1. You’ve held several different positions at American Express since joining in 1982, and now run one of its spin-offs. Does it feel as if you’ve been with a single company for 25 years?
I did feel as though I worked for a number of different companies in that I worked for two major subsidiaries – Shearson Lehman Brothers and American Express Financial Advisors – both of which have now spun off. I had the chance to work in many different industries, all under one umbrella.
2. For people starting their careers, would you recommend seeking out a large, multinational company like American Express?
It really has to do with your personal goals and aspirations. The benefit of being a part of a large company is that you have a stable environment in which to grow, with good training, support, and development opportunities. But for those who have a more entrepreneurial spirit or who want rapid exposure to multiple facets of business, then a somewhat smaller or mid-sized company might be more suitable.
3. In 1997, you started Global Network Services within American Express. Does your experience lead you to believe that it is possible to be an entrepreneur within a large company?
Yes, it’s possible. You need a company that has the appetite for appropriate risk as well as the commitment to invest in a new business opportunity. Global Network Services is a great example. It’s now over 10 years old at American Express, and we built that business from the ground up. It’s satisfying to know that it can be done in a large, established firm where new businesses will naturally compete with other, more established and core businesses for investment prioritization.
4. You have a BS and an MBA from NYU Stern. Which element or elements of the experience best helped prepare you for your career?
NYU Stern was a wonderful foundation for my education. At the time, I wanted to take in as much as I could from my experience. As an undergraduate, I had a double major and an undeclared triple – accounting, economics, and management. It wasn’t just the coursework, though. You have to take advantage of the whole experience at NYU, in the heart of New York with access to so many excellent opportunities. I remember our guest lecturers in particular, such as Alan Greenspan and Paul Volcker.
5. Ameriprise Financial was recently spun off from American Express. What has been the biggest challenge in forging a new, independent identity for the company?
The biggest challenge, and ultimately our best opportunity, was to create an entirely new brand in the marketplace – from our name to our identity, from advertising and marketing to re-branding every physical aspect of doing business. That has been exciting and rewarding. We’ve gone from zero brand awareness to almost 50 percent in 18 months.
6. What’s the most unexpected challenge you’ve faced being the CEO of a public company?
Time. You have to ensure that you’re satisfying all of your constituencies – our advisors, clients, employees, shareholders, regulators, and the general public.
7. Looking back, what was the most important choice you made in terms of accepting a position or turning one down?
My career focused mainly on start-ups of new businesses or major businesses that needed to be restructured. My choices have always been based on making a difference. I wanted to be a part of something where I could work with talented people to rebuild or drive greater growth. The most significant of those was deciding to lead Ameriprise to become an independent company.
8. Running Ameriprise gives you a window on how Americans are doing in terms of saving for retirement and planning for the long-term. How are they doing?
I believe we are not, as a country, saving enough and planning enough for the future. If you speak to our advisors around the nation, they’d say people have too much revolving debt and credit. But we know that if people plan, they can actually achieve what they really want as they move into retirement. That’s what Ameriprise is best equipped to help our clients do everyday: help bring dreams to life.