Spearheading Citibank’s specifically women-targeted division, Women & Co., Linda has affected massive change in the company’s female demographic, providing personal finance resources and creating a community for women to communicate and exchange financial tips and concerns. Her work has received accolades from the United Nations Environment Programme and Womensphere, where she was awarded the Luminary Award. Her work with the Forbes Executive Women’s Board and other distinguished networks has furthered the cause of women in the business world. Linda is THE voice of women promoting women’s professional advancement.
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: My career began as an environmental consultant, where I specialized in due diligence for real estate deals and other transactions. This work led to similar work for one of Citibank’s predecessor companies, Salomon Brothers, and my career path at Citibank. At Salomon Brothers, I had the opportunity to join the Private Portfolio Group as a portfolio manager, which entailed spending a great deal of time on the road meeting with financial advisors and their clients who had placed money with us. This gave me first-hand experience in observing how men and women approach their finances and what they expected from an advisor and me, their money manager. I also noticed that the tenor of the conversation was different when I was speaking to a group of all women. That prompted me to do some research on women and money, and I started sharing what I learned with others across the company. When I heard that Lisa Caputo had joined Citigroup to launch a financial service for women – which eventually became Women & Co. – I raised my hand to help out. Initially, I served as an internal advisor and a featured speaker. In 2003, I formally joined the team as chief operating officer, was promoted to president four years later, and then named as CEO in 2010.
Q: I started a business at 24 with no funding and didn’t have many “great leadership” role models or mentors until later in my career. What are 3 characteristics that you believe define great leadership?
A: In my experience, great leadership is made up of humility, passion and vision.
Q: What’s your best advice for an entrepreneur in an early/bootstrapping phase? Or in a growth/need to ‘now scale’ phase?
A: Work on your business, not just in your business. When you are surrounded by your own business day in and day out, it’s important to take a step back and make sure you are handling all aspects of the business. Sometimes entrepreneurs are so focused on their product or service, that they may overlook their business’ finances. But it’s important to handle your business finances with intent. That is, handling your finances in an organized — not haphazard — way. It’s also important to remember to keep your business and personal finances separate from the get-go. The old adage that business and pleasure don’t mix is also true when it comes to your business’ finances.
Q: What do you feel separates your brand from your competitors?
A: Too often, a company’s marketing efforts to women simply entail adding images of women to their advertising, brochures or websites and placing their “standard” corporate ads in women’s lifestyle magazines. To us, this represents traditional financial services wrapped in pink. But women see through this – and more importantly, they don’t see themselves in it.
What’s different about Women & Co. is our commitment to including women, in imagery and in all of our communications, for who they really are. Our branding puts more “women” and less “co.” in Women & Co., featuring the unique stories of real women – actual Women & Co. members who represent the diverse and vibrant women who are increasingly creating and controlling money today.
We use the power of story to inspire women to take action with greater confidence, spark conversations about money, and provide them with the momentum to move forward with their lives and financial well-being. Whether it’s through our proprietary research, our blog, or a story featured on our website, we really try to keep a two-way dialogue going with our members so we can understand more about who they really are.
Q: Do you (formally or informally) mentor anyone? If so, who and why is it rewarding?
A: I consider myself both a mentor and mentee. I formally mentor one woman through the Step Up Women’s Network and informally coach and support women inside and outside Citibank. In turn, I look to my own personal “Board of Directors,” made up of both men and women, as a sounding board to help me think through opportunities and decisions in my professional and personal lives.
I believe that those who are people managers have an obligation to develop the next generation of leaders. We should not only share our knowledge, but also be learning from them as well. Although I’ve been successful, I still consider myself a work in progress – always learning. Mentoring provides an opportunity to see the world through others’ eyes.
Q: Is there an example in your life of a time when others were against you or your dream, yet you persevered?
A: When I got to college I wanted to explore many careers/subjects, including geology, so I went to see the head of the geology department. He took one look at me and said, “Why should I bother with you? You are fat and Italian, all you are going to do is get married, have babies, make meatballs and get even fatter!” After a good cry, I took the only recourse available: I focused on my GPA, earned an A average, and did not give up until he let me join the department. About 10 years ago, I saw him at a reunion and the first thing he said was, “So I see that you’re still fat.” Without missing a beat, I replied, “And you haven’t changed a bit either.” But this time, I walked away with a big smile on my face. That professor didn’t teach me much about geology in the end, but he did teach me something valuable: no one has the right to define me but me. And no one has right to define you but you. That is a message I take to the young women I mentor through various charity organizations I serve. I’ve worked hard and have earned the privilege to give back. Not just with my money, but with my time. And giving back is one of my highest priorities.
Q: What are you most passionate about and how do you incorporate it into your career or everyday life?
A: I have a real passion for helping women, which stems from my family experience. Neither of my grandmothers nor my mother finished high school. As the eldest grandchild on my mom’s side, all of the hopes and dreams of the family sort of rested with me. So when I graduated college it was a huge leap forward for us – a leap that has been surpassed by my younger cousins who are just doing great things in their careers and lives.
While my family instilled a strong work ethic, we didn’t have any idea of what college or the world of business was really like. Teachers, professors, colleagues and managers, many of whom where women, invested their time and energy in helping me succeed. I started volunteering and mentoring in college as a way of paying it forward and continue to this day. It nourishes my soul.
At Women & Co. I get the opportunity to spark conversations about money and to provide women with the momentum to move forward with their lives and financial well-being. Every day I am so inspired by the women of the Women & Co. community, who share their passions, successes, wisdom and fears with me. Their stories and their voracious appetite for knowledge inspire and energize me.
Q: Life is full of setbacks. Can you share an experience of one, and how you were able to bounce back?
A: As with most people who’ve experienced a divorce, the end of my first marriage was distressing emotionally…and financially. Naïve as it was, I never thought about keeping close tabs on household finances because that was my husband’s job. It wasn’t until we were going through our divorce that I realized how much debt we had amassed on a joint credit card, which I had to pay off as part of our divorce settlement as the “breadwinner” in the family. Needless to say, that little life transition shook me up, but I came through just fine and was back in the black within 18 months.
But, it made me realize just how important it is for women to stay educated and involved in the household finances and to have a Plan B – a plan for navigating the curve balls that life, or the market, is undoubtedly going to throw our way – especially when you consider that 9 out of every 10 women will be solely responsible for our finances at some point in our lives, either due to divorce, outliving our partner, or because we stayed single.
It was through my own financial wake-up call that my passion for women and money really developed. I began looking for opportunities to help women become financially savvy. I’m also proud to say that before saying “I do” the second time around, my now–husband and I had a very frank conversation about money and set up clear “rules of the road” about how to handle “our” money, “his” money, and “my” money.
ON Letting go
Q: What do you do to unwind or disconnect?
A: Unwinding is such an important way to re-charge and really helps to keep me energized. Some ways that I like to unwind are:
Reading: Reading is a passion of mine and something I love to do to keep my creative juices flowing. I particularly love reading literary fiction and mystery novels.
Writing: Writing is really therapeutic and such a creative outlet for me. Working for Women & Co. really helps me fulfill that passion because of all the writing I get to do for our site.
Theater: I love to have a glass of wine and go to the theater at the end of a long day!
Q: In theory, one should prioritize their own health in order to be in the best state to take care of others (family, kids, work, etc.). But in reality, I’ve found that women often take care of themselves last. What are your thoughts on this?
A: Just like in the air flight emergency instructions when you are instructed to give oxygen to yourself first, then to your child – women need to prioritize their financial health for the sake of their families and for themselves. While maintaining optimal financial health is important for everyone – men and women – it’s especially so for women because of our influence on the next generation and our increasingly important role within the household.
In an increasing number of families women are not only the CFO, managing how their families plan for their financial futures, but they are also often times the principal wealth creators, contributing more and more to the family income. We are now doing so much more than just driving the purchasing decisions. In fact our research showed that two out of every three women consider themselves the money managers of their households. They’re influencing not only what their family spends their money on, but now more than ever, how their families plan to invest in their future. In addition, we are becoming wealth multipliers because of our influence on our children and the next generation.
Despite all this, so many women don’t take action until they’re faced with a wake-up call. But as we now carry so much weight and our families are depending on us more and more, it’s so important for women to get a plan in motion and to focus on their financial health. At Women & Co. it’s so exciting to see women stepping up, contributing to that conversation of financial literacy, and putting plans in motion.
(And if you’re interested in any of our research check it out at: <https://www1.citibank.com/womenandco/aboutus/studies/2010_ir.jsp>)
Q: In the world, what are your three favorite destinations?
A: Machu Picchu, Paris, and the Four Corners area in the United States
Q: In your opinion, what are the top values that make up a meaningful relationship?
A: I believe that humor, respect, transparency, honesty, integrity, and a shared/ common purpose are all the necessary components to building meaningful relationships.
ON Cooking & Food
Q: If you love to cook, can you share a favorite recipe?
A: I make a mean biscotti!
Mom-Mom Annie’s Italian Biscotti
6 large eggs
1/2 lb butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 tbsp baking powder (level)
Flavoring — (a) 1 tbsp orange zest and 1 tbsp vanilla or (b) 2 tbsp anise
5 1/2 cups flour (may need 6)
1). Melt butter, but don’t let it brown. Let cool. Add sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well. Then add eggs 2 at a time, beating until creamy. Add flavoring. Beat well.
2). Mix 3 level tbsp of baking powder to 1 cup of flour, and then add in to the butter mixture. Add two more cups of flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing well. Then, add the remaining baking powder to the rest of the flour, and then mix into the butter mixture. You probably will need to use a floured wooden spoon to finish the mixing. The batter is done when the dough pulls away from the bowl. Knead.
3). Refrigerate the dough overnight, or at least for several hours.
4). To make biscotti, take a piece of dough about the size of a small orange. Shape it into a small loaf. You can fit several loaves on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350-375 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven when golden brown (make sure the loaf is cooked through). Cool, then slice and put back in 350-375 degree oven for 5-10 minutes, or until brown.
5). To make torralles, take a piece of dough about the size of a walnut. Roll out, using hands, into a rod-shape. Then, make into a doughnut shape, pressing the ends together. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet, in a 350-375 degree oven, for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown. After cooling, you can glaze, if desired.
Q: Which book(s) has had the most significant impact on your life and why?
A: I would have to say The Monk and the Riddle by Randy Komisar. It’s about the art of creating a life while making a living. It reminds me of how important passion is in what you do – because the business of being in business, whether as an entrepreneur or an executive, is tough. It can be daunting – but also highly desirable and energizing when aligned with your values and passions.
ON Personal Finance
Q: What are your top 3 personal finance tips for women?
A: 1). Own your financial health. Don’t delegate responsibility to a spouse or partner.
2). Steer, don’t drift. Put a financial plan in motion, and keep it in sync with changes and transitions in your life. Don’t let life, love, career or the markets cloud your financial judgment.
3). Plan for the unexpected. Maintain appropriate insurance coverage, and keep your will, beneficiary designations and other estate planning documents up to date. It’s also important to keep a healthy cash cushion of at least 6 months of living expenses.