Kathleen Murphy, President, Fidelity Personal Investing

Andrea J. Will LifeChats Series in Finance & Accounting

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As head of Personal Investing (PI) for Fidelity Investments, Kathleen Murphy oversees a business with more than $1 trillion in client assets under administration, more than 13.5 million customer accounts and over 10,000 employees.  Her business is the nation’s No.1 provider of individual retirement accounts (IRAs), the fastest growing major online brokerage company, the industry’s No. 1 most trusted brand and a leading provider of managed account programs and college savings plans. Under Murphy’s tenure many of PI’s products, service and customer experiences, have been recognized for excellence by several third party organizations, including Barron’s, SmartMoney, Kiplinger’s, Forrester’s, and others.

Read Murphy’s full bio at the end of the LifeChat.

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Key Takeaways:

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The importance of teamwork for the success of a business

  • Business is definitely a team sport, and you have to depend on others to be successful in serving the customer
  • Make sure you’re an effective team player, even if you’re in charge
  • It is really important to come together and present yourself as one face.
  • Accountability communication, and transparency have been crucial in maintaining a cohesive team.
  • If you have good people working with you, all you need is leadership, teamwork, and execution to succeed. I end every business meeting with those three words.

Believe in yourself, your hard work will pay off 

  • I truly believe merit wins every time. If you do a great job, you will get noticed. That’s number one.
  • Something sports taught me is that hard work pays off.  I always wanted to win, and to beat out the other companies, so no one was going to outwork me.
  • If you deliver results that really matter, you will get noticed for who you are.
  • The bottom line is that results matter.
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LifeChat with Kathy Murphy:

What are some key lessons that have shaped your career development? 

I was very fatalistic about my career.  I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I remember working with people on the legal side who said they wanted to be the general counsel of a public company by a certain age. I never had any specific aspiration like that. I wanted to work on things that were challenging, fun, and that continued to challenge me.

I always wanted to be in a place where I was comfortable with the team, and with a team who wanted to win.  The lens I use is not, ‘how could this advance my career?’ but rather, ‘what can I learn from this?’  So when difficult assignments come along, it’s important to figure out what kind of contribution you can make, and what you can learn from the experience.

I’ve learned to really embrace the difficult assignments. My career path all started from something I absolutely did not want to do. I am a lawyer by training and started my career at a multi-line insurance company. I grew up in the ranks of its very large law department with about 150 lawyers.  We were all required to do rotations before we settled in a specific division. I had finished two of my three rotations, and my last was in a department I absolutely knew I never wanted to work in. At the time, a federal appellate court judge I had worked for while in law school called and asked me to clerk for him.  I don’t know what possessed me, but at that point, I went to my boss and told him if he made me complete the final rotation, I would take the clerkship.  The last rotation was in investments and finance.

It just goes to show, you really don’t always know what you want and should embrace different things and the opportunity to learn.

How did you ultimately make the move from law to business?

I was working for Aetna at the time, and I decided I wanted to do something different, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. It’s funny, because when I was first approached with the offer to be the chief compliance officer, I said that there was no way I would want to do that. Ultimately, the firm needed me, so I ended up doing it, and it got me much closer to the business side – the real nitty gritty – than I had ever been while still working on the legal issues, government affairs, and public policy strategies.

The boss came to me with the offer because he was having a lot of trouble solving issues in compliance. I realized that if I went in there, solved them, and achieved certain results, there would be a significant upside. I learned from this experience that difficult opportunities are your chance to shine, and there is a lot more visibility in those assignments if you do them well. The job that I thought, with my ultimate wisdom, I did not want to take, ended up being the bridge that got me to the business part of my career.

I went over to the financial services side and became the chief compliance officer, then the general counsel, and then, eventually, acquired responsibility for all staff functions. My boss had been continuously trying to convince me to join the business side and then he offered me the job to head the biggest set of business for ING in the U.S.  My first operating job was with a collection of businesses that generated half a million dollars in earnings, and that was my first introduction to business.

Although there are more opportunities for women in the finance field than ever before, it is still an industry primarily dominated by men. How do you build credibility as a woman in the industry? What leadership advice can you give to women working in male-dominated cultures?

I truly believe merit wins every time. If you do a great job, you will get noticed. That’s number one. Something sports taught me is that hard work pays off. I always wanted to win, and to beat out the other companies, so no one was going to outwork me. I think people appreciated both the effort I put in and results I achieved. The bottom line is that results matter. Even if your boss is a jerk and the results aren’t exactly what he wanted, you have to believe that in the company overall, results do matter.

Having a positive attitude is also very important. People gravitate toward people with positive energy, regardless of gender. Between two smart people who can both drive results, the person who tries to forge relationships, has a positive attitude, and makes sure it is a team effort will ultimately go further than the other person. A corollary to that is that you should never whine.  In fact, I have three signs in my office that I jokingly say are the three rules I live by: 1) attitude is everything; 2) thou shalt not whine; and 3) well-behaved women rarely make history.

Another piece of advice I have for all women, because I think we all struggle with this, is to never over-think your career path.  I never planned ahead as far as I should have in regards to my career, but I believe that a lot of women do get caught up over-thinking the stuff that only matters around the edges- in terms of how many people they should network with, what kinds of jobs they should have, etc.  The bottom line is that if you deliver results that really matter, you will get noticed for who you are.

As a seasoned board member, what advice would you give to others who are considering board service?

I have never approached an experience by thinking about how it could bolster my career.  You shouldn’t sit on a board just to complete some checklist. I’ve found that corporate boards have to be something you can give your time to without having it interfere with your primary responsibilities. People who are spread too thin don’t do a service to anybody. Also, the board you choose to be on has to be one where you can make a contribution; instead of taking up space because you think being there is the right thing to do. And finally, it has to be something you’re genuinely interested in, so you can learn from the experiences. That way, you’ll get more out of it, and so will the company and its senior management.

You are a mentor for the FORTUNE/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership. Tell us about that.

I participated in this program through both Fidelity and ING, and I got as much out of it as these women; that’s the real value of the program. The mentees are women from countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. What we go through to be successful in our world doesn’t even pale in comparison to what they go through. They are true heroes in many senses, so we learn a lot from them in terms of perspective and their approach to challenges. The challenge we are often called upon to help them with is how to operate in a ‘man’s world,’ because historically, these women are not afforded the same opportunities as men.  How do you give them the confidence to take action and control their destinies in a way that’s culturally sensitive to who they are and where they are from?  We talk a lot about that.

The women whom I personally mentored were from Bangladesh, Argentina, Palestine, Vietnam, Ghana, and Zimbabwe.  I had a very different experience with each of them. No two of those experiences are ever alike.

Did you have any mentors? Who did you turn to for help navigating new challenges?

I was never part of a formal mentoring program, but I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who took an interest in me, and I learned from those experiences more informally.  This didn’t just start in the corporate world; it was also with teachers and coaches who took the time to help my development.  That was such a gift, and I was lucky there were people doing that for me, especially when I started on my first job outside of law school.  You also learn so much from observing real time.

I’ve also learned a lot from my teams.  From my first business job, there have been so many people on my team that knew more about the business than I did. I had to strike the right balance between not only leading the team, but also learning from the team and advancing the business as a team.  The concept of team has always been very important to me.

How has the concept of team shaped your view on leadership?

I really believe that if you have good people working with you, all you need is leadership, teamwork, and execution to succeed. I end every business meeting with those three words.  For me, leadership does not mean management, and management does not mean leadership – there are leaders at every level of an organization. The heroes among us are the people who step into the white place and make a difference. They’re the people who make a difference when they don’t have to, and who go the extra mile to help the customer.

Business is definitely a team sport, and you have to depend on others to be successful in serving the customer. It is really important to come together and present yourself as one face.  Teamwork doesn’t mean just getting along; you can have a culture that’s too polite. Candor is a sign of respect, so we shouldn’t waste time with the ‘meeting before the meeting’ and the ‘meeting after the meeting,’ for the sake of being polite. Then, decisions take too long and we’re not being efficient.

Execution is crucial. In a very hyper-competitive area, the company that excels with execution is the one that gets ahead. The competition is outside the four walls of the building. It’s a world where speed matters in terms of winning, so let’s make sure we’re being candid and getting to the issues quickly.

What lessons have you learned from sports that you apply in business?

Team sports teach you such invaluable lessons. They are things you can absolutely apply every single day in business. I was a swimmer (we were state champs three years in a row when I was in high school) and I also played basketball. Team sports teach you so much; I still constantly use sports analogies at work. I was the third of six kids growing up, and sports were a big part of my family’s existence. As a kid, after I finished all of my own Nancy Drew and Little Women books, I would go into my brother’s room and read three of his books over and over again. The first was Instant Replay, by Jerry Kramer, which was a diary of a season with the Green Bay Packers and Coach Vince Lombardi. The second was I am Third, by Gale Sayers, and the last was the Brian Piccolo story.  These books taught me an immense amount, and showed me the importance of perseverance and teamwork.  I am still able to apply what I learned in these books to my job now.

By the way, I have a nine year old son, and I am re-learning all the same lessons I learned when I was a kid.

Fidelity is a large business. How do you facilitate communication and teamwork among various branches and levels of the company?

I joined Fidelity in January 2009, and one of the things I was able to tap into immediately was the culture of Fidelity and my business – the retail investing business. The DNA of this business is all about doing right by the customer, so there was a galvanizing cultural principle that everyone could unite behind.

For me, accountability communication, and transparency have been crucial in maintaining a cohesive team.  For communication, a common frame of reference is key. It prevents overcomplicating situations with too many things to focus on; instead, the team can rally around something they feel strongly about and that makes them proud. It’s a way of articulating common goals between the areas that are not directly connected organizationally.  I also had to have team spirit within my business, and my team carried this spirit across the multiple businesses we worked with.  A key to that – although it’s never perfect – is communication and transparency.  You have to make sure you articulate the common goals among those areas that aren’t necessary connected organizationally, and that you have a common frame of reference to bring the organizations together.

Can you share a specific example of a challenge or self-doubt that you had to overcome?

As a private firm, Fidelity was facing some really tough challenges in the business, and it was very clear that the spotlight was on my boss, my team, and me.  There was a period in which there was a visible thing that went wrong, sometimes outside of our control, every single day. It was clear the business was under a lot of pressure. Through this experience, I learned a couple of things:

Firstly, the entire organization was watching how I was handling the situation as a leader.  I became a reflection of whether or not the business was going to be okay. I realized it was important to constantly be aware of how I was projecting myself in front of my team. I had to have a calming influence as the leader.  I had to show people that everything was going to be okay.

Secondly, I realized the importance of my core team and how much we had to rely on each other.  One must appreciate the value that each person could have, and the role they could play in managing the crisis.  If I didn’t keep the team together, there was no way I could have gotten through the crisis successfully.  I had to take care of the team, while emphasizing mutual reinforcement– this was critical in terms of crisis management.

The people who didn’t weather that storm were the ones who internalized too much, and weren’t projecting an image of calmness.  They didn’t maintain perspective on how to deal with all of this.  In a time of crisis, you need to project calm leadership, remember you are not alone, and provide mutual support to each other as a part of a broad team.

You mentioned you have a nine year old son. How do you integrate your high profile job with your family life?

It is a constant juggling act. I have the immense fortune that my husband ultimately decided to stay at home, so that’s a real blessing. But I always want to make sure I’m very present in my son’s life. Ultimately, one makes choices all the time, so mine are in terms of my priorities.  For example, instead of doing the social activities I would otherwise have been doing, I choose to spend my weekends with my family. I don’t try to balance my work and family lives; I try more to integrate them. I get up early or stay up late to finish my work. It’s juggling.

There are some things you may think are priorities, but really, they should fall off your list, because if you spread yourself too thin, no one wins, including you.  I think community service is really important and I am very conscious of how much I give back to society. I am the type of person who generally doesn’t say no, but I have gotten better at saying, “I can’t do certain things now, that would take time away from my priorities.” Helping kids has always been my real passion, and before I had kids, I was the chairperson for the Children’s Trust Fund, to help kids have the best chance for a bright future. But when I had kids, my priorities shifted. When my son is older, I will have more time for those other things again. You don’t have to do everything consistently. At different periods of time, you can spend more or less time on different things, and that’s okay.

What advice would you give to Kathy Murphy, about to graduate from law school?

  • Embrace the privilege and obligation of real leadership, because if you do, you will become a more complete person and your organization will give back in multiples
  • Leadership is a privilege and an obligation. I would tell myself not to wait for that “safe” career move
  • Take risks and explore new areas of personal growth
  • Fill in the white space, because that’s where the biggest opportunities are
  • Demand and reward excellence
  • Make sure you’re an effective team player, even if you’re in charge
  • Most importantly, always, always, always put the customer first
  • Make sure you and those around you have fun

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Full Biography of Kathy Murphy:

Kathleen Murphy is president of Personal Investing (PI), a Fidelity Investments company that provides retail brokerage, mutual funds, managed accounts, and other financial products and services to millions of individual investors.  Kathy is also responsible for Fidelity’s life insurance and annuities business, its workplace savings business for tax-exempt organizations, all of the firm’s brand and advertising programs, Fidelity’s online and digital strategies through Fidelity.com and the firm’s mobile strategies.

Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the financial services and benefits industry. Prior to joining Fidelity, she was chief executive officer of ING U.S. Wealth Management. Before assuming that position, Ms. Murphy was group president, ING Worksite and Institutional Financial Services. She began with ING in 2000 and became general counsel and chief administrative officer of ING’s  U.S. Financial Services. Murphy began her career with Aetna. During her 15-year tenure with the firm, she held a variety of legal and government affairs positions and eventually acted as general counsel and chief compliance officer, Aetna Financial Services.

Murphy received her bachelor of arts degree, summa cum laude, in economics and political science from Fairfield University in 1984. She earned her juris doctorate with highest honors from the University of Connecticut in 1987.

Murphy has been named one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in American business by Fortune magazine, one of the Wall Street Top 50 and Business 100 by Irish America magazine, named to the Power 100 list for Financial Services and named as one of the 25 Most Powerful Women in finance by US Banker, among other honors.

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The Andrea J. Will LifeChat Series in Finance & Accountinis sponsored by the Andrea J. Will Memorial Foundation. More information at www.ajwmf.org.