Feedback

Gloria Nelund: Defining Success in the Financial World

Gloria Nelund is co-founder, chairman and CEO of TriLinc Global, a social impact investment company that she started in 2008.

Prior to this she had a career in the international asset management industry. Most recently, Gloria served as CEO of the U.S. Private Wealth Management Division at Deutsche Bank, the world’s fifth largest financial institution. In this capacity, Gloria held fiduciary responsibility for more than $50 billion in investment assets, including more than $20 billion in emerging markets and credit instruments.

In 1999, Nelund joined Scudder Kemper Investments, a firm that was soon after acquired by Deutsche Bank.

Prior to joining Scudder, Nelund spent 16 years as an executive at Bank of America/Security Pacific Bank, most notably as president and CEO of BofA Capital Management Inc., an investment management subsidiary managing $35 billion in assets for both retail and institutional investors. In addition to managing fixed-income and equity mutual funds in both the U.S. and internationally, her division was responsible for managing assets on behalf of public funds, common trust funds and corporate funds. She also spent five years as manager of Worldwide Sales and Marketing of BofA Global Asset Management and three years as CEO of InterCash Capital Advisors Inc., a $15 billion investment management subsidiary of Security Pacific Bank.

Nelund has been a pioneer in the development of social impact products for institutional and high-net-worth investors. While at Scudder, she supported the development and growth of one of the industry’s first socially responsible investment (SRI) fund products, which was subsequently sold to Legg Mason. In addition, she was instrumental in making Deutsche Bank a leading institutional supporter of microcredit, creating multiple programs for private wealth management clients to be educated about, and invest in the asset class.

In addition to her activities with TriLinc, Nelund acts as independent trustee for RS Investments, a mutual fund complex with more than $20 billion in assets under management. She is also a life-long supporter of development-oriented philanthropic causes. While at Deutsche Bank, she served on the Board of the Deutsche Bank Americas Community Reinvestment Board, with responsibility for providing loans, investments, and grants to targeted organizations throughout the U.S. and Latin America. She has also volunteered as a teacher of at-risk youth in the Los Angeles Unified School District and the YMCA of Los Angeles. Nelund currently sits on the board of multiple not-for-profit organizations and actively supports entrepreneurship research and education through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, including as an MIT guest lecturer.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

This Conversation took place on September 19, 2011, at the TriLinc Global office in Manhattan Beach, California, and was updated in February 2012. Participating were Gloria Nelund, Al Erisman, and Gerard Beenen, assistant professor of management at California State University, Fullerton.

Ethix: What was your vision for starting TriLinc Global?

Gloria Nelund: We’re an investment management firm. We plan to attract private investor capital to create jobs for the middle class to help change the world. Our particular focus is on investing in small to medium-sized (5–250 employees) businesses in developing economies. Many of these businesses have no access to the capital needed to grow their businesses, and we fill that gap.

Seventy percent of new jobs worldwide come from small businesses. Small business is the key driver of growth in developed economies. In the U.S., about 67 percent of GDP has come from small businesses. Seventy percent of new jobs worldwide come from small businesses. And though we do a minority of our investing in underserved communities in the U.S., we focus on economies that can grow to the next level of development with a successful middle class. We believe this is the way to solve poverty in the long run and to create a sustainable world. Two thirds of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day, and we need to engage these people in the development of their economies.

Dealing With Poverty Through Job Creation

Our particular target is a subset of those economies. The World Bank has divided the world into three economic categories: high income, middle income, and low income. Most of our preferred economies lie within the middle-income category where there is sufficient infrastructure and rule of law, but where small businesses struggle to obtain sufficient capital for growth. Surprisingly, these businesses have very little access to capital through their existing banking industries.

What are some examples of countries in your target range?

Within our target economies, we look for countries that meet our investment criteria and have established at least a moderate foundation for further economic growth. Because of that, when evaluating countries we analyze three core factors: growth, stability, and access. While it may appear obvious, a country that is already exhibiting growth (often due to positive demographic trends and/or the adoption of more productivity enhancing modern technologies) is better poised to make efficient use of the additional capital we provide. Without the rule of law (security, property rights, and a developed court system) even economies that are growing rapidly can be risky places to invest, so we avoid them. Finally, even the most ideal economies which have relatively strong legal systems and attractive growth dynamics will not work for us if access to local businesses is restricted by their home countries (i.e., capital controls).

In Latin America, for example, we find countries like Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Brazil to be attractive investment destinations where capital can make a big difference. In Asia, the southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand are attractive. In Africa, particularly Sub-Saharan, countries like South Africa, Botswana, and Ghana are on the list as well. These countries have reached a place in their development where they have successful small businesses that are struggling to continue their growth because they lack sufficient access to capital. With this access they could move to the next level, create more jobs, become bigger contributors to their communities, and help create a larger middle class.

But your list doesn’t include places like the Congo?

We have a disciplined process that we follow when selecting economies to invest in. As mentioned above, there must be the proper growth, stability, and access dynamics present in order for us to invest. Specifically, the Congo faces significant challenges, particularly pertaining to rule of law and ease of access for foreign capital.

Our investment strategy was specifically developed to meet the needs of a particular private investor so it’s important to understand the profile of our target investors. The investors in this retail fund are less willing to accept the level of risk inherent in the lowest income economies. Those economies require a different kind of development, which is simply not where we’re focused.

Good Returns, Global Good

Is your story to investors that you can do good in the world even though your rate of return will be less?
Investors in our funds won’t need to give up investment return to do good.
No. Investors in our funds won’t need to give up investment return to do good. By targeting credit-worthy small businesses in middle income countries, we believe we can offer competitive, stable returns for our investors. And in addition to that, we are going to measure and report the impact of our investments through the creation of jobs and other contributions to economic growth in the communities we serve. Like anywhere else, these companies are focused on generating profits and, if they are successful, will pay more taxes, ultimately resulting in improved infrastructure (roads, ports, power generation, etc.), more schools, better education, better health care, etc.

We also apply an environmental, social and governance (ESG) screen to our investments and provide capital only to those companies with sustainable business practices, including anti-child labor, fair treatment of workers, environmental sustainability, and the like. We know that we don’t have to sacrifice investment return in order to accomplish this. Our value proposition is that you can get a competitive investment return and help change the world.

Why did you start the company?

I wanted to be able to use all of my experience, my contacts, and everything that I’ve developed in my 30-year successful career on Wall Street to do good in the world. That’s the simple answer.

The bigger story is, I wanted to use the rest of my life to serve God. I used to always think that in order to really do that you had to be a missionary or a pastor or you had to do something that was extremely self-sacrificing. After I retired from Deutsche Bank, I went through a period of three years building my relationship with God trying to figure out what I should do with the rest of my life. I realized it is God who has given me all of these talents, skills, and resources, and frankly, I just wouldn’t be good at doing a lot of those other things. The best value that I can bring to the world right now is to deliberately use my talent, skills, and resources to help the world through business. I’ve come to a place in my life where I could feel good about resuming what I had done before, but decided I would rather apply all of that learning and those skills and those contacts to something that helps the world in this significant way.
The best value that I can bring to the world right now is to deliberately use my talent, skills, and resources to help the world through business.

U.S. Job Creation?

The middle class seems to be going away in the United States. Does your approach apply to addressing this issue as well?

That’s a great question and we’ve been asked that more and more lately. All of our funds will be global so they can be invested anywhere, including the U.S. While our primary focus is developing economies, where the opportunity and impact are often the greatest, the current condition of the U.S. banking sector has created an opportunity for us to invest locally in underserved communities.

What, in your view, are some of the things needed to create more middle class jobs in the U.S.?

I am very much a proponent of structures, whether it is tax incentives or regulatory structures that stimulate entrepreneurial small business. I find the current environment lacking in this respect. It goes back to why we’re focused on supporting small business in other countries. At the bottom of it, everybody is driven to want to take care of themselves and their families. People want to be successful and if they can generate something, then they’re going to do that. If you look at U.S. history, you see a story of entrepreneurs, people who come here to succeed because they want to do it for themselves. They don’t want government to do it for them.

My belief is that it’s better to create an environment where entrepreneurs are empowered to create their own success. That is not to say that we should be free from regulation or oversight. That’s not good either.

Every time I hear someone say we don’t need regulation, I suggest they try to set up a business in the Central African Republic.

Exactly. There’s a balance, and anytime you get out of balance it creates a problem.
That is a very good example.

With impact investing, you are measuring not just the money the investor can earn, but also the way this money supports communities. This seems consistent with a statement that Roger Lowenstein made about banks in his book The End of Wall Street: “The proper end of Wall Street is to oil the nation’s business; it became, in the bubble era, a goal in itself, a machine wired to inhuman perfection,” p. 297. How do you avoid the trap of starting with this outward objective and then falling back into the objective of making lots of money?

Balance is once again crucial here. For a business to sustain itself, it needs to be profitable. Thus, profitability is a critical driver of sustainability. The presence of a profit motive is not the problem. It’s when that is the only motive that problems arise.
For a business to sustain itself, it needs to be profitable.

Aren’t you creating a virtuous environment as well by putting pressure on your competitors to do the same?

Exactly. Even with our impact reports, we want complete transparency and accountability. We’re going to set the standard high so that anyone else who comes in will have to do likewise. We’re not saying we shouldn’t make money, because we should. It keeps us motivated and interested and pays our bills. But we have an objective beyond money. We look to serve our real purpose, which is to reduce global poverty and promote a more sustainable world by providing growth capital to responsible businesses. As TriLinc’s leader, I need to keep living up to that purpose of changing the world through capital resources.

How do you instill this into your team so this goal is not just dependent on you?

You ask a good question because I want this to outlast me. It’s got to be instilled in every person we hire. I’ve been very careful about the character of the people that we bring in. We’ve had the opportunity to bring in some very talented and experienced people who ultimately just wouldn’t represent us well. They could do the job, but at the end of the day there’s a cost to not having everybody absolutely committed to this purpose and cause. We talk about this all of the time. We do volunteer work together as a company to try to keep everybody focused on the goal of serving others.

Banks and the Economic Crisis

What role did banks play in the recent financial crisis?

There were many players that bear responsibility, including consumers, government, and financial institutions. Financial institutions were enablers because they lost sight of their historical role in an economy and focused exclusively on short-term profits. For example, in the subprime crisis financial institutions stopped asking the question: Can this individual or family genially afford to buy this house? At firms like Lehman Brothers, there was a mentality, an arrogance actually, which permeated from the top that they could not fail. I know the mentality was there. However, the blame does not lie exclusively there.
Financial institutions were enablers
Government supervision was also clearly lax. How many people in this country got loans they were not qualified to receive? Throughout the subprime crisis government officials refused to accept that home prices had reached unprecedented and unsustainable levels. Traditional restrictions like down payment levels of at least 20 percent were discarded. Government has the responsibility to review and to audit. They got away from that. They weren’t holding these financial institutions accountable.

Finally, there were the consumers who never should have borrowed. People should have been responsible to know they couldn’t afford the adjustable rate mortgages they were signing. For most mortgages, the terms are right up front, but even if they weren’t, the terms had to be disclosed somewhere and there is a responsibility to read what you sign.
There is a responsibility to read what you sign.

What about the “too big to fail”? Did the banks simply assume someone would bail them out if they overreached? Or was it pride?

Purely pride. I don’t think that any of the big banks, particularly Leman or Goldman, ever thought they would have to take money from the government. They just thought, “We’re smarter than others, smarter than the government, and we’ll never need help.” It must have been extremely humbling for them. As hard as it was, and still is, for our country, I think the government did the right thing to let Leman fail. I actually wish though that they would have also let some of the car companies fail and let AIG fail. Unfortunately, the banking system as a whole can’t be left to fail because if the flow of credit that greases the gears of an economy cease to function, so too will the economy as a whole. This is where I believe that government has a crucial role.

What role did Deutsche Bank play in the economic crisis?

I was gone before it all came apart, but I’ll answer without knowledge. What I believe is that Deutsche Bank played a similar role to many of the other big global investment banks: structuring and selling products like collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) backed by a pool of loans where the originator retained no risk on the loans they made. Where Deutsche Bank differed from most of them is that they don’t engage in consumer lending in the U.S. (including mortgages), so they actually didn’t directly participate in that part of the problem. However, while they didn’t play a role on the consumer lending side of the crisis they certainly played a role on the investment-banking side.

I really enjoyed working for Deutsche Bank and believe they’re a very good organization. There are a lot of really good people there. But they weren’t exempt from the “too big to fail” mentality, which comes from being a very successful investment banking firm for many years.

Banks and Recovery

What role do banks have in the recovery, given they had this role in the downturn?

Banks have a big role to play and they are not stepping up. You could argue that this is the case because they’re frayed, the government has put these new capital requirements on them, and it’s made it harder for them to lend. But I think the big banks have used that as an excuse. If you go back to a small town like I am from in Ohio, the banks lend more on character and good sense. They ask themselves: “Is this a good business? In this industry and this market, are people still buying these things?” Big banks turn these basic lending virtues into pure process. There is no judgment, so, character and common sense never get factored into the decision.
Banks have a big role to play [in the recovery] and they are not stepping up.
This is where community banks can be very successful. They can be in touch with the small businesses and consumers. Community banks can be in touch with small businesses and consumers in a way that the large banks are unable and unwilling to do so. That’s why small community banks do better than large banks when it comes to making loans. Unfortunately, all too often the pattern has been that large banks buy up community banks and turn them into pure process. Large banks would be better served to step back from that strategy and figure out how they can get back to making loans. They need to do their part to help stimulate the economy by lending to small businesses that deserve to have the opportunity. So many businesses have difficulty borrowing from banks today. If large banks can’t do it because their process is in the way, then they need to find another way to get it done.
Community banks can be in touch with small businesses and consumers in a way that the large banks are unable and unwilling to do so.

Do you think it would be possible to infuse that process with the common-sense things you mentioned?

Perhaps, but it would be tough. The key is to allow more local decision-making, and the big banks have completely gotten away from that. Everything has become centralized to minimize costs. A system of accountability is necessary, but they’ve got to go back to local decision-making. Presently, all of these banks, with perhaps the exception of Bank of America, have significant earnings and cash sitting on their balance sheets. They could use some of that to restructure things to allow some local decision-making. You don’t have to undo everything, just revise processes to better support local small businesses.

Technology Investments?

How does the common sense work in today’s more complex world? How would a bank know that investing in Facebook would be a good idea, for example?

I would say investing in technologies is a different thing. Technology investments are completely a venture play. They’re not a commercial-lending play. A small business that has capital flowing, a track record of growth, and a team with success that you can point to, that is where you should use common sense. I don’t think the venture world is where banks should be lending money. That’s for the venture capitalists who want to take that kind of risk and understand the risk they’re taking.

What about a technology company that has been in business for five years, making a profit, and trying to grow. Access to capital for this kind of company, because of the complexity of its products, is difficult to come by.

The closer any business is to consistently repeatable cash flows, which can be managed to maintain profitability and ensure loan repayment, the closer that business is to being a commercial lending play for a financial institution. To the extent that a technology company has these characteristics they would be good loan candidates. The more volatile a business’ cash flows, the less consistently profitable they frequently are. This is often the challenge for many technology companies. That being said, all companies (technology businesses included) would benefit from a more locally focused and less distant banking relationship.

I was recently reminded of the benefits of a locally focused and empowered bank. I grew up in a small town in Ohio where my Dad was an entrepreneur. He always did his banking at one bank. He had seven bank accounts jointly with other people who were not family because he had different businesses. When he died, my mother and I went to the bank to get his accounts changed, and the teller greeted my mother by name and said how sorry she was for my Dad’s death. Then she said, “I’ve already prepared all the documents for you to get everything changed.” My mom signed everything and then the lady at the bank said, “You’ve got these three accounts with other people, two with Clyde, one with John. I wanted to get your signature first to make sure this is how you wanted to do it and then I will talk with Clyde and John. They come in here all the time. I’ll just have them sign when they come in.” Clearly, I was definitely not in California!

Isn’t electronic banking working against that, since many people don’t even go into the bank anymore?

Right, it is more difficult. But even in a big bank there are definitely things you can do to facilitate more of a community sense at a certain level. This is an issue with any big company. The bigger you get, the harder it is to allow that sort of entrepreneurialism, which is needed for business to flourish.
The bigger you get, the harder it is to allow that sort of entrepreneurialism, which is needed for business to flourish.

I would love for somebody to do a study on big banks. If you look back 100 years, or at least in my lifetime, you would see cycles. Big banks acquire the little community banks and then there’s this growth of community banks. They get bought up and then you get big banks again. Perhaps in proving what drives these trends we could identify a better strategy.

Let’s pursue the subject of technology a bit more. Technology helps a lot of things, but it can obscure some things as well. It seems to me that a lot of the difficulties in banking came from complex deals that most people didn’t understand, the CDOs for example.

Yes, exactly. The people putting them together don’t understand the boundaries of the application, and many of the people making decisions about them don’t understand how they work. What do you do in an environment with these kinds of complexities that make it difficult to understand a product? You don’t make a decision. My view is if you’re going to accept the responsibility of being a leader then you have to accept the responsibility of understanding what you’re doing. It is not an acceptable excuse to say “I didn’t understand.”

If you don’t understand a deal then you shouldn’t sign it. Leaders have a much bigger responsibility. In accepting their role as a leader, they must know that one of the things that comes with that responsibility is the need to understand.
if you’re going to accept the responsibility of being a leader then you have to accept the responsibility of understanding what you’re doing

I sit on a mutual fund board for RS investments, a $22 billion mutual fund company. We have taken the position that we don’t want our fund managers to invest in anything that we can’t understand as a board. By having to explain it to us, we can have confidence that they understand it, and it will likely mean they can explain it to investors. Fortunately, we have a great advisor and our portfolio management teams are terrific. They agree that they shouldn’t be taking on risks that we don’t understand. There are so many new things coming up, and we feel that our job is to protect the shareholders. We need to take that job seriously and understand what’s going on. More boards need to do this, and more management teams need to do this, especially in the investment world.
we don’t want our fund managers to invest in anything that we can’t understand as a board.

How widely do you think this practice is followed?

Not very, I’m afraid. I am not naïve.

Are you saying there’s a responsibility for continuous learning on these boards to maintain currency and understand the complexity of the sophisticated instruments?

Definitely. If that had been the case in the past, then many of the deals that got us into the financial crisis would not have been done. I think greed and ignorance both got in the way. In a similar way, more customers should take responsibility for their own financial actions and not do things they don’t understand.

Bank Responsibility

What obligation does a bank have when they see a customer about to make a purchase that they don’t understand?

Banks have a fiduciary responsibility to tell people the risks. If they see them doing something they think they shouldn’t do, then they should say don’t do this. The government needs our banking system to succeed. It should put banks in a different realm, if you will, than other companies. People rely on them, and assume their money is safe there. It should be safe. At the end of the day, transparency and accountability should be higher in banks than other organizations.

If the purpose of the bank is to make as much money as it can, then it may ignore some of these things. If there is a bigger purpose, then it’s going to be different. What do you believe is the purpose of a bank?

A bank’s role should be to facilitate the flow of capital within a country, and be a safe place for people and businesses to conduct financial transactions. That could be as simple as getting a loan, or it could be setting up a safe escrow between two parties. It could be where actual financial products get created. Most of the banks have as a purpose to facilitate financial transactions, capital market flows, and to protect money for people.

You have hit the nail on the head when you said they got away from that purpose and started focusing just on the needs of the shareholders which translates to making profits.I read a really great book recently, Managing Stakeholders. It talks about balancing the needs of all your stakeholders, not just your shareholders. That includes your employees, your customers, and your vendors. You need to balance all of those successfully. This should be true for any company, but especially for banks.

One banker I talked to recently said the elimination of Glass-Steagall, which had separated banks that could do lending and deposits from banks that did investments, was part of the problem. Eliminating Glass-Steagall enabled banks to decide they could make more money by doing a particular investment than by making this community loan. The bottom line got in the way. What do you think?

I honestly don’t know but I certainly think it contributed. I know they took a long time to make that decision but the change came too hastily. It did allow banks to move away from their purpose of lending, but I don’t know if it was the cause. They did it so that banks could be more financially competitive with their non-bank counterparts, but who says they have to be financially competitive?

Gender Issues

Let’s talk about gender issues. There weren’t many women executives at Deutsche Bank when you were there. What are the challenges of being a woman in a man’s world?

I was the only woman among the top 200 executives in Deutsche bank. A couple times a year Deutsche bank would gather the top 200 executives in some part of the world to talk about the bigger strategic issues, how divisions were performing, etc. I had been to six or seven of these meetings when there was a woman speaker from one of the groups who gave a talk during the day. At lunch, she sat down next to me and said, “You’re the only woman here in this whole group. What is that like?” My response was, “I am?” Seriously it just hadn’t occurred to me. It wasn’t something I focused on. I was very used to working with men and so I’m very comfortable. It doesn’t matter whether they’re men or women. They’re just partners in this business that I’m in.

There was one time earlier in my career when I was a part of a larger staff of all men. When the conversation got heated, they would sometimes leave the room and go to the bathroom. When they returned they would have a solution to the issue we were dealing with. But they did this once too often. On the next occasion, I followed them into the men’s bathroom. They never did that again.

Often the woman is called upon to carry more of the burden for maintaining a balance between work and family. I was fortunate that my husband was willing to stay home and take care of our son and take care of our house. So I probably don’t have the same balance issues that other working moms have. That helped in some ways, but in other ways it probably enabled me to be a workaholic. I didn’t do a very good job of keeping that balance because I loved what I did, I loved to work.
Often the woman is called upon to carry more of the burden for maintaining a balance between work and family.

Research has shown that women are better at negotiating on behalf of others while men are better at getting something for themselves. How has that played out in your experience?

In my experience, that is absolutely true. I can negotiate anything, and fight for anything if it is for someone else; but for myself, I have a really hard time. As a result, I have been taken advantage of quite a bit, not just at Deutsche bank, but at other jobs. Since I’ve recognized that in myself I have had someone else do important negotiating for me, especially if the outcome had to do with me. I don’t buy cars, for example. I hire someone else to buy cars for me. I’m bad at it, but also I don’t like that experience.

Personal Story

Tell us how you got to Deutsche Bank and how you came to step away from your work there.

I had been working at Bank of America for many years, and had a very responsible position in Los Angeles. But I decided it was time to try something else. Shortly after I started looking, I received and accepted a four-month special assignment for Bank of America, and about two weeks into that assignment I received an offer from a boutique firm in New York, Scudder. I was excited about the offer, but told them I couldn’t start until I completed the assignment. They came back to me asking how much money it would take to start immediately. But I explained to them it was not a matter of money; it was a matter of keeping a commitment I had made. So I had to turn down the job. Ultimately, they decided to wait for me, so I finally escaped the big bank for a new start with Scudder.
I explained to them it was not a matter of money; it was a matter of keeping a commitment I had made
I wasn’t there long before Deutsche Bank bought out Scudder, and there I was back in the big bank world again. This created another complication. The job was based in New York, but we were living in Los Angeles. Because of our special needs child, we decided that it would not be good to uproot him from his location, so I commuted to New York for six and a half years. Every week I would get the “red eye” flight from Los Angeles to New York on Sunday night, arrive in New York and go to work for the week. I had an apartment there. Then on Friday night I would fly home for the weekend. If that wasn’t bad enough, every six weeks I had to be in London or Frankfurt because I was on the bank’s executive committee. It was a grueling schedule, and not possible without full engagement and support from my husband.

My expectation, after Scudder had been purchased was that I would be out of a job. But it turned out I was selected to integrate all of the private client businesses and create one private wealth management business from the original Deutsche Bank Private Bank, the Scudder Private Investment Counsel group, and two other acquisitions they had made: Bankers Trust and Alex Brown. We had four very different cultures and four very different businesses that needed to be integrated. When I took responsibility for this, we were losing $30 million a year. We had duplicate offices, duplicate systems and we were operating under a memo of understanding with the Fed for anti-money laundering violations. It was a mess.

In three and a half years we had consolidated a management team and completely turned it around to where we were on target at the end of the first quarter to hit our 25 percent profit margin. It was the biggest accomplishment of my career, and after a party at the Yale Club in Manhattan to celebrate our success, I went back to my apartment and I just had this emotional moment. I thought, “There’s got to be more to life than this.” I just had this most successful, pinnacle accomplishment but I realized I had no friends, I never saw my family, and I decided I just didn’t want to do this anymore. The next day I was heading to Florida and I picked up the book Halftime in the airport.
I just had this most successful, pinnacle accomplishment but I realized I had no friends, I never saw my family, and I decided I just didn’t want to do this anymore.
By the time I’d returned to New York, I’d finished the book. The challenge from it is to think about mid-life, not as a crisis, but as a “halftime.” Pull aside from the battle of the day and assess where you are, what you have done, and what you want to do for the next half. The book suggested not quitting your job until you have a plan, but I ignored that part.

Quitting the Job

I got on a plane that night, took a red eye to London, and the next day I met with my boss and said, “A year from now I don’t want to be doing this.” He tried to talk me out of it, and make some accommodations for a different type of schedule. But I said, “I just don’t want to do this anymore.” It was April, and I agreed to stay with it till the end of the year to support transition of responsibility.

To demonstrate just how out of balance my life was at this point. Not only did my husband not know I was in London; he had no idea I was quitting my job. It wasn’t until after the fact that I picked up the phone and called my husband. I wanted to find a way to break it to him, to make some excuse, but I simply said, “Honey, I’m in London. I just quit my job.” Thankfully, his response was “Oh, thank God. I’ve been praying that something would happen because this is just unbearable.” He saw what it was doing to me physically. It was the commute, the stress of the position, the family separation, everything.

Principles of Success

Right after that I was asked to give a talk to a group of younger women called Women on Wall Street. They had asked me before but I had always been too busy and was not sure, in any case, what I would say. But now I had no excuse, so I made up a list of things that I had done in my career that I felt were at the root of my success.

What was on that list?

1. Daily time with God. It is easy in the hectic pace of business, where you can easily get caught up in the trappings around you, to lose perspective. I find that I need to take time each day to get centered, to gain a larger perspective, and to reconnect with purpose and goals that are bigger than me.Many people think they are too busy to do this, but I have found it essential.
2. Never compromise my values. Business dealings represent a series of compromises. Negotiations, structuring a deal, creating an affordable product, meeting conflicting demands all call for tradeoffs. But I need to be rooted in a strong foundation of ethics where my word is my bond, where cutting corners is unacceptable, and I need to review this and act on this every day.
3. Always be fair. You can’t satisfy everybody all of the time. When somebody misses an assignment or makes a mistake, you have to deal with the situation. But how you deal with the people involved (both people you are close to and people who you don’t know) must be done in a way that a third party would acknowledge that this is fair.
4. Really care about people. In an organization where there are many people carrying out assignments, it is easy to focus on the utility of what the person does and lose sight of the person. Seeing each individual as a person, not an object, keeps reminding us that a person is more than his or her task.
5. Focus on outcomes. This is related to Stephen Covey’s “begin with the end in mind.” I keep reminding myself to pull back to the objective and what we are trying to accomplish. This keeps us from needless side ventures away from the main objective.
6. Own the responsibility. When I have been assigned a job to do, it is important to be responsible for seeing that it gets done. There will always be roadblocks, excuses, and things that come up along the way that make the task difficult. But it is my job to get it done, and I can’t allow other things to become the reason or excuse for not carrying through.
7. Work beyond expectations. I need to have a higher standard for myself than my boss or others have for me. It is not enough to get it done in the time allocated. I want to do better than expected, more than is expected, working to my capability. This includes offering insight beyond what is asked and not being satisfied to simply “answer the mail.”

Did you get into the role of women in business specifically?

During the question-and-answer session after the talk, one young Wall Street woman asked me, “If you had one piece of advice for us, what would it be?” I thought for a second and said “Find a really great husband.” The women seemed confused by my response, but I could never have done what I did without a really great husband, somebody supporting me, somebody taking care of everything at home and providing incredible emotional support. I probably didn’t appreciate it as much as I do now, but I have to say it’s what I know allowed me to be stable and just continue doing what I did.

Starting TriLinc

How did you decide to start TriLinc Global?

I mentioned earlier how I quit my job at Deutsche Bank. I took a couple of years off, away from business. I got reconnected with my family, and I looked at options. But it was clear I was not a stay-at-home person. I admire people who are, but it is not who I am. I found myself arranging the books, alphabetizing the medicine cabinet, and other things that drove my family, and me, nuts. I engaged in a study of the Bible, looking for career answers. I considered whether ministry or church work might be the best use of my time. But again, that was not me. I realized I was wired for business. When I was asked to serve on the board of RS Investments, I realized how much the financial services area was something I was wired to do. There were numerous opportunities to return to a big bank, and that would have been great. But through my study and time away I decided I wanted to do something where I could make an actual difference, and that is what led to starting TriLinc Global.

in the second half of my life I want to be more deliberate about what I’m doing, more careful.Another thing I learned, though, is in the second half of my life I want to be more deliberate about what I’m doing, more careful. That is not to say I don’t overwork and I don’t put as much energy and effort into this, but I do more things to be deliberate. Every day without fail, I take the first hour of my day to do my devotions and center myself. It helps me with my spiritual balance. It really helps me to stay grounded and to be more present. When I am at work I am very focused, but I also try to be focused at home. It requires a little more compartmentalizing in my life than I used to have, but helps in terms of having better balance.

Getting Into the Financial World

How did you get into the financial industry?

I went to University of Dayton to study elementary education. But while student teaching I realized that was not for me. I suppose the reason I started in that direction is because that is what women did in that era; they went into teaching or nursing.

So I had no idea what I was going to do when the mother of a friend of mine suggested I just get a job and try something. She was the HR director for the Third National Bank in Dayton, and I started at the bottom. My very first job was typing stock certificates and balancing shareholder records in the trust department of the bank. It’s hard to believe now, but in those days when people wanted to sell shares of stock, they would physically surrender their certificate, I would cancel it, enter the data on a card, and type up a new certificate. I found that this was kind of fun. I loved understanding the financial world and just kept taking on new tasks to learn more.

Early in my career, I adopted three principles that I would follow all of my life: I would work really hard; I would solve problems; and I would help people. The first meant that when I finished an assignment I would look for another one. I was always asking for more to do. It was much later in my career when I realized that not everybody did that! In the second one, I found that I enjoyed making processes efficient, finding a better way to do something. And in the third area, I found joy in making other people successful.
Early in my career, I adopted three: I would work really hard; I would solve problems; and I would help people
I kept taking on new jobs and, a year-and-a-half later in that particular bank, I was the head of operations. But this was a small bank and our entire trust department was only 25 people. Not long after that I was offered a head of operations position by a bank in California where just the team I would be managing was 300 people. I had only been to California once when I was 12, and I was intimidated by the size of the task, but with encouragement, I just went for it. And that got me started in the Bank of America system.

What clicked for you?

I really love to help other people be more successful. As a manager I always saw my job as helping anybody who worked for me be more successful at their job. I thought that was my role and I loved it when people would be successful or be promoted. I felt the same way about making our clients a success. I felt like that was our role as a bank. Interestingly, as a banking institution, I didn’t think we executed all that well. Individuals worked hard and did good things, but it didn’t always come together in the best way for the clients and employees. That was where solving problems became satisfying. And, it turned out that working hard, solving problems, and helping people just worked. I was always promoted or recruited so I never actually applied for any job I ever had.

Office Politics

What was the least satisfying?

Politics, game playing, backstabbing, all those bad things about people. Financial services may have a higher share of those people for some reason. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to get out of it at different times in my career, because I thought we were not helping anybody by all this politicking and maneuvering and backstabbing. That was really frustrating for me.

What advice would you have for someone who is caught in the middle of that kind of politicking?

Stay true to your values and don’t ever waiver. It’s easy to get caught up in it, but you need to step back and assess what is right in the particular situation. You don’t necessarily have to buck the system but you can accomplish what is right at the end of the day almost in any situation. Take that time to ground yourself and step back and look for what is the right thing to do.
Stay true to your values and don’t ever waiver

Does that always work?

I would say yes. I can look back to times when I overreacted, and generally these times didn’t work out so well. If you interviewed 100 people who worked with me, I believe they would say that I was always true to my values, always very ethical, even when it was painful. I just think that’s the right thing to do. And when you don’t act this way, I really do believe what goes around comes around.

3 Responses to “Gloria Nelund: Defining Success in the Financial World”

Share Your Thoughts