ll archives: Ellevest's Sallie Krawcheck

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Name: Sallie Krawcheck Age: 52

Current location: New York, NY

Where are you from? Charleston, South Carolina

Education: UNC Chapel Hill- Bachelor of Arts, Journalism and Columbia Business School- MBA

Business & Formal Title: CEO and Co-Founder of Ellevest and Chairman of Ellevate Network

Tell us how Ellevest was born:

I remember it clearly. I was putting on my mascara one morning, and somewhere between layers one and two I had this “Ah-ha” moment. I’d worked in financial services for the better part of two decades, and it hit me that the retirement crisis is actually a women’s crisis. Women live longer and earn less than their male counterparts, their salaries peak earlier, and they’re less likely to invest their savings. I started Ellevest as a means to help women live better lives — and to close the retirement savings gap — by closing the “gender investing gap.”

What is your mission?

Ellevest’s mission is to close the gender investing gap. We offer a digital investment platform that helps our clients take control of their financial lives by investing with a powerful algorithm based on women’s unique financial needs — longer lifespans, unique salary curves, and the gender pay gap. We also spent hundreds of hours with women, to dig into other reasons that they don’t invest. Newsflash: it wasn’t for lack of a bunch of ads telling them not to buy shoes or lattes but to invest the money instead. Instead it was a collection of reasons; one of them is that the industry positions investing as a means to “win” and to make more money, while women relate to it as a means of reaching their goals in life.

What did you do before Ellevest? When did you decide to pivot?

I worked on Wall Street for many years — it’s populated by men, and it does a better job for male clients. When I founded Ellevest, I wanted to create a platform that specifically speaks to women and takes women’s unique characteristics into account when building investment portfolios. Also importantly, our research led us to create a “goal-based” investing platform because women told us they’re not interested in outperforming the market — they’re interested in achieving their goals. That means we don’t spend our time shooting to outperform the market, but instead working to help our clients to achieve their specific goals, or better, in 70% of markets. These goals include making a downpayment on a house, starting a new business or retiring well.

What skills from your former life/job come in handy for Ellevest?

I’ve run Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch, as well as the research business for Sanford Bernstein. In other words, I have decades of experience in the investing business, as does Ellevest’s Chief Investment Officer. A number of the investing platforms out there have been founded by people without that type of experience. I believe this enables us to provide a more sophisticated investing solution than many others, one that is highly customized to an individual’s particular goals.

After deciding to take the leap, what were your next steps?

Finding the right team, starting with finding the right Chief Investment Officer. I wasn’t going to start the business without the right one; and it was a difficult search because I wanted someone with a great deal of experience, but who could approach the puzzle of investing with an open mind. We knew what was out there already wasn’t working as well as for women as for men, so I knew something needed to change and I needed a partner in attacking the issue. I found a great CIO, Sylvia Kwan, but it took me almost a year.

At some point, every ladypreneur needs to take the reigns in her relationship with fear. Were you afraid of anything prior to launching Ellevest? How did you overcome it?

I think many of us -- myself included -- suffer from fear of failure. I got over it by putting in a lot of time to research what our clients are looking for in an investments offering; I also reduced the risk by pulling together an excellent, really diverse team. And then I just told myself to get over it: that if I didn’t go after closing the gender investing gap, I’m not sure anyone else would. It felt like my responsibility to do it, given the good fortune I’ve had in my career and my life.

Describe a time you felt you failed “miserably” in business. How did it make you stronger?

Well, I believe that I hold the world record for being the only woman to be fired on the front page of the Wall Street Journal -- twice. Once was because the CEO and I had a difference of opinion on a business matter. I fought to reimburse clients for investment products that we had sold incorrectly. The other was part of a reorganization. Both hurt -- a lot. But there was something strangely freeing about having them be so public; I didn’t have to worry about what I was going to tell people. Everyone knew, so I could get on with it!

If you believe in dream jobs, is running Ellevest yours? Why?

Definitely! Because I get to work on something that I believe really matters, with a great team of people who are great at what they do and who care deeply about our mission.

What other projects are you working on? Is there a side hustle you want to tell us about?

I’m also the Chair of Ellevate Network, the global professional women’s network. I love Ellevate, because it’s women coming together to help each other succeed in business. The energy there is always amazing!

I’m also the Chair of the Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Index Fund. It’s the first mutual fund of its kind, investing in the top companies in the world for advancing women.

Oh, and I’m an author; I’ve written “Own It: The Power of Women at Work.”

So, you can see, I’m all about helping women get ahead!

What’s your secret to balancing work and life?

I don’t have one. Right now, I am very focused on getting Ellevest properly launched so that it can have an important, positive impact for women.

What does your daily routine consist of?

Like many entrepreneurs, I never have two days that are alike. One thing that’s consistent is I wake up early, often around 4:30 a.m. It’s my most productive time of day because I can think and work uninterrupted. I’m not sure if I’ve trained myself on this, but I tend to wake up with a lot of ideas. So I immediately begin writing them down. (And some of them are even, occasionally, good ideas!)

I try to keep my mornings at the office relatively free for impromptu meetings and writing. And then I schedule meetings for the afternoon...in part to keep my energy up at that time of day. I then tend to have another productivity spurt later in the day.

You’re on the verge of a business-lady-breakdown. How do you unwind?

A glass of wine or a long walk.

What career path did you dream you’d take as a kid?

I was hoping for princess. When that didn’t work out, I became a research analyst instead.

Red, White, Sparkling or stronger?

White

Tell us the best place to eat in your city. If it’s your kitchen, share your best recipe.

Definitely my kitchen. And I don’t really “do” recipes, unless I’m baking. I’m more a “buy what looks great today and put together a great ‘spread.’” My summer lunches are legendary (in my own mind).

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneur interested in your industry?

Put your plan down on paper. And if you can, do some moonlighting or work on the side to test your idea before you quit your day job. Network as much as you can. And of course, invest in order to get there. We recommend that you have two years of your personal expenses saved up, in order to give yourself the time to make your business successful (without you perhaps having a regular paycheck).

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Photo: Joao Canziani