Sallie Krawcheck Said Running Merrill Lynch Was Like A Disney Ride…And Not The Good Kind

Working at Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch was like The Tower Of Terror according to Sallie Krawcheck. Krawcheck, once called the most powerful woman on Wall Street, stepped down from her post as head of Bank of America Merrill Lynch global wealth in early September. In a new interview with Forbes she talked about what it was like to be a leader at both BofA Merrill and Smith Barney. She said she has learned every lesson in her career the hard way. “The toughest challenge has been having the opportunity of leading two large organizations through significant volatility,” she said in the interview with Moira Forbes. She compared one of her jobs (I’m guessing Merrill during the height of the financial crisis) to be very similar to the Disney ride, The Tower of Terror.

“Now you know what my days were like in which you are sitting in a seat feeling just fine and you’re suddenly dropped repeatedly again and again and again in air pockets without a seatbelt and not knowing when the next drop is going to come and having 40,000 people look to you ‘Is it going to be OK?’”

I think most of us would prefer the Small World ride. Even the Spinning Teacups seems relaxing compared to this. That is actually a great and very vivid metaphor for describing a leadership role at a huge financial firm. But always the pro, Sally remained composed through out it all. Molly Ashby, Chairman and CEO of Solera Capital, said of Krawcheck, she never waivered as day after day was like a war zone. “She was just on it.”

Both Ashby and Krawcheck are class-acts and also a minority on Wall Street. Krawcheck has said the lack of female advisers was one of the biggest challenges for the wealth management industry. Women make up 16 to 17% of advisers in the industry today, she said. In senior management positions, that number is smaller – about 15% ”Our industry does not do a great job for women,” she said at the conference. “We do have large groups of people – women – who are underserved by our business.”

Krawcheck’s September departure has now made women on Wall Street in leadership positions an even rarer breed.  In the U.S., women account for only 2.7% of the chief executives in the financial industry, and 16.8% of the executive officers, according to a study by Catalyst. That number has decreased slightly today with Krawcheck’s exit. Since the financial crisis in 2008, women at the top have been taking a lot of falls: Erin Callan, the chief financial officer at Lehman Brothers, left months before the investment bank filed for bankruptcy. Zoe Cruz, the co-president of Morgan Stanley, was ousted in a management shake-up in late 2007. Terri Dial lasted just a year as chief executive of Citigroup’s consumer business in North America. And Heidi Miller, the head of JPMorgan Chase’s international efforts who was once viewed as a potential successor to the chief executive, Jamie Dimon, is set to depart the company early this year. As Deal Journal writer Shira Ovide wrote:

“Senior female executives on Wall Street are like bald eagles: Majestic, but extremely rare. And each top woman who leaves or is forced from her post will spark anew the “whither women” questions and stories about why Wall Street is dominated by dudes. At this point, Wall Street would love a few more top-ranking women, if only to stop those pesky questions.”

Watch the interview here:

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