Women Leaders in Finance and Business Interview- Rosemary Berkery
Welcome! I'm Reena Aggarwal, Robert E. McDonough professor of finance and director of the Georgetown Center for Financial Markets and Policy. We are delighted to continue our Women Leaders in Finance and Business series. It gives me great
pleasure to welcome Rosemary Berkery, a member of our Georgetown University board of directors. From 2010 to 2018, Ms. Berkery was vice chair of UBS wealth management and chair and CEO of UBS Bank USA. She and her team grew the deposit base from 20 billion dollars to 50 billion dollars over a five-year period, nearly tripled the securities-based loan book, and built both a mortgage business and a credit card business from scratch. Prior to joining UBS, she
had a 25-year career at Merrill Lynch during which she held a number of different positions including vice chair, EVP and general counsel, executive head of the firm's private client strategy products and marketing group and co-head of the Global Securities Research and Economics Group, one of the top research franchises in the world. The American Banker has awarded Rosemary its lifetime achievement award. She was also recognized by Fortune as one of five women to watch and was profiled by the Financial Times in an article entitled, "Rosemary Berkery Wall Street's Woman of Influence." Rosemary, we are absolutely honored to have you speak with us today. Now I'm going to hand it over to two of our students, Julie Ferguson, an MBA student at the McDonough School of Business and Anusha Agarwal, an undergraduate student in Georgetown College. Take it away, Julie. Thank you, professor, and thank you, Ms. Berkery for joining us today. Delighted. As mentioned, my name is Julie and prior to MSB, I serve in...
I'm currently one of the co-presidents of the Finance Club here at MSB and the center supports our club by hosting speakers such as this one as well as offering research of finance related research opportunities to students. This summer I'm going to be interning in investment banking and after I finish my MBA, I hope to continue my career in that role. So I'll pass it over to Anusha so she can introduce herself. Thank you, Julie. My name is Anusha and I'm an undergraduate senior in Georgetown College and I'm
studying mathematics and economics. I'm currently involved with Georgetown's Center for Financial Markets and Policy through writing a white paper for the center about generational differences in investing. I spent last summer interning in sales and trading and I will be starting my career in trading after I graduate this year. Thank you so much for being here with us today, Ms. Berkery.
To start, I'd like to ask could you please tell us a little bit more about your career path from law to positions at Merrill Lynch and then UBS. How did you transition over time between these different fields and roles? Sure. But thanks Anusha and Julie. So impressive to hear about your backgrounds and your, you know, your early foray into the securities and financial services business and what you have planned ahead for you both very, very exciting.
I actually started in the late 70s. I know that's scary to say because it seems so long ago, a half a century ago, but I started in the late 70s as a M&A lawyer in New York for a global, you know, one of the big firms headquartered in New York with a global business space and I represented mostly European and Asian companies who were buying businesses in the United States and so that was one sort of group of clients in my clients stable and then the other group were frankly all the major investment banks headquartered in New York and several in London and I loved what I did. It was very exciting, it was very heady stuff for a young 25 year old. We would, you know, negotiate deals and to all hours of the night and then you'd, you know, wake up in the morning that's assuming you ever went to bed, you'd read the morning papers and they were on the front page of the journal the Times or the FT, you know, there was your deals splashed across the paper. So very, very exciting, very dynamic and something, you
know, where you learn something new almost every day and it was a wonderful career. But after I had done that for about four and a half five years, I thought, you know, lawyers really are getting called in to do these deals after the deal has been pretty much negotiated either by the CEOs or by the advisors to the CEOs and their boards and I began to think that as much as I loved what I was doing, the learning curve was leveling off. If I represented the seller, I knew the seller script. I represented the buyer, I knew the buyer script
and I began thinking about wouldn't it couldn't it possibly be more interesting to actually be inside one of these companies and have a role in both the beginning and the initiation of these deals and the strategy as to what companies we should buy and where we should, you know, plant our next footprint and what continents of the globe and then see them through to fruition and not only the signing and closing of the deal but the integration of the deals as well and watch those companies grow as a result of the acquisition? So I began thinking about going that they, you know, what they call the time in-house and I began to approach some of my investment banking clients just to explore the possibilities and had several offers and interestingly enough, Merrill Lynch, which was a company whose culture I really was very much drawn to and thought very highly of made me an offer, two offers actually, to come on, to come in as a lawyer or two to come in as an M&A investment banker and I remember all my friends said well this choice is easy. You'll obviously go to become an investment banker, an M&A banker and I said, "you know, if I did that, I'm going to face I'll likely face the same issue I'm facing today, which is five or ten years down the road I'll be in investment banking whereas if I went in as a lawyer, they had promised me that I could be a lawyer in all the different groups: wealth management, investment banking, asset management, research, and the like over the course of time." So even though the investment banking position may have seemed more prestigious at the time and certainly offered a higher compensation package, I actually made what my friends thought it was perhaps was a crazy choice and I actually I went in as a lawyer and I actually was able to be a lawyer for the wealth management business and I learned that because it was something I didn't yet know, I went back and became general counsel for investment banking, sales, and trading which is a business that I felt I knew fairly well as a result of my years in private practice and became counsel to research and then I was asked after about eight years to become up to the holding company and become counsel to Merrill as the public company and in doing that I actually work very closely with our board of directors and I was counsel to the compensation committee of the board. I was counsel to the audit committee of the board and it was right at about a time, this is the early 90s now, when the Merrill Lynch board and executive management was beginning to take a serious look and say, you know, what we don't have enough women in the pipeline. We look at our executive ranks and at the time it was all men and that was true of every major Wall Street firm and so they began to figure to talk about how they could begin to solve that and I thought, you know, let's take a chance on some women and put them in a pipeline at senior roles.
They chose four women. I would happen to be one of them. We didn't have the opportunity to apply for these roles because we had no idea that these discussions were going on at the time, but I was tapped, you know, got a call one day come up to the CEO's office and he said we'd like you to become I'd like you to leave the legal department to become co-head of equity research. That's right, of all research securities research and that was I was managing a group of about 30 lawyers at the time and moving to securities research would mean managing a group of over 1,000 analysts in 26 cities around the world and I remember thinking for a flashing moment this has got to be a joke and but I could tell by the look on his face that it wasn't a joke. He was a big bear of a man. He stood about six feet four tall and he was very large and he looked at his watch after asking me the question and he tapped and he said "and Rosemary, if you take more than 20 minutes to decide, we've made the wrong choice in choosing you." So I said, "David I'll be back in 10." I went to my office, looked out the window, I had a beautiful office overlooking the harbor and the statute of statue of liberty and I thought well, this could either be the most fantastic thing I've done in my life or it could be completely suicidal. So I knew I was taking a risk. I couldn't do an earnings model if my life depended on it at that moment but I also figured out that that's not why they were asking me to do it. So I went back down to his office and I said I would love to do this.
I said but I have some thoughts as to why you're asking me to do this given my lack of experience, direct experience and research and I laid out what I thought those things were and he said those are absolutely what we want you to do and what they were looking to do was to Merrill Lynch research was number one at the time in the United States, but it was only nine ranked nine in Europe. It was nowhere in the Asia, PAC and it was frankly nowhere in LA, in South America and what they wanted to do was become top three in Europe, top five in Asia, and top five in South America. So I knew one of the things I was going to be asked to do was to build research around the globe either by acquiring, you know, either by recruiting individual top-ranked research analysts or by buying research boutiques and so I spent the next three years six months every one of those years traveling in a 747 to, you know, all around the globe, 26 cities, to see our analysts, my analysts to make sure that they were doing well and they were doing what they needed to do vis-à-vis our clients and then recruiting other analysts to join us and within those three years we got we were ranked became ranked number two in Europe, number two in Asia, PAC and number three in South America. It was a fascinating job. It was incredibly challenging. The learning curve was like a rocket straight up. A little difficult maybe on the personal front, ladies, because I had a my husband and I had a five- our son was five and six and seven years old at the time and I remember very vividly even today leaving his soccer game or his baseball game at three or four o'clock on a Saturday afternoon to go to the airport to catch the overnight flight so that I could either be in Sydney or Lima or Hong Kong or Singapore for the start of business on Monday mornings. But I actually realized now it was a lot harder on me than it was on my son and my husband. They both laugh about how
they could go out to the local diner and have macaroni and cheese and hamburgers for the two weeks while I was gone. Every one of those trips and they loved it and then I was did that for three years and then I was asked if I wanted to switch and become a head of marketing and product development for private client. A wonderful, exciting job. I knew a lot of these folks from being a lawyer to that group. I had designed a lot of the products as a lawyer that were being marketed and they wanted to do permutations on those so my background as a lawyer and my experience with this crowd really helped in doing that job and I was about nine months into that and loving it when there was a change in the executive management at the top and the board and the new CEO came to me we said we know you love being on the business side, but I would like you to come back and become an executive vice president and general counsel and we promise we'll get you back to the business at some point in time if that's where you want to be and I stepped back and I thought, you know what, this is a company that has done so much for me and given me so many opportunities. It wouldn't have been my first choice at the moment, but I said very willingly, yes, and it turned out to be one of the most challenging and interesting jobs of my entire career. There were so many things going on in the legal front. Enron, big changes in the securities research world, 9/11, so many different things and, you know, as general counsel I had a chance to be at the forefront of so many of the decisions that the firm was making in the past that we were taking going forward. So, wonderful opportunity and then nine years later,
Merrill was being acquired by Bank of America. I had been at Merrill for 25 years and even though I had opportunities to stay on at the combined firm, I thought, you know what, 25 years; it's been an unbelievable run but now would be a good chance for me to try my hand- I was 56 at the time- I tried my hand to something else for this next and possibly final leg of my full-time career. A good colleague a friend of mine, partner of mine on the executive committee at Merrill had just been recruited by UBS to really resurrect their wealth management firm in the United States. They were so strong in Europe and Asia, but had fallen behind in wealth management in the U.S. and so he went in to do that and as he did, he asked me he said you know they have this bank. It's a small wealth management bank somewhere 20 billion or less in deposits, but they only have a single lending product and all I hear from the 14,000 financial advisors is how much they hate this bank and it needs to be fixed. How would you like to come in and fix it, build it, and run it? And,
you know, at that point in my career the ability to go back into the business and to actually grow something and build something and, you know, build a team of people that would take that into the future was such a great opportunity. So I did that as well. The first week was like the children's crusade because my friend who had become the CEO of UBA America said to me, you know, what I'm the week before I began he said your org chart shows that you have seven directs. I'm doing a complete, you know, recalibration of the business and I actually would like to fire six of those seven. How do you feel about that and I chuckled and I said listen, I've never met the
seven. You didn't want me to as part of my, you know, part of my interview process. So I'm going to trust you. I've known you, I've worked beside you, you know, I've worked beside each other for 20 years, we trust each other a lot. I'm going to trust you. That's the right and the best thing to do and my first two weeks, you know, three weeks will be with the children's crusade and that's just about what it was like. I found two 25 year old graduates who had started about two years ago
down as I walked around the hallway to see who was still there and they both they spoke to each of them for a half hour, you know, an hour. They struck me as incredibly bright. So I said, here you two and I are going to become a team and we're going to figure out exactly make an assessment of this bank figure out what we need to do and then go ahead and do it and both those people one was a young guy the other was a young woman and the young woman is now head of wealth management in our most productive wealth management office in California overseeing all our five wealth management offices in LA and San Francisco. So and she says, you know, that she thinks that my our little exercise during those first couple of weeks when we were, you know, both thinking big strategic moments in one minute and washing windows and floors the next kind of played a big role in her ability to do that and we grew that bank as you heard Reena say from a 20 billion bank to a 50 and the only reason we stopped at 50 was because at the time UBS did not want to become a U.S. holding company so we had to stay below 50. But once they opened the, you know, the windows for that, we grew it to 60 and now beyond.
We built several new credit lines to help our wealth management clients because the business had changed from just an investment business to much more holistic wealth management where you advise clients on both sides of their balance sheet. So you want to address not only their investment needs and their asset diversification needs but also their lending and liability needs as well and we had a tremendous time, fun, a lot of fun in building it. It was great creating things from whole cloth and it was just an opportunity that I really feel very fortunate and blessed to have had. Wow. It sounds like you have had quite an amazing career. I'm kind of curious to know what are the biggest deterrents for women in
both law and financial services and how have you seen those change over the past 20 years? Julie, there's been a tremendous amount of change. When I started as a lawyer in the late 70s and frankly the same when I was, you know, in business, you know, on Wall Street, you know, in the starting there in the late 80s and 90s, I would walk into a room, a conference room for a meeting and there'd be say 10-12 people there and I would be the only women and it didn't frankly make me uncomfortable, you know, and the times when things started to get heated and, you know, I could I think deployed a sense of humor fairly often that made sure that my voice was heard. But I never really played the woman card and I, you know, I don't think women have to look today now at all the changes that have been made and the, you know, on the roads and doors that have been opened. So you know, I walk into a room now when I left UBS, I had, you know, two women running my major product groups. One ran the
the credit card business and the other end all of risk and risk analytics, right. I had a chance to recruit a my own board. We had five directors. I had two women you know on on that board, a board I'm on now. For example, one of the public company boards we have
more women than we do men on the board. So I think there's been a tremendous opening through the hard work of some of the pioneers. Reena, very much you know, a big a big part of that. There's still I think, you know, I think it's fair to say there probably still are some impediments but not nearly the structural impediments that there had been and I think the difficult difficulty still for women because women still, you know, bear the, you know, the primary responsibility it seems for for childbearing is that there's that period in your career, you know, in your late 20s to mid to late 30s when you know if you want to have a family, you're going to be the one carrying in most cases carrying the child and wanting to be with the child not necessarily as they were a brand new baby, but you know, when they're four, five ,six, seven, you know, ten, whatever. When they, the kids, would like to see a little more of you than, you know, you'd be able to if you're hopping on a plane to negotiate an M&A deal in California or Hong Kong, you know, or, you know, having being able to pick up at a moment's notice to go address the client's needs somewhere else and you know another part of the world. So I think that's still an issue. Firms are getting better at addressing it.
I think there's a lot more openness to flexible work, co-workers, things like that. They all take adjustability though and they take they do take work in and of their selves they take some willingness in the part of the boss to be open to those and to deal with some of the some of the dislocation that will be caused by those. But I think, you know, the vast majority of managers on on Wall Street now realize the benefits of having really talented women stay and remain with those firms and be loyal to those firms and frankly more and more clients are not only asking for that but expecting to see that and clients are now, you know, fortunately now making choices based on how well firms are providing opportunities and flexibility for women. So despite some of these potential deterrents or obstacles, why do you think women should consider a career in financial services? You know, I understand I, you know, I look back in my career somebody asked me if I had to do it all over again would I? Would I make the same choices? I absolutely would. I loved every minute of my career. It was challenging, it was dynamic, it was so fast-paced. You're
working with really smart people and I think the thing that I think about when I look back on my career and I even gave this advice to my son was I learned something new every single day both as a lawyer but also as a business person and, you know, I was enormously curious throughout all my life and and I found, I find continuously learning 10, 20, 30, 40 years out so incredibly rewarding and this is an industry that enables you to do just that. Just that there may be times when it may be a little too much but, you know for the most part, it's just, it's a wonderful career. There's really talented people that go into it and it's also a great offshoot for other careers as well. So you could go on to Wall Street and you could become, you know, you could be in the asset management business, you could be in a company in the firm's strategy group, you know, or an M&A group and you actually have the ability so well to go into a corporation and you know become their in-house part of their in-house M&A team, right, or become their, you know. ultimately their head of strategy or their head of investor relations and you could. The skills that you learn in the financial services industry are so translatable to every other industry that I can think of. Whether it's pharmaceuticals or tech, you know, or, you know,
heavy industry, right. No matter where it is that the, you know, whether you spend three years, five years, ten years in financial services, you will find that those skills translate so well elsewhere. That's amazing and you mentioned your son. Just curious, what advice do you give him and
would you give other Georgetown students such as Anusha and I as we navigate both our internship and full-time recruitment? You know, that's interesting because I, your question makes me sort of think back to when he was a freshman, Julie, and he was as, you know as Reena had said, he was in the college. He was actually went in as an English major and I think it was beginning of the second week of school for him when we got a phone call and he said, "Mom, you know, here I am in the college as an English major. Almost all my friends are in the business school and they already, you know, have a good sense as to where they're going to get jobs. You know, I want to go into business. I want to at least start on Wall Street. Do I even have a shot of doing that as it, you know, as a liberal arts major? Should I switch to the business school?" I knew this question would come, but I decided to let it evolve on its own rather than me sort of preach, you know, pre-educating him before he went on campus and I, you know, I asked him a little bit more about what his thinking was and what his feelings were and then I said, you know, I said listen, I said, "I was an English major." I said, "I can think of several CEOs who were philosophy majors or English majors or history majors that are industries that, you know, may not seem to have anything to do with those subject matters. In more cases
than not they don't, but it's a wonderful grounding," I said, "for so many different things." I said, "you can't be foolhardy about it." I said, "if you're really interested in going into business after upon graduation," I said, "you'll need to take, you know, a wide array of courses. Macro, micro accounting, some, you know, several finance courses, business courses, and the like." Which is which he ended up doing and, you know, he was he and but I think, you know, when companies look now for college graduates in their, you know, and they're interviewing either for third year or third year summer or full-time employment opportunities upon graduation, a partner a very good friend of mine who's a partner at one of the major Wall Street firms said to me, you know, what we've found in our interviewing process is that we have to involve more partners in the hiring decision and I said "why?" You know, rather than mid-level or senior level, you know, directors or MD's and I said "why is that?" and she said because we found out that the younger MD's want the numbers crunchers. They want people who are going to run the traps, you know, and do all the
analytics and save them from that whereas the partners really want somebody who in time can actually be out to dinners with clients and recruit and and garner new business and those aren't the people necessarily who are going to be able to talk about quadratic equations, right. The other people who are going to be able to talk about Tolstoy and Aristotle and you know and Beethoven and a wide wide array of things. We want the people who've had a really really broad base education. Sure, we need we're going to need them to know, you know, all the computer software and the analytics and run the models, but that's really at the end of the day not what we're looking for. So the other piece I said to my son is, "I think the other key for employers in all industries today is and it's become more important than ever frankly is the students the graduates ability to communicate effectively both in writing and in speaking." So if you're a, I can tell Julie and Anusha, you're both very persuasive and strong speakers, right, and you clearly you both have a presence about you and those that's exactly the kind of thing that employer looks for. I can't tell you
when I was running my bank how many people applied who could not write a cohesive paragraph, who could not write a letter to a client explaining how this particular, you know, this loan worked. So I think that, you know, again and again those are skills that are really, really important that you can gain in, you know, in business. Reena is doing this, you know, right now throughout program and other programs as well. So I think the ability to
communicate effectively to persuade because much of business is about, you know, persuasiveness and a, you know, a well-rounded education with I think with a focus on a particular area and if it's, you know, computer science, if it's math, if it's economics, it's you know any one of those things very, very helpful. The other thing which goes without saying is you know to show you've got an academic record that displays that you know your achievements and how motivated you were and dedicated to your work and you know how well you did in school. You two ladies, I know will have no problem whatsoever. You're going to have offers galore. So your biggest issue will be deciding amongst them. Thank you. Ms. Berkey. You are too kind.
So just to wrap up the question portion of this interview, we're wondering as we celebrate Women's History Month, what gives you the most hope? It gives me the most hope...actually, I would zero in on this call and seeing the two of you and the promise that you hold and the ambitions that you have gives me great, great hope for this next generation of women grads and ultimately women leaders. I, you know, would I could envision 20 years from now 25 years from now my granddaughter interviewing both of you about your careers. Thank you so much. It was a pleasure speaking to you today, Ms. Berkery, and on half behalf of Georgetown University and and the Center for Financial Markets and Policy, we would like to thank you for joining us and for sharing your experiences as a woman leader in business. Thank you. Thank you, Julie and thank you very much, Anusha; it was really a pleasure to be speaking with you both.