Financial IT pros invest their talents in a wealth of opportunities
You have to get on the bandwagon of new technology because this is how you're going to beat your competitor." – Kara Gin, Ariba
"Technology is constantly evolving and it's all about return on investment."
– Tony Skinner, INX
By Dan Margherita
Senior Contributing Editor
John Reed is executive director for Robert Half Technology (Menlo Park, CA), one of the first and largest specialized staffing firms. Reed is upbeat describing the IT industry overall. "The industry is fairly robust at the moment," he reports: unemployment for many IT positions is significantly below national levels for other professions.
"Organizations are currently implementing hardware and software upgrades that they put on hold when the economic downturn began. Additionally, with the increased use of tablets and other mobile devices, organizations need developers to create custom apps, along with IT pros to help support their use."
In fact, demand sometimes outstrips supply, Reed adds. "For jobs such as software developers there is a shortage of skilled candidates."
Here are half a dozen IT pros who have taken good advantage of opportunities in the financial industry.
Lillian Caliman is an SVP and CIO at SunAmerica
"I was not on the IT side when I started out in the financial industry. I started on the insurance side," notes Lillian Caliman, SVP and CIO for the IT infrastructure division of SunAmerica Financial Group (SAFG, Los Angeles, CA). SAFG, she notes, is one of the largest life insurance companies in the U.S.
Today Caliman is very much in IT, responsible for leading the company's IT infrastructure organization, managing its SAP platform, directing its print services and overseeing the execution of SAFG's disaster recovery and business continuity planning.
Caliman leads a team of more than a hundred people and has five direct reports: three VPs and two directors. All five are men but she attaches no significance to this. "Quite often I find I'm the only woman at a senior level," says Caliman. "I learned a long time ago that it's what you know, what you bring to the table and the results you achieve that are important. That reduces the difference between the sexes."
She describes her management style as "very focused. I have high expectations for our team. Sometimes they worry that they won't be able to deliver but they always do; it's a strong team," she says proudly. "There's also a lot of humor," she adds with a smile. "My style is to give them the resources they need and then get out of their way!"
Caliman has been at SAFG for fifteen years. She joined the company as IT VP after thirty years at Occidental Life (Los Angeles, CA), where she began as an actuarial clerk and moved up. "I went to Occidental because my sister worked there," Caliman says. "I started working right out of high school, got very interested in programming and worked my way up.
"I was influenced by people I met along the way who took the time to mentor me. When I was a clerk at Occidental the chief actuary took an interest in me because I asked good questions, trying to understand what I was doing rather than just doing rote work. He took the time to explain things to me and exposed me to different careers available in insurance companies.
"But I realized that without becoming an actuary my options were limited," she remembers. The company put her in a twelve-week tech training program and she joined the pension and retirement products area.
She also began college at night. She was a single mother, juggling work, home and school. "It was a joke in the family that I must have gone to every community college in Los Angeles trying to put the curricula together to fit my schedule."
Meanwhile she was moving on the job, "from programmer to business analyst to project lead and project manager in a fairly quick progression. I found that my niche was working with the technical staff."
In 1996 she completed a BS in business admin from Mount Saint Mary's College (Los Angeles, CA), thirty years after she began her career at Occidental Life. She also holds a 1983 Fellow of the Life Management Institute (FLMI) designation with a specialty in pension plans from the Life Office Management Association (LOMA, Atlanta, GA).
A few months after her 1996 graduation she joined SunAmerica. "At the time SunAmerica was having a lot of activity in acquisitions. That's where I was really able to use my expertise in translating other companies' needs to fit our policy administration systems."
In 1999 AIG came into the picture, and in 2001 AIG acquired American General, with SunAmerica part of the deal. Caliman was promoted to SVP and divisional CIO for IT, responsible for two AIG companies, Valic (Houston, TX) and Western National Life (Amarillo, TX). The two, along with SunAmerica, made up AIG's retirement service business. The new role took her to Houston, TX; she lived there for nine years.
In 2010 SunAmerica Financial Group was created, and Caliman took on the SVP assignment of running its infrastructure. "My job duties right now are infrastructure consolidation, bringing SAFG's infrastructure together with AIG corporate. We're doing this for efficiency and lower cost. The goal is to ensure that the impact on the SAFG business units is minimal while the infrastructure consolidation is taking place.
"I tend to set my goals and objectives based on what I'm being asked to do at the time," Caliman says. "Right now the infrastructure consolidation is an eighteen- to twenty-four-month project so I'm focusing on being very successful at that. As we get closer to that completion, I'll look around to see what else I can do for the organization."
Kara Gin: SVP of finance at Ariba
Based in the Atlanta, GA offices of business commerce solutions company Ariba, Inc (Sunnyvale, CA), Kara Gin is SVP of finance. She reports directly to the company's CFO, and her responsibilities include the long-range strategic financial planning that drives internal corporate strategies, mergers and acquisitions.
She also develops IT automation processes and works out annual operating expense and capital budgets, monthly income statements and cash-flow forecasts for executive management, the board of directors and Wall Street analysts.
Ariba has an impressive client list, Gin notes, that includes more than half the Fortune 500.
It's a lot of work for sure, but Gin prefers the technology sector to her previous career in the airline industry, where she spent thirteen years working for America West Airlines and, after the merger, US Airways.
"I grew up in the airline industry with most of those years in finance," she says. "I really enjoyed my time there but it was a crisis industry."
By 2007 she began to pay more attention to the exec recruiters who had been contacting her. "I was looking for something different, in a growth industry. Managing growth finance is a whole different game and mindset."
This was 2008, right after the Lehman Brothers collapse, and she was getting plenty of calls from recruiters looking for financial execs to manage crises. "That's not what I was looking for. But Ariba was looking for somebody who could manage in a lot of different situations and it turned out that what they wanted fit right into my expertise: finance, cash flow and all of that.
"Ariba is in a new industry, defining network technology companies," she explains. "No one knows what's going to happen next but you know you have to invest here, here and here.
"On a daily basis, almost everything I do touches that. You have to get on the bandwagon of new technology because this is how you're going to beat your competitor, and our products can help you do that."
Gin has a half-dozen reports including a regional finance team and corporate financial planning and analysis people. She describes her management style as "team-oriented and showing respect. I've had people tell me I've never asked them to do something I couldn't do myself and I take that to heart. No matter how tough it gets I always have the right intention for my employees. I value that."
Gin is a Midwesterner at heart. She grew up in Indiana and went to Indiana University where she completed a BS in business finance in 1993. "I knew that business was my strong suit," she says.
After a stint as a commercial credit officer at First Chicago NBD Corp (Indianapolis, IN), her husband's job took them to Arizona where she started her career in airlines as a senior analyst at America West Airlines (Tempe, AZ) in 1996.
Today, Gin likes the fact that women have a seat at the table at Ariba. But, "If you're giving me a job because I'm a woman, then please don't bother. Give it to me because I'm qualified to do it. That's just the way I grew up!"
Mini Suri is an SVP at Citigroup
"I believe in diversity of mind and ideas," states Mini Suri. "Technology offers unique opportunities to promote that diversity through vocation, region, language and more."
Suri is SVP at the Warren, NJ offices of Citigroup (New York, NY). She and her team have created a centralized, shared services infrastructure for standard document and content management for Citi business units. This allows management and distribution of business documents, content and records to satisfy compliance requirements, and provides robust development, user acceptance testing and production environments with lots of built-in redundancy.
"We touch every business unit at Citi," Suri explains. "Everybody has content and everybody needs storage so we provide a centralized, shared environment.
"It's challenging to work with different lines of business, different organizations within Citi, different cultures and different mindsets. The variety of people we work with guarantees that there's never a dull moment: you need to make sure you can jump from understanding one system to another."
She thinks her team is her biggest asset. "We are a technical team in a very specialized field and our motto is, 'Work hard, play hard!'"
Suri has been at Citi for fourteen years. She joined the organization through its merger with Salomon Smith Barney in 1997. "Salomon Brothers was where I really learned content management," she recalls. She began her career in the U.S. with Greenwich Capital Markets, a small trading company where she worked on the trading desk before moving into the credit and compliance area.
Suri was born and raised in northern India, near New Delhi. Her father was an engineer and her mother a school principal, and she was always fascinated and challenged by technology and its applications.
She earned her 1990 degree in computer science from Anna University (Chennai, India) and came to the U.S. for a 1994 MS in IT from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Beyond her professional responsibilities Suri is a subject matter expert for architecting applications based on document management software.
"Early on there were some special challenges being a woman because there were not many other women in financial management, but I saw it as an opportunity for me. I had to develop and work around it so others would see me as a professional in the field, not only as a woman," she says.
Today she's a chair of Women of Warren (WOW), a branch of Citi's women's council dedicated to promoting and mentoring women. Suri has been a member of the group for eight years.
Outside Citi she's been a member of the Association for Information & Image Management International (Silver Spring, MD), and is involved in several charitable organizations.
"Things are happening for women in technology," says Suri, "but there's still room for improvement. Citi offers a lot of flexibility and mobility, and my position here has made me versatile in adding value to people around me. My leadership role in WOW has added to my confidence and attitude.
"Basically, I want to make sure I'm able to share the experiences, opportunities and challenges I've gone through with other women. I'm always willing to talk and mentor them in whatever way I can."
Tony Skinner is a consulting principal at INX
"I spend a lot of time in front of customers," says Tony Skinner. At the Lewisville, TX office of technology solutions integrator INX (Houston, TX), Skinner is a consulting principal in the unified communications and collaboration sector. He works with clients in finance, healthcare, education and state and local governments.
"My space is communications," Skinner explains. For example, in the financial area INX helps banks in remote locations stay connected to corporate HQ and keep ATMs connected to the bank. "We support the infrastructure to make data, voice and video communication possible," he says.
Skinner has twenty-six years of experience in IT, ten of them at INX. Today INX has about 500 employees, but when Skinner joined the company in 2001 he was employee number thirty-two. "While I'm not in an executive capacity, I like to think that I've had a lot to do with our success," he reports with pride.
Skinner's career began in the 1980s at Southwestern Bell. He was there for sixteen years, first providing tech support for internal client computer systems and then in the networking area.
"I've always been in IT," he says. "My skill sets are not unique to specific industries; I've had a taste of how to support all kinds of industries."
Networking also introduced him to Cisco Systems (San Jose, CA) which is now a technology partner of INX, and Skinner earned certification as a Cisco certified internetwork expert (CCIE), a prestigious networking certification held by less than one percent of networking pros.
He left Southwestern Bell "to look for more challenging opportunities that would provide better financial rewards," he says.
For his first four years at INX he was in a post-sales position, working with clients after their hardware and software had been delivered to ensure that everything was going properly and to help with training. Today he's in pre-sales, working with the account team to offer the technology and advance INX as a solutions integrator. "We offer a holistic approach to customer service, since INX not only sells the equipment but also implements solutions," Skinner explains.
"We explain to clients that the technology can do their work more effectively and efficiently so they can save time and money and have more time to work on increasing their business."
Skinner was born in Guam, an "Air Force brat," he says. "I spent my elementary school years on an Air Force base outside London, England and my middle school years in Taipei City, Taiwan. I didn't go to public school in the U.S. until high school."
The family finally moved to San Antonio, TX where Skinner got his BS in computer science from the University of Texas in 1985.
Married and the father of four, Skinner's focus outside work is on his family and his church community. "My first love is the ministry, particularly working with young people," he reveals with enthusiasm.
Deborah Smyth is a group VP at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco
At the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Deborah Smyth is Group VP in the 12L information and technology division. She's the managing officer responsible for enterprise identity management service and local application support services like database admin, local application support, portal development and the San Francisco Fed's project management office. She's also the information security officer for the Twelfth Federal Reserve district, the largest in the Federal Reserve system.
Smyth's team of nearly ninety people is a mix of programmers, server admins, network admins, info security specialists and some financial staff. They are responsible for IT infrastructure management and information security for the largest geographic district in the U.S.: not only the San Francisco office but also Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Phoenix.
"We cover network and server issues and telephone ops, and also work as the customer helpdesk," she says. "Our information security office monitors who has access to data and, working with the national Federal Reserve system, addresses any incidents that may occur. We're also responsible for portal services associated with our website."
A lot of the infrastructure work will be moving to national management, so Smyth has to coordinate efforts and make sure the same level of customer quality is maintained. "We still have responsibility for what we're doing on the information security side," she stresses.
A day in Smyth's working life involves a lot of meetings and personal interactions. "I like to work with my teams and I'm a big believer in staying in touch," she says. "I have two officers and three senior managers reporting to me directly and we have weekly staff meetings and bimonthly IT team meetings. In between, if there are production problems, I may get involved with those, too."
For the Federal Reserve System Smyth is involved in projects that may require conference calls at a national level, particularly in terms of nationalizing the bank's infrastructure. "I also prepare quarterly reports for senior management and our board of directors," she notes.
Smyth has been at the Federal Reserve for twenty-four years, the last eleven in IT. She started in 1987 as a project manager in accounting and helped with implementation of a securities processing system. From there she moved into HR management.
Within HR her areas of responsibility included disability management, payroll and employee relations. In 1997 she was promoted to group VP with responsibility for all district HR. From there she gradually moved into IT and became responsible for network and infrastructure planning, the personal computing service center, server ops support and information security functions.
"After that I was rotated to our cash services area," she remembers. "It's like an inventory management area but the inventory just happens to be money. That job was really entrepreneurial because you had responsibilities for both intake and outtake of cash."
Before the Fed, Smyth worked in healthcare at Shared Medical Systems (now Siemens Medical, Malvern, PA) and Blue Cross of California (now Anthem Blue Cross, Woodland Hills, CA). "I applied for one of the first programming classes back when IT was just beginning to take off, and my last five years at Blue Cross were spent as a programmer."
Then Blue Cross began looking at consolidation and drastically reduced its technology staff. "A friend had moved to the Federal Reserve and asked me to come over there. So here I am twenty-four years later," she says.
Smyth was born in Oakland, CA and went to the University of Southern California for her 1976 degree in business admin. She's been head of the bank's shared services committee since 2008. She's also a member of several Federal Reserve national groups and of the West Coast chapter of Women Unlimited (New York, NY), a national mentoring, education and networking organization.
Mieko Shibata is a director at JPMorgan Chase
Mieko Shibata is a managing director at JPMorgan Chase (Jersey City, NJ). She heads clearance and collateral management technology for the firm's Worldwide Securities Services group.
The position, she says, was created about two years ago. She oversees several key initiatives, including development of a strategic global collateral management platform with quick product-development capabilities. Her responsibilities also include a resource strategy for the technology organization that balances shared practices and functional ownership, aiming for better quality, productivity and operational efficiency.
"Every day there are new products to be delivered to clients and industry-mandated changes to be implemented," she says. "Our business demands are dynamic, so we are always developing new capabilities that are adaptable and flexible."
She manages a group of 500 permanent employees and contract workers whose goal is to globalize some of the locally or regionally grown solutions the firm has developed. As they are based in the U.S., India and the U.K., much of their communication is done by e-mail and telephone, as well as instant messaging, tele-presence and webcam tools. Realizing that face-to-face collaboration is key to building a strong team, Shibata also encourages her staff to travel when needed.
Shibata was born in Tokyo, Japan and got her 1989 degree in English literature from Sophia University (Tokyo, Japan). After graduation she joined Morgan Stanley in Tokyo. "At the time a lot of investment banks in Tokyo were providing very interesting career opportunities for women," she recalls. "I didn't have hardcore technology programming skills, but Morgan Stanley offered a very good on-the-job training program."
She worked across continents for the firm, transferring to its main office in New York in 1995, then to London in 1997, and back to New York in 2000. She left Morgan Stanley at the twenty-year mark to join JPMorgan Chase. "I really enjoy being in technology because we're able to build concrete solutions for the business," she says.
Shibata is proud of her accomplishments. "I have a fairly collaborative style, and perhaps there's something that makes people feel they have a voice at the table. Over the years I've been able to grow some excellent leaders on my teams."
Her background, she says, has played an important role in her professional growth. "Culturally, I've really had to work on being more vocal than I was brought up to be. I think that has helped me professionally and personally as well."
DIVERSITY-MINDED FINANCIAL COMPANIES
Check websites for current openings.
|Company and location
|Ariba (Sunnyvale, CA)
|Collaborative business commerce solutions
|BNY Mellon (New York, NY)
|Investment management and investment services
|Citigroup (New York, NY)
|Global financial services
|FHLBank San Francisco
(San Francisco, CA)
|Wholesale credit products and services for other financial institutions
|Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco
(San Francisco, CA) www.frbsf.org
|Wholesale banking services for financial institutions in nine western states and several U.S. territories
|Goldman Sachs Group, Inc (New York, NY)
|Global investment banking, securities and investment management
|INX (Houston, TX)
|Advanced technology solutions for enterprise
communication networks & data center infrastructure
|JPMorgan Chase (Jersey City, NJ)
|Global financial services
|Robert Half Technology (Menlo Park, CA)
|Professional staffing and consulting services
|SunAmerica Financial Group
(Los Angeles, CA) www.safg.com
|Insurance, retirement and investment services through diverse financial services companies
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