Women in the banking world have built a “strong sisterhood” that, Michelle Seitz says, wasn’t there 36 years ago when her career began.
Professional women’s groups play a critical role for female bankers to develop a sense of belonging and find common interests among peers, the former CEO of Russell Investments said during the keynote discussion at a ceremony honoring recipients of American Banker’s Women in Banking NEXT award.
The award celebrates women 40 and under who have made their mark in the banking industry.
“Make sure you form these relationships and these bonds,” advised Seitz, who is also the founder and CEO of MeydenVest Partners.
The ceremony, held at HK Hall in New York City, honored 15 women from across the country for their professional success and personal perseverance in an industry that has long presented challenges based on gender-biased disadvantages.
And while finance has traditionally been a male-dominated industry, men have also played a crucial role in advancing her career, Seitz said. She cautioned against closing out advice from men who could be “incredibly important to your career.”
“It’s not an us-versus-them. It’s us,” she said.
Attendees said the room was “buzzing” with energy and fueled by the “tenacious” and “resilient” guests and honorees. Two students received scholarships as part of American Banker’s Young Women’s Leadership Awards.
Seitz described a career that began in Charlotte at North Carolina National Bank, a precursor to Bank of America. Joining on the eve of the 1987 stock market crash, she learned early on that she could make a real difference in people’s lives.
“The fiduciary impact of what we do was crystal clear three months in, at 22 years old,” Seitz said. “It was real money for real people, and it affected their lives pretty significantly.”
After moving to Chicago, Seitz worked four years at Concord Investment Co. before spending 22 years at William Blair, an investment banking and advisory firm. In 2017, she took leadership of Russell Investments, a $300 billion-asset private-equity firm.
Throughout her career, Seitz learned that the key to effective leadership requires maintaining self-balance and physical and mental well-being.
“I wish I had known how to better take care of myself,” she said, recalling one occasion when her “robotic” drive led her to tears from the weight of family and professional responsibilities.
If she had known then what she knows today, “I would have spoken up sooner,” Seitz said. “I would have felt comfortable to communicate what it is that I needed to be at my best.”
After stepping down from Russell Investments, Seitz launched MeydenVest Partners, an investment and advisory firm. The goal is to lend “my money, my time, my voice” in support of “important, meaningful work” from female entrepreneurs and others, she said.
Seitz’s work ethic was nurtured as she worked alongside her father at the family’s business in Indiana, while a mentor at William Blair taught her to “take time to know who you are.”
Meanwhile, Semoi Khan, one of the Young Leadership scholarship awards recipients, shared similar lessons about drawing strength from women and men alike.
She said she drew inspiration from the women in attendance “who are doing powerful things to make change.”
Khan added that she also found a reliable source of confidence in the back of the room, where her father, Abdul Khan, watched proudly. He said he wouldn’t miss seeing his daughter speak onstage and receive an award for anything in the world.
“I want to help her, so I came here,” Abdul Khan said.