Career Advice from Citi Board Members Peter Blair Henry and Deborah Wright
September 05, 2018 04:00 PM
Citi congratulates Deborah C. Wright and Peter Blair Henry, two members of its Board of Directors, on being named to the 2018 Black Enterprise Exclusive Registry of African American Corporate Directors. Below they share career advice and thoughts about leadership with Mark Mason, Chief Financial Officer for Citi’s Institutional Clients Group.
Mark: When I was very young I began working for my grandfathers, who owned their own landscaping and carpentry businesses. One thing they taught me from an early age is that there’s just no substitute for hard work. I know you each share a similar philosophy, correct?
Debbie: Absolutely. My advice to those just starting their careers or embarking on a new track is to take the hard, unglamorous jobs in the beginning. You’ll learn more and earn friends at every level.
Peter: I agree. Hard work combined with pursuit of excellence, no matter what you’re doing. I once heard the jazz musician Wynton Marsalis share the story of how he once asked his mentor, the great trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison, why it was that he, Wynton, needed to play so many warm-up notes to hit a good one, whereas Sweets always sounded great on the first try. In response, Sweets sat down, looked Marsalis in the eye, and said: “Ain’t but one way to play, Baby Boy. Ain’t but one way to play!” I heard that quote as a personal clarion call. As in jazz, so too in life: always bring your best, most authentic self—right now, with a sense of urgency.
Mark: I’m very involved with Howard University, where I went to school and currently serve as vice chair of the Board of Trustees. It’s not unusual for me to be asked about my views on leadership. In addition to working hard and thinking big, I believe true leaders understand that no one person accomplishes anything alone. Peter, Debbie, what qualities or attributes do you think define leaders?
Debbie: Optimism. Leadership is rewarding but complex and often hard. The person leading any effort has to juggle content, people — internal, external, bosses and staff — and tasks while also staying abreast of trends. And let’s not forget those never ending deadlines! Having a sense of optimism keeps leaders focused on the greater good that can be achieved without getting fixated on the bumps in the journey.
Peter: I’ve noticed two attributes that all great leaders and decision makers invariably possess. The first is vision. Great leaders know where they want to take their organizations. They articulate a compelling reason for wanting to take it there, then they outline a disciplined strategy for bringing the vision to fruition. The second attribute is an open mind. When you’re leading an organization, you can’t afford to take criticism personally. You have to listen as objectively as you can — not only to what people say but also to how they say it. The “how” often conveys the way you’re making people feel, and feelings are their own set of facts. Nobody will be motivated to perform even their basic job duties, let alone run the gauntlet for you, if they don’t feel valued.
Mark: Thank you both for sharing your insights with us. Citi benefits greatly from having your expertise on our Board.