Reading the Signals: Janet Hanson, Founder of 85 Broads, on Networking and Success

Janet Hanson has been described as a “pioneer among the top women business leaders and entrepreneurs globally” in the new Random House publication Be Your Own Mentor. She has been profiled in The New York Times, Money Magazine, Working Woman and Business Week. This role model for hundreds of aspiring businesswomen broke up the audience at the November 2 Wharton Women in Business conference by pausing on her way to the podium and asking, “Are there any runs in my stockings?”

In addition to Hanson, the conference featured a global leadership panel on the cultural and business barriers that women in international management positions still face, both in the U.S. and abroad. Panelists included Marisa Drew, London-based managing director in Merrill Lynch International’s leveraged-finance group for European media and telecom; Gina Drosos, senior managing director for North America at Procter & Gamble and president of the company’s skin-care business; Mary Farrell, senior market strategist at UBS Warburg; Karen Fukumura, senior vice president of technical operations for Bank of America in northern California, and Anne Kalin, co-owner of LYNKA Promotional Products in Krakow, Poland.

Hanson: Reading Marketing Signals

Hanson is a 14-year veteran of Goldman Sachs and the founder of Milestone Capital, an investment advisory firm that manages over $2.3 billion in assets for large institutional investors. She is also the founder of 85 Broads, a global network of approximately 1,200 current and former Goldman Sachs women professionals (the name was inspired by Goldman Sachs’ New York address, 85 Broad Street.) At the Wharton conference, Hanson spoke about her professional struggles and triumphs, and about the critical role that networking can play in a successful career.

After receiving her MBA in finance from Columbia, Hanson began working in Goldman Sachs’ fixed income sales division, one of only a handful of women in the firm at that time. She attributes her interest in the financial field partly to her father, who was a salesman. “He didn’t sell stocks or bonds, though. He sold industrial chain. He would take me on his business trips … to [places like] Scranton and Camden. But what I really learned firsthand as a very young person was the importance of client service. So going into sales at Goldman Sachs was a natural for me.”

Hanson says she thrived in Goldman’s fast-paced environment of split-second decisionmaking among traders who were “some of the best on the Street” (among them Jon Corzine, now U.S. senator from New Jersey.) “Over the years, I learned to trust my gut, which often was all I had when the market was chaotic. Bottom line, I was very good at reading market signals. And the better I got at it, the more business I did, which was daily confirmation that I was adding value to the firm.”

But getting started had its difficulties. According to Hanson, she spent her first three years at the firm with virtually no accounts. “I had to go to the newspaper, the yellow pages. In the institutional business it’s pretty hard to get anything that way.” Even when the only other woman in her division left the company, she gave her male colleagues several accounts each, while leaving Hanson only one, the Prudential. “I can tell you that within one year the Prudential was the largest account in the fixed income division,” Hanson said.

In 1986, she was named co-manager of money market sales in New York, becoming the first female sales manager in Goldman Sachs’s history. Within a year’s time she was the largest producer in the division. But she felt “burned out” and also faced the painful situation of continuing to work in the same office as her ex-husband. She left Goldman, remarried and had two children. She then returned to the firm first as a human resources consultant and later in the asset management division. “I spent two years learning just enough about asset management to leave and start my own business,” she said. In 1994, with one and a half million borrowed dollars, she founded Milestone Capital.

Hanson’s Tip #1: Always be ready to become an entrepreneur.

“I had figured I would spend my whole life at Goldman Sachs,” she said. “It didn’t turn out that way. Lucky for me, I figured out how to reinvent myself in the nick of time and start my own company … Wall Street is a young person’s business. I was 39 years old … I wanted to be the one to decide whether or not I would work for the next 20 years.”

Hanson’s Tip #2: You must have a network of strong women and men in your life and in your rolodex.

Hanson related a story about what saved the fledgling Milestone Capital from oblivion. “Phyllis Esposito recommended our mutual funds to the management committee at Bear Sterns when she had only been there for eight months. Phyllis had been a municipal bond trader at Goldman and I had always supported her and worked hard for her. For us to form a strategic alliance with Bear Sterns as we were just opening our doors was what made the critical difference.”

Hanson’s networking skills have become legendary. She talked about the idea behind the 85 Broads network, now a model for creating networks at investment banks, corporations, consulting/technology firms and universities. “Connecting bright, talented women with one another in a focused but informal way generates incredible inspiration, value, and return – for the individual, the network, the organization, and the business. It’s the proverbial win-win and it’s the main ingredient still missing from many corporate-sponsored diversity and mentoring programs … Women have to learn how to trust and believe in their intelligence and their uniqueness; to back each other up, and to have the guts not to become ‘one of the guys.’”

Hanson’s Tip #3: Staying connected to smart women is something that other smart women are entitled to do.

“The real reason I founded 85 Broads was purely selfish: I wanted to stay connected to some of the smartest women on the planet.” Of the women profiled on the website, about half are at Goldman Sachs. The other half, who work at 350 other companies, are described by Hanson as everyone from entrepreneurs and consultants to oceanographers and full-time moms.

Hanson offered the young women in the audience some frank networking advice. “It’s interesting what happens: About 10 years after you get out of business school, a lot of your guy friends get married, and suddenly calling them at 11 at night doesn’t work for their wives. You find your network shrinking. Here’s another fact: A lot of you will leave the workforce perhaps several times to have children, and your identity will be severely challenged. You are no longer the big hitter, you’ve got post-partum depression and you long for smart conversation. You need to have that network of smart women in place long before you take your first Lamaze class.”

85 Broads’ latest initiative is Broad2Broad, an innovative co-mentoring program for women MBAs at leading business schools. “Co-mentoring recognizes that the youngest women have an equal amount to offer much older women like me,” said Hanson. “Their skills and talents are the perfect complement to my 25 years in the trenches.”

A recent survey of 85 Broads members asked for their thoughts on how to network successfully in the financial industry. Hanson shared some notable responses:

• Network at all levels, above, below and with your peers. People move around to other firms, and up in firms, so think long-term.

• Do good work and create a positive atmosphere around yourself. If someone has a negative experience with you they are likely to tell a lot of people.

• Figure out a niche in which to be the resident expert, the more complex the better, as the barriers to entry are higher.

• Send occasional brief updates to people who have played a major role in your career development such as former mentors and supervisors.

• Establish relationships with analysts at your level to build support from others in the same boat. You may look to these same peers 10 years later when you are all senior managers.

• Keep the most senior people casually informed of who you are and what you’re working on. Ask about their views on a particular investment idea or corporate development issue.

• Develop a relationship with at least one person who is moving up in the company one or two levels ahead of you, to strengthen ties within the generation assuming greater managerial responsibility.

• Use email as a follow-up tool. After talking with people at a conference, get their business card and send an email about how you enjoyed meeting them.

• Have social contact outside of work, either with co-workers or other industry contacts, at least once a week.

• Keep in touch with your business school classmates, one of the best career resources around.

Working Abroad: Learning to Lighten Up

During the panel on global leadership, Marisa Drew, London-based managing director in Merrill Lynch International’s leveraged-finance group for European media and telecom, told the audience that she did not need a passport to run up against cultural barriers as a woman in business.

“I can say with a smile that the hardest time I ever had doing business was in the deep south of the United States,” she said. “It was not exactly the most woman-friendly place.” She described a meeting with two energy entrepreneurs: “They were one step away from beer-guzzling guys you see out at an auto race. But they had a great business.”

She went into the meeting fully prepared, Drew said. She had on the right suit. She was confident. The deal was wired. But she had also brought along a very junior male colleague. After the presentation, the potential clients asked Drew’s colleague a question. He immediately turned to Drew who answered it. Then they asked him another question.

“This went on for about five minutes until they figured out that I was probably the person who was supposed to answer the questions,” said Drew. The lesson is: “Be technically excellent in what you do. When I went into that meeting, one thing I can say is I did my homework. I was willing to step up in front of the client even though they didn’t necessarily want to hear from me.”

Over time, the company became one of her best clients, Drew said. “In fact, I think that because I was a woman they began to trust me more,” she said. “Never sublimate or hide what you bring to the table as a woman. There are a lot of guys on Wall Street pitching business and there is a certain degree of mistrust. I think clients are often more willing to trust a woman.”

Gina Drosos, senior managing director for North America at Procter & Gamble and president of the company’s skin-care business, which includes the Oil of Olay and Noxema brands, said she has one obvious advantage over men in her part of the company. She actually uses the products.

She said global managers in consumer goods need to be deeply attuned to the consumers. But that is hard because there is so often a deep cultural overlay on their purchasing decisions. “I firmly believe there is no such thing as a global brand,” said Drosos. Managers do need to find ways to leverage their brands around the world “so one plus one equals three,” she added. “But at the same time they need to value regional differences.”

Drosos said women are often more aware of the cultural nuances that can lead to more effective brand development. Women managers can walk into a consumer’s home anywhere in the world and gather information on a survey visit that defies translation. “Women are whole-brain listeners,” she said. “They pick up on non-verbal cues and in a lot of environments that can be very helpful.”

Drosos also said her international responsibilities allow for additional flexibility in her domestic life, which includes two small children. She’s able to work the clock to her advantage, she said, handling business in Europe and Asia in the early morning so she can get home sooner at the end of the day to be with her children.

The global economy caught up with Wall Street strategist Mary Farrell last year when Swiss megabank UBS Warburg acquired PaineWebber, the brokerage house where she had worked for 20 years.

Farrell, a 30-year veteran of Wall Street and now senior market strategist at UBS, said she was comfortable at PaineWebber, a firm she said had one of the best reputations on Wall Street for developing women managers. The merger worried her. But she said working in a vast, global organization has made her a better strategist. “We have benefited from the shift to a global focus.”

She saw that very clearly after Sept. 11. “In New York we were not experienced in anything like this. Our UBS colleagues in the Middle East, London and other parts of the world were.” She noted how analysts and economists in New York began reaching for analogies, comparing the terrorist attacks to the Kennedy assassination in 1963 or the 1987 market crash. Those comparisons, she said, were way off.

Meanwhile, UBS economists were able to quickly throw up hard numbers on consumer spending and other scenarios based on experience with terrorism around the globe. “We were able to produce for our clients better strategies than we could have on our own,” she said. “It’s a global marketplace. There’s no turning the clock back. We need to not only accept that, but leverage it.”

Working in a suddenly larger organization flung across continents has challenges, however, she said. The sheer scale requires an enormous ability to focus, to sift through endless data. Communication is also increasingly important in the vast global business environment. “Wall Street attracts people who are not necessarily team players,” Farrell said. “There is a concept of ownership.” Managers today must “get people to understand that their success requires the expertise of many others.”

Karen Fukumura has just returned to the United States as senior vice president of technical operations for Bank of America’s northern California back offices after seven years as a management consultant and entrepreneur in Asia. “When you actually go and live overseas it is very important to quickly get an environmental assessment,” Fukumura told the students. For an expatriate manager a key part of the assessment is determining the values of the employees and customers in the society where he or she is working.

“In Asia, people are very focused on working in a group and working in harmony and in a hierarchy,” she said. As an American, raised on cultural values of independence and empowerment, Fukumura had to change her management style to become more autocratic. While that conflicted with her own values, she realized that “it’s difficult to change society and society is business.” Now that she is back in the U.S., Fukumura said she has quickly sensed she needs to rein in her autocratic side and ratchet up on the empowerment.

She warned students considering a career in emerging markets that they will need broad management skills. There is not yet the luxury of management specialists. She also said those who like to run their business with a quantitative approach are likely to be frustrated in emerging markets where data is scarce. “You will need to learn to act more on gut feelings,” she pointed out.

Managers in Asia should also be prepared to take a regional, rather than a country, approach to business, Fukumura said, because each market is still small. American businesspeople are still a novelty in the Asian markets where she worked. Being a woman was even rarer. But it helped in at least one way: “People definitely remember you.”

Anne Kalin, co-owner of LYNKA Promotional Products in Krakow, Poland, went to Eastern Europe in 1991 with her husband, John Lynch, to find opportunity in the ashes of Communism. They started out printing 150 tourist t-shirts a day on a hand printer. Now they can produce 700 shirts an hour and have launched other distribution businesses across Poland.

Kalin’s war stories from post-Cold War Poland emphasized the need for creativity, ambition and hard work that are essential for any entrepreneur. But in an emerging market those qualities are needed all the more to overcome the absence of basic business infrastructure, such as supply and distribution networks.

LYNKA’s first big break, Kalin said, was an order for 2,000 t-shirts to promote a brewery. But at the time, it was impossible to find that many blank t-shirts in all of Poland. Lynch and Kalin began calling sources throughout Europe and finally located enough shirts in the Netherlands, a 22-hour drive away. Lynch and an employee picked up the shirts, took them out of their cartons and crammed them into every nook of the car. Then they drove back to Poland, past befuddled border guards.

Kalin and Lynch were able to print the shirts on time, but then realized they had no way to distribute them to different cities across the Poland in time for the customer’s promotional event because the country’s roads and trucking system were so bad. But like most countries in Europe, Poland’s rail system was well developed and tickets were inexpensive. Lynch and Kalin combined that with another resource in the university town of Krakow – students. They hired students to haul the t-shirts in suitcases to cities across Poland by train.

Creativity can be contagious. Another time Kalin left the printing plant at night with a huge order left to be packed by employees working an overnight shift on a tight deadline. When she returned in the morning she could tell by the alarm system on the door that the electricity had been out. But when she entered the factory, the work was done. Her employees had pulled their cars up to the windows and shone their headlights into the factory so they could work.

She bounces business ideas off friends – male and female – in the United States. Email is her lifeline. And while she has learned to adapt to Polish ways of doing business, Poland has had an effect on her. In her adopted country, Kalin said, women are ultra-feminine. At first it was jarring to Kalin who was used to a more assertive American style. “In 10 years of living in Poland,” she said, “what I’ve learned is to lighten up.”

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