THE BLOG
03/13/2014 05:09 pm ET | Updated Aug 28, 2014

Sallie Krawcheck - A Game Changer in the Women's Movement

Paradigm Shifters is a series of interviews with a select group of women from eclectic walks of life. It will highlight unspoken, real life insights on how women have been able to turn weakness into strength. A naked soul point of view of how their breakdowns were really a preparation for breakthroughs. They are your quintessential Paradigm Shifters; internal shifts converted into genuine change.

Everything I have ever done has been focused on this underlying theme of shifting the paradigm because, "what we think determines what we feel and what we feel determines what we do." Hence why Seven Bar Foundation and Empowered by You takes lingerie, which has traditionally been seen merely as a tool of seduction and redirected that energy as a tool of empowerment.

I hope from these stories you will look at your own situations, struggles and accomplishments through a different lens. At the very least you will be more equipped with real life tools to change your own paradigm. At the end of the day we are our own Alchemist turning the silver we were born with into the gold we are destined to become.

Sallie Krawcheck

sallie krawcheck

Sallie Krawcheck is the former CEO and Chairman of Merrill Lynch and Smith Barney and former President of Global Wealth and Investment Management for Bank of America. She was ranked number 6 on Forbes' "World's 100 Most Powerful Women" on Wall Street in 2006. Currently, she owns 85 Broads, a professional women's networking organization.

Renata: What made you go from living a life of success to living a life of success with significance?

Sallie: Having an impact has always mattered to me. I'm a journalist and a research analyst by training. Research on women shows that they are more likely to say that they work for meaning and purpose while men are more likely to cite money.

I remember coming into work the day after 9/11 back when I was running the research business at [Sanford C.] Bernstein. The markets were preparing to reopen just under a week later and I was thinking, "What am I going to say to these people? 386 people work for me; what is my message to them?" We were research analysts, not firefighters, so we weren't people who were actively making a difference, but what we did actually mattered. The markets were going to open and go berserk. People were going to lose money or make money or panic or freak out. We gave advice to institutional money managers who managed money for individual families. If we could come in with level heads on that day and provide advice for those folks, it actually would make a difference in their lives.

I think that was sort of the start of my philosophy, "Why bother to work if it's not going to make a difference?" Since then, even in this latest stage of my life, when people say "why don't you go work for a hedge fund?" I think, "I don't want to disappear." I built a career over many years and I want to use the experience I have to make a difference in some way.

Over the course of your career, was there a breakdown moment that led to a breakthrough?

To reference another market crisis moment, my breakdown came during the sub prime crisis of 2008. I had responsibilities at Smith Barney and the Citi Private Bank. We had mistakenly sold products to individual investors as low risk and they turned out to be high risk. We had indicated that in a bad market investors would lose several cents on the dollar and the market was so bad that they lost all of their cents on the dollar. I advocated for returning some of that money to clients, even though the there was no evidence of wrongdoing, criminality or bad faith. We had just made a mistake. I still advocated for returning money to our clients and was told no.

I knew there were two outcomes: either we returned client money and I lost my job or we didn't return client money and I lost my job. So do you take that step? It's a decision to make, particularly when you've put as much into your career as I had. Your career becomes your identity. So, "Am I going do it?" And the answer is, "Yeah, I'm going do it."

What was the breakthrough you had from this experience?

Live your values. If you say you put the client first, put the client first. Don't just have that in your value statement and then go off and try to make earnings for the quarter. What do you believe in? If you said it, do it.

You've said your career is part of your identity. A lot of women see their jobs and their success as who they are. Looking back on your own experiences, would you advise women to identify themselves as their careers?

I wouldn't say it's a bad thing to do. One's work life is a very large part of one's life, so if it's not part of your identity, what are you doing?

It's funny, some time after the sub-prime crisis, I was on a plane and the cabin filled with smoke and we had to make an emergency landing. As the crew was trying to find the source of the smoke, several thoughts rushed through my mind very quickly. When it was clear we were going to be okay, I realized that I did not have an "I wish I had lived my life differently" moment. It was interesting that I didn't think "Ah, I should've been a yoga teacher."

But now you've shifted to 85 Broads. What do you want your legacy to be if you stay with 85 Broads?

I've been quoted as saying, and I believe it, that "A life well-lived involves a life of some service if one is privileged enough to be given that opportunity." I also have the belief that if you have had success, if you have built a platform from which you can be heard and if you have the experience and the knowledge to provide input to something that matters then it is, in some ways, a responsibility to do it.

In this most recent career transition, I spent quite a bit of time doing research. I spent time in Silicon Valley looking at startups and how they work, I spent time in D.C. and I spent a lot of time in my home reading. The thing that can impact business and our economy positively comes from diversity. So many folks see the research and think of it as a "nice to do," but if women in the United States of America were as fully economically engaged as men, our GDP would be 9 percent bigger. Research shows that more diverse leadership teams lead to better results.

Side note, whether this relationship is correlation or coincidence I don't know, but it's a big coincidence. 85 Broads is a place that can serve as an accelerator for our more than 30,000 women members to help them be more successful in their careers

What are your plans to make 85 Broads a thriving business?

The first plan is to do what we do but even better. 85 Broads is a place that can serve as an accelerator for our more than 30,000 women members to help them be more successful in their careers and therefore help affect some of this change for corporate America.

We are currently working on a few different initiatives based on the feedback of our members, but nothing new to be announced. That's the way I like to manage, which is "it's not what Sallie wants to do, it's what the members want to do."

When we think about the theme of 85 Broads, we look at it as women investing in themselves. We have been hearing from a lot of women and they are now looking to invest in other women too. So we are thinking about how we can open those channels.

If 2013 were a chapter in your life, what would that chapter be called?

I spent a lot of personal time in 2013, especially with my kids.

It's interesting, there's sort of a cosmic balance that occurs. For me, 2013 was a year of taking a step into entrepreneurialism and spending more time with my family. Maybe 2013 for me was a year in which balance was restored in the family. And 2014 I'm hoping will be a year of positive excitement.

I hope these stories inspire you to look at your individual situations, struggles and accomplishments through a different lens. At the very least you will be more equipped with real life tools to change your own paradigm. At the end of the day we are our own alchemists, turning the silver we were born with into the gold we are destined to become.