On Wednesday, November 4, Lee B. Stephens III, Executive Vice President at Bank of New York Mellon (BNY Mellon), spoke in the Leadership Breakfast series held in the Conference Center at Fiterman Hall.
Over a hundred students, faculty and staff filled the audience as BMCC President Antonio Pérez introduced Stephens, who leads BNY Mellon’s strategic business development efforts with U.S. public sector clients, and is a member of its U.S. Client Management team.
“Bank of New York Mellon has been involved with our institution for many years,” said President Pérez. “In fact, a senior officer and former chair of the BMCC Foundation Board, Bob Mueller, served as a mentor to our speaker this morning.”
Sharing a life’s journey
When Stephens took the stage, he asked the predominantly student audience about their perceptions of BNY Mellon. “We manage 28 trillion dollars of investments, globally,” he said. “Twenty percent of the investment assets in the world are managed by BNY Mellon.”
He talked about his personal journey; growing up in Southern California, being the oldest of three boys and attending Morehouse College, an all-male, historically black institution in Atlanta, Georgia.
“I majored in pre-med, something my parents wanted me to do and I thought I wanted to do,” he said, adding that after three and a half years in college, “I went through my adolescent rebellion a little late and changed my major to accounting, with a minor if finance.”
That experience touched a chord with BMCC students who asked questions about Stephens’ career decisions.
“If you’re going to be successful you have to expect things to change,” he said. “You have to adapt and keep your mind’s eye on your long-term goal but also keep an eye on the curves that are coming up, is key.”
The role of culture in business
Stephens also talked about having served as Chief Administrative Officer for BNY Mellon’s Asian Pacific region. “We had sixteen offices in 12 countries,” he said, “but there was no connectivity between them, so we put infrastructure into the region, which included Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia and India.”
When asked about cultural sensitivity in a global business, he shared a story about holding Town Hall meetings for BNY Mellon’s Asian Pacific groups; videoconferences in which the management team would ask for questions and when there were none, assume that everyone was on board with whatever they were discussing.
“Then someone took me aside,” said Stephens, “and he told me, ‘In the culture here, we don’t challenge authority. We don’t ask questions or do that publicly’. So, we began to have small meetings and talk to people individually.”
When a student asked Stephens, “What would you recommend to someone who feels different, outside the norm — how would you turn that into an asset?” he responded, “Be yourself. Be authentic. Fortunately, in this country we have a culture that continually evolves. At BNY Mellon we talk about that all the time; how we are going to be the best we can be, and best serve our constituents and clients by leveraging the vast diversity that we have within our own company.”
Another student asked advice for maintaining a career in the music industry, where “you have to be young to succeed, you have to be popular,” and Stephens pointed out that many performers, “Dr. Dre, Jennifer Lopez, did one thing when they were young, and it’s not what they’re doing today. It’s a natural progression to move into other aspects of the business; to get into production, management, to mentor others coming into the field.”
He related this to his own experience of moving from the high-paced trading environment, to corporate banking, as he matured in his career.
The last question was from a student who asked Stephens what his next step would be, in his own career.
“I’d like to expand my international experiences, do something outside the country again,” he said. “I’d love to do something in my ancestral continent, in Africa. It now has the fastest growing economies in the world. A lot of multinational institutions haven’t paid attention to Africa, but that is changing.”
After the talk, students lined up to meet Stephens personally, and continue their conversation.