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Deborah McWhinney: Paving the Path to Success-Define Your Passion

by   Deborah McWinney, COO Global Enterprise Payments, Citi


Oct 10, 2013 12:34

In 2009, my decision to return to the financial services industry in the thick of the economic crisis may have surprised some. However, once the crisis hit, I knew almost immediately that I needed to be part of fixing the industry to which I had dedicated more than three decades of my life. While I knew I was embarking on unprecedented financial times, I was excited by the challenges of this opportunity.

I joined Citi as head of our North America Personal Banking and Wealth Management organization, managing our consumer products, brokerage business as well as many of the functional groups. Since early 2011, I have been the Chief Operating Officer of Citi Enterprise Payments, overseeing the development of innovative global payment platforms and managing multiple functions including product management, finance, human resources and marketing.

Over the years I have been faced with many obstacles that have shaped who I am personally and professionally; I firmly believe that one's success lies in the ability to be resilient. My journey, like those of many others, has been filled with ups and downs. However, I am grateful for the lessons each experience has taught me, which I can, in turn, share with future generations of leaders.

You write your own epitaph

When I was in the third grade, my grandmother told me: "you write your own epitaph," meaning you will be remembered by the way you define yourself and for your actions towards others. I have found remaining true to what I am passionate about and doing what is right by those around me has contributed to my success and to maintaining the confidence and support of my colleagues and clients. The greatest compliment I ever received was from a colleague who said the best years of her career were when she worked for me.

Make every minute of every day count

Prior to joining Citi, I faced one of my greatest personal challenges-a breast cancer diagnosis. My battle to overcome cancer tested my physical and emotional strength. During my treatment, I looked at all of those who were facing a similar situation and came to the realization that not every one of us would make it. This experience reaffirmed that we have to make every minute of every day count. Life is too short to be afraid of the battle - you must go into every situation knowing you have the ability to achieve greatness.

Know 'what makes you tick'

My experiences, coupled with great advice from mentors, also inspired me to pursue what I was most passionate about - pushing my boundaries and taking advantage of every opportunity to challenge myself. I love the challenge of finding white space in a crowded industry landscape and developing strategies that play to my team's strengths and competitor's weaknesses. I am most proud of businesses I have led where I took commodity services and turned them into fast-growing, sustainable business models that were able to withstand market volatility ... and blew away the competition. With this in mind, I encourage young people to identify something about each job that they are passionate about because I have found that when you like what you're doing, it becomes evident in your work.

Feelings are not facts

Make decisions based on the facts of a situation and always exercise honesty and integrity. I am reminded of advice I received from a colleague who said "do what is right for your clients, do what is right for your shareholders and do what is right for your employees." Simply put, decision-making is tough, but sticking to the facts and making certain you determine good outcomes to your constituent groups wins the day.

Share all you have learned

I am fortunate to be involved with CitiWomen. As the Co-Chair of this organization, I have had the opportunity to connect with amazing and talented women and to assist colleagues who are just starting out. I believe it is the responsibility of women in leadership positions to serve as role models for younger colleagues because we have learned a great deal during our careers from our successes and failures.

I look forward to continuing to shape Citi's leaders of tomorrow. At the same time, I am far from finished learning, growing and challenging myself. When we're young, people ask us: what are you going to do when you grow up? I feel like that question still stands. We are never too old to define our passions; it is never too late to start writing our own epitaph. Just as I am, I hope you are confident that your greatest contributions to business are yet to come.