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Taking a Seat at the Table


Think operations managers don't get enough respect?

Go demand the respect, contends Gerard McGraw.

McGraw is president of Fidelity Institutional, which offers clearing, custody and investment management products to help financial professionals, institutions and other intermediaries service their clients and grow their businesses.

But his lesson in how to command respect, if you're an administrator, goes back a few years, to when he worked at Smith Barney.

Smith Barney passed away in the last month, subsumed by Morgan Stanley into its wealth management business.

But back then, the brokerage was run by Jamie Dimon, now chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, and the best-known face in banking.

Dimon's deputy was a hard-nosed capital markets chieftain, Steve Black.

Black one day asked McGraw straightforwardly how things were going in his administrative interactions with the trading floor.

McGraw's answer was not suitably enthusiastic. So Black gave him a clear instruction: Go out on the floor and pick a fight.

Didn't matter what it would be about. Didn't matter with whom.

Go pick a fight.

McGraw did. Doesn't remember what issue he chose or whom he chose to take on.

But he let the trader know where he stood, in no uncertain terms. And the fight became a scene.

"Somewhere along the line, I realized that about 300 people were staring at us,'' he told operations managers gathered last week at the NICSA general membership meeting.

To this day, he doesn't know how the argument ended. But it did. And the effect was definitive: He made it indisputably clear where he stood on the issue.

He became an administrator to reckon with, the rest of his time at Smith Barney. "That's really important,'' he said. "I never really had any more grief from the traders."

His ultimate point: "It's very important for ops managers to set the right tone as leaders.''

If you want a seat at the same table as those working on the revenue side of the business, folks in sales or trading or portfolio management, you can't just wait for some one to offer you a chair.

Some times, you have to walk in the room and grab it yourself.