our line of business became a national line of business which meant I was going to be reporting to someone I didn’t know. Although I was a high performer, I felt I had to start over from the ground up because my new boss didn’t know me at all. I had to make sure that he knew that I was someone that should have that role and belonged not only in my current role, but also that I had the potential to take on greater roles in the organization.

 

And that’s when I became much more intentional about networking. My new boss was an individual that I should have already reached out to and had a relationship with, which didn’t even occur to me at that time. I can’t emphasize enough that we can’t be afraid to reach out to individuals and make connections. People want you to reach out and they will make the time for you; don’t ever think that a person is too busy and they don’t have time to talk.  I’ve found quite the opposite true.

 

WIW: And with networking often comes the idea of self-promotion. How do you recommend people tackle that?

MW: There was a time in my career where I thought, if I was doing good things, everyone would just know. I’m doing these good things, I’m hitting these numbers, I know I’m meeting and exceeding my goals, everyone knows, because everyone sees these reports.

 

But then you find out, no, sometimes people don’t know unless you tell them, even though it’s on a report, it may not be something that they pay attention to. We shouldn’t feel shy or feel like we are bragging by sharing the successes that we’ve had.  I recommend sharing your successes and also share how you achieved them.  What were the right activities and disciplines you put in place to achieve the success? When you’re working and thinking about having these conversations and networking with senior executives, they think with a much more granular mind.  Great that you have success, but they’ll be wondering how you did it and is it repeatable and can it be replicated with others.   

 

WIW: And as you think about the learnings you’ve gathered throughout your career, what kind of guidance would you give to someone who is younger or is in their early days of exploring what their career looks like?

MW: I would say to have an openness to any conversation that comes up and not limiting yourself based on title, or based on, it’s a road you haven’t considered before. I would highly recommend just having an openness. Many times roads are built that aren’t on your radar screen initially, but are absolutely worth exploring.

 

Your career is not a straight line. Sometimes you’re climbing the ladder. It’s not always moving up though, it’s moving in a sideways direction at times to give you some broader exposure. I would say be open, build your skills (designations), be great at what you do, network and build relationships. When people know you, they know your skillset, and you’ve  already built that relationship with them; it just moves you that much closer of being considered or placed in your next role when the opportunity arises.  Be proactive with your career.  Own it!  If you think you can’t achieve your next career milestone, think again.  I bet you can if you’re willing to put in the work!

 

WIW: Any other thoughts that you feel passionate about sharing?

Marcie: Women need to stick together, to support and help each other.  Speak well of other women. Create strong friendships, be kind, and be willing to pay it forward. We all have a duty to bring people along with us. There is really no greater reward than knowing you were a positive force in someone’s life and not only did you help them, but they turned around and helped multiple other people.  I’m a fan of positive chain reactions!

 

Thank you so much, Marcie, for sharing your experiences and wisdom with WeInspireWe. We know that you’ll continue to inspire and guide women – and pay it forward for women at Fifth Third, the United Way and beyond!

 

 

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