Breakfast of Champions

November 11, 2010

The BMCC Leadership Breakfast series, now in its fourth year and sponsored by BMCC’s Urban Male Leadership Academy, recently featured Patricia David, Managing Director and Global Head of Diversity for JP Morgan Chase.

Introduced by Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Michael Gillespie, speaking to a full audience and surrounded by sweeping river views in BMCC’s Hudson Room, David shared her history, her strategies for success, and how students can make use of the resources right in front of them—if they choose to see them.

“I came here in a bread basket,” said David, talking about her family’s move to Queens, New York, from Birmingham, England. Her parents had immigrated to England from the island country Dominica, in the French West Indies; her mother was one of 11 children and her father, one of 13.

“I looked like Buckwheat from The Little Rascals, my hair every which way,” she joked, and added on a more serious note, “We came to the U.S. because my mother didn’t want her children to share shoes.”

The path to conscious choices

David spoke frankly about the choices she made as a young person, and how they impacted her career.

“I went to Fordham because it was the school near my house,” she said. Her two older siblings had gone into the military, an option she might have considered, if not for the fact that having grown up attending Catholic schools, she “didn’t want more uniforms.”

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Finance and Economics from Fordham, David worked for ten years at Philip Morris. Why so long? “I didn’t know how to leave,” she said. “I also didn’t know how to network. I got my 2% raise a year, I was making more than my Dad, and I was happy.”

David next worked for ten years at Merrill Lynch, and her awareness of the opportunities around her began to sharpen. “If I had stuck my head up a little faster, gotten mentored, I could have retired five years earlier,” she said. “My mentor was my mother, and her advice was ‘Get there before your boss, leave after you boss, never “dis” your boss’.”  

That advice, David eventually realized, “would get you paid—but not promoted.”

Career-building behaviors

“Don’t be invisible,” David told the audience, students in suits and business attire, now leaning forward, to see where the story was going. “Find somebody you can talk to. The teachers here know people—find out who they know. Don’t be blind to the support around you.”

David’s own college experience was “kind of a blur.” She didn’t participate in extracurricular activities or connect with the school’s community. “I didn’t join anything,” she said. “I don’t remember one professor, one student. That’s one of the biggest regrets of my career, because one of those people could have helped me, or I could have helped them.”

Besides offering the example of her own experience, David made practical suggestions to the audience. “Make a list,” she said. “People in the field, who you want to know, are on one side. On the other side, list people who know you—who really know you, who can advocate for you. Not your mother, your father, but people you’re meeting at school, in an internship or job.”

That list would likely include teachers or staff the student hadn’t thought of as a resource. “This institution has access,” said David. “What tools are here for you to use?”

She also suggested students track how they use their time, noticing which activities are moving them forward—and which hold them back. “Don’t make a ‘to do’ list,” she said, “make a ‘don’t do’ list. I don’t read things in the office, because I can do that on the bus.”

She cautioned about wasting time, telling of an office she once had, which featured a couch. “People were coming in for meetings, and getting too comfortable, so I took out the couch. Now my strategy for meetings is, I’m going to go to your office—so I can leave when I want to.”

What makes you different?

“You have to have your own brand of who you are,” said David, reminding students that good grades aren’t enough to ensure success. “If all of you are smart, if you have the same GPA, what differentiates you? I can’t see ‘you’ on your resume—that’s why you need to network, so people can see who you really are.”

She added that, “a resume doesn’t show actions, how you treat people—the values that come out in your work,” and connected those values with an identity that must also remain flexible.

“Every time I changed jobs,” David said, “I had to reinvent myself. The way I work, the way I’m successful in one work culture, might not be as effective in another work culture.”

That ability to read workplace culture comes with experience, she warned. “No one sits you down,” she said, “and tells you, ‘Here are the unwritten rules’.”

Don’t follow the herd

“Forget about what you want to be,” said David. “Instead, write down the qualities of a field, that make it appeal to you; for example, structure attracts some people, or travel, living out of a suitcase. I don’t like assembly line work, repeatable processes, but some people do. Write down the ‘ingredients’ that would make a job feel good to you.”

David shared that when she asked her teenage daughter, “What does Mommy do well?,” her daughter answered with one word: “Talk.”

To David, that confirmed a strength she enjoys using in her work, communicating with others. “Focus,” she told the group. “Ask people in your community, what you do well. Then find a job where that’s part of it.”

Students could also find it useful, she said, “to create the behaviors of the people in the industry you want to enter. If it’s finance, read The Wall Street Journal. Read whatever is the ‘bible’ of that industry. And if those behaviors don’t feel right to you, maybe that kind of work is not for you. Just because everyone else is heading that way, doesn’t mean you have to. Don’t follow the herd.”

“Education is power,” David repeated, and stressed that education doesn’t stop, once a person graduates from college and finds employment. “You have to have the appetite to continually want to learn,” she said, “because the rules of the economics world, of most fields, constantly change. If all you have is book knowledge from when you left school, you’re at a disadvantage.”

Talking about diversity

Business Administration major Eric Petty-Owens arrived early for the event. “I’m here to network and learn about diversity within financial firms,” he said. “I want to work with Goldman Sachs, someday. Right now, I’m an independent trader, and I want to know why the top performers in those firms aren’t people of color—or women.”

His question for David, in a Q & A session following her talk, echoed those thoughts: “Why is there so little diversity in finance?”

“Don’t look at how many people are there,” David answered. “Look at how many want to do it—there’s no data on that. Zero percent is bad; 100 percent is just as bad.”

She went on to advise Petty-Owens, “Don’t walk in and say, ‘I’m black—can you help me?’ If you bring in the color card, the gay card, the gender or disability card, it’s a non-starter. It’s what’s between your ears that gets you in there.”

That said, David advised a student who identified himself as “totally blind,” and asked if he should mention his sight impairment on his resume, “Absolutely.” At JP Morgan Chase, she said, “We are recruiting more veterans and people with disabilities. We want to give people more tools, so they can get the accommodations they need to do their job well.”

Let people know who you are

A female student asked, “How do you avoid stereotypes, being hit on, or overlooked, because you’re a woman of color in an industry comprised of mostly men?”

David answered, “When I walk into a room, I say something, to let people know who I am. They hear conviction. They hear an idea, or they just hear me summarizing what someone else said.”

By speaking up, she explained, a person asserts his or her identity. It’s harder to think of someone as a stereotype, when that person’s behavior suggests just the opposite—that this is someone with ideas, who thinks critically, and is part of a team.

She also advised students to take summer jobs and internships, because those experiences provide context for what’s learned in class. “A balance sheet means a lot more, once you’ve seen one in the workplace, and heard people talk about it.”

In closing, David reminded students that most major firms have Web sites with job listings and online applications for their branches around the world. She encouraged them to look for the campus recruitment link on the Web page of any company they admire, and stressed that while an MBA is invaluable in some industries—and not in others—nuts-and-bolts skills such as knowing how to use Microsoft Excel or PowerPoint are necessary tools in almost any job.

“Hope is good, but you have to have skills,” she closed, and a long line of students formed to shake her hand, get her card, and make themselves seen.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Special thanks to people who made this event happen, and not mentioned in this article: Emily Tonge, Staff, BMCC Association, Inc.; Brian Haller, Director of Foundation and Corporate Relations; Ashtian Holmes, Staff, Academic Affairs; Karen Wenderoff, VP, College Development, and Marva Craig, VP, Student Affairs.

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  • In the BMCC Leadership Breakfast series, sponsored by the Urban Male Leadership Academy, prominent corporate executives share their paths to success.
  • Patricia David, Managing Director and Global Head of Diversity for JP Morgan Chase, recently spoke in the series.
  • She offered strategies for career building, including how to be more visible to potential mentors and employers.

share this story »