Growing up on 1980s Wall Street


South Kensington Club, London. October 18th, 2017

After a healthy, or rather hearty, dinner of pizza and wine we sat down with Lawton Fitt to hear about how she managed through a career arguably the most competitive company in the world, during a period when you could count the number of female leaders on one hand. Lawton gave us the kind of advice you want to print off and read whenever you feel your career, or life, has jilted off track. For as Lawton said, ‘you are living a life, not just having a career’ so don’t beat yourself up about the ups and downs on that journey. A career is a marathon, not a sprint, after all.

About Lawton

Lawton Fitt cut her teeth at Goldman Sachs on Wall Street during the swashbuckling era of the eighties. It was seven years into the job before she encountered another woman in a meeting, and she was regularly asked for directions to the bathrooms or told to send a fax. Lawton ran the bank’s tech IPO business during the first internet boom in the nineties and became the first female partner of the equity division in 1994. She retired from Goldman Sachs in 2002 and took on a very different challenge: running the Royal Academy of Arts in London. An American who splits her time between New York and London, now Lawton’s portfolio of corporate and non-profit positions include a board role at the Carlyle Group private equity firm.

  • Take responsibility for your own career
    • Don’t rely on your organization to manage your career for you.
    • Make lists at what you’re good at, and what you’re not. Be honest with yourself and play to your strengths.
    • Define what success is for you, without being influenced by what others see as success. Don’t let your decisions be driven by what will look good on your CV.
    • Take feedback regularly. Ask for it, listen to it dispassionately, and value it.
    • Find and invest in your mentors. These relationships are your responsibility to make productive.
  • Believe in your value
    • Try not to fall victim to imposter syndrome.
    • Most women believe they must command 100% of a job to do it well. Men believe they must command 70%, and can wing it for the remainder. If your standard is perfection, then you’ll always feel like you’re coming up short.
    • Remind yourself that you are where you are because you are good at what you do, not because your boss likes you. You were hired, you were not adopted!
    • Communicate your value to your boss. This is not just about getting ahead, but this is part of your actual job. It means your boss knows what is happening, and can feel good about what your team is doing.
  • Learn to love risk
    • Be open-minded and keep looking up. It’s too easy to be looking down, concentrating on perfection, and missing the opportunities that arise around you.
    • Keep talking to people – colleagues, people senior to you, people junior to you, friends, BroadMinded members….
    • Do your due diligence before taking a risk. Ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen to me? If you can live with that thing, then you’re ok.
    • Accept the possibility you could fail. As with every failure, you’ll grow resilience.
  • Learn to lead
    • The transition from a doer to a leader is not smooth
    • Watch leaders that are really effective. Think about what makes them so persuasive, and try and adapt it to your character.
    • Don’t assume you’re either born a leader or not.
  • Invest passion in your work
    • Be someone that creates energy at work, not someone that depletes it. Be a champion of your organization.
    • To be passionate is to be focused. Make lists of other things you want to do and put it aside; allow yourself to focus on what you need to do now.
    • If you don’t feel passionate about what you do, really think about making a change. It’s a great shame not to feel passion, at least most of the time.
  • Don’t forget life is happening while you’re working
    • Sometimes you’ll make life decisions that might hold back your career – for your husband or for your kids. Sometimes that is ok. (Lawton moved to London for her then boyfriend’s job, something that held back her career for some years. Her boyfriend is now her husband of 32 years, so she’s confident it was the right move!)
    • To have a broader perspective on life and interests outside of work will most likely help you in your career. And make you happier.
    • The speed and the way you’re running your race in life may change – that’s ok. Give yourself that freedom.

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