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Climbing the Corporate Ladder

by Michelle Boyles

Whether working in finance, health care, education, construction, technology or any number of industries that our area is home to, our 2016 Executives of the Year make an impact on the Philadelphia economy every day. These 11 professionals shared with us insights on what they’ve learned, obstacles that lie ahead and advice for their compatriots. Their stories provide valuable lessons on how to move up the chain of command and inspire others.

Paul Lancaster Adams
Managing Shareholder, Ogletree Deakins’ Philadelphia office
Years in the industry: 20-plus
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

My successful transition from a notable corporate role at a Fortune 50 company, returning to private practice; and being able to effectively represent clients, throughout the U.S. and internationally, while maintaining administrative management responsibilities across the firm.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
When you attend law school you are not taught to have a business acumen while practicing law. Through years of representing both small and very large clients in various industries, all of whom have unique issues and challenges, I have learned the importance of business partnering and the value of understanding, from a client’s perspective, while not losing sight of critical legal concerns.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
I would encourage other executives to have a personal vision to be creative and constructive while navigating the complexities of an organization’s culture and need for profitability. Leading as well as encouraging such behavior can provide business growth. The same applies to representing clients, but with different emphasis. Often clients need good counsel to not just give them an answer, but to provide them with information and creative approaches, options and guidance so they can strategically and considerately come to decisions on their own.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
In an era when organizations are seeking more efficiency and access to general information is more easily attained, via the internet and social media, etc., providing timely, specialized and useful legal representation is paramount. Such is the importance of continuously providing great value to clients.

Ira brown
President and CEO, M&T Bank Philadelphia Region
Years in the industry: 30
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

Being named regional president of our Philadelphia/SNJ market. This gave me the privilege of working with our new colleagues at Wilmington Trust and our new associates from Hudson City. It was a challenge and ultimately satisfying to learn these new markets and the communities within them.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
The importance of having well-rounded experiences across multiple lines of business within the organization. The exposure to team members with different priorities and goals gives you a broader understanding of the organization than you can get if you spend your career in one position.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
Hire the best people you can. Work hard to create career opportunities for members of your team. Make sure your training programs are current and your hires diverse so you can attract talent from a wide spectrum of candidates.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
Banks need to remain nimble enough to meet the needs of their communities, while operating efficiently in a regulated environment.

Carl E. Dranoff
President and Founder, Dranoff Properties
Years in the industry: 40
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

We build, develop, manage, market and own landmark properties that revitalize neighborhoods and transform them into live-work-and-play destinations. The impact that our work has had on revitalizing Philadelphia and other urban areas makes me very proud.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
Relationships are the key to success. You need to establish key allies and trusted partners early on in your career and maintain those relationships because they will endure and follow you throughout.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
I have two pieces of advice that are equally important so I’ll share both. First, trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to be a contrarian. Leading the pack is better than following it. Second, build a strong reputation early on, protect it at all costs and have integrity in all that you do. Remember that your word is gold and your reputation follows you forever.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
The rising costs of land, labor and materials are driving up housing costs and that is making it tough on the consumer.

Daniel K. Fitzpatrick
CFA, President of Citizens Bank of PA/NJ/DEL and Head of National Mid-Corporate and Industry Verticals
Years in the industry: 25
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

The thing I take the most pride in is the ability to blend financial success with building and retaining a team of great people who also happen to be great professionals. When good, smart people are given the opportunity to lead and innovate, the shareholder returns will be good and the customer experience will be terrific. Finally, our passionate caring for our community has been particularly rewarding for me, as I’ve been able to have this success in my hometown of Philadelphia.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
It would be the importance of maintaining a healthy sense of urgency, but also knowing that banking is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. We will work through good economic times as well as recessions, and with each cycle comes a unique set of challenges and opportunities. If in all of this we remain consistent, diligent and keep our focus on what’s best for the customer, we will succeed in the long run.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
I would absolutely say to recruit great talent and empower them with accountability. I would also say to make time in their schedules for community service and civic activism. Some of my most rewarding and enlightening experiences as a banker have come from volunteering and I’ve become a better professional and person as a result of that service.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
The greatest opportunity and challenge in banking is how to best employ technology to add convenience and simplicity to financial services without becoming detached from our customers as people, who we tend to know very well personally.

Francine Friedman Griesing
Founder and Managing Member, Griesing Law
Years in the industry: 35
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

My greatest professional accomplishment was stepping out on my own and opening the doors to Griesing Law almost seven years ago. I take great pride in growing our initial team of three to creating jobs for over 20 people, including attorneys and support staff.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
As a young female lawyer, I wish I had known how few women were at the top of the profession and how much of a boys club I was entering in the legal field. When I started as a first-year lawyer at a large New York law firm, the most senior woman lawyer had only four years of experience and all the partners were men. There were not many female lawyer role models in the broader legal community, either, to look to for advice or support. I’ve learned that differentiating myself and paving my path through building my own relationships and book of business have been crucial to my career success. Taking charge of your career trajectory rather than expecting others to take care of it is the most important advice I give to any professional, especially women, as no one else can do that for you.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
I believe in the value of taking time for yourself as a business owner. In running my firm, I am constantly juggling various aspects of the business on any given day and I’ve learned that I cannot best serve the firm and those who work for me if I do not take the time to unwind and unplug. It took most of my career to learn that lesson and I encourage other executives to start earlier than I did.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
The legal field has been trailing behind other industries when it comes to reshaping their corporate cultures. I strive to create a workplace where people are inspired and engaged to come to work every day. That spans the gamut of items such as offering more flexible work schedules, encouraging professional development and providing positive feedback while not solely relying on billable hours as a measure of value.

John Anderson Fry
President, Drexel University
Years in industry: 20-plus
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

That I never get my priorities confused: I am a husband and a father first, and a university president second.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
That I would be in a constant battle for time.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
Take the long view, always. If you’re not planning 10 years or more out, you’re missing key opportunities to ensure that your organization’s future will be secure, with plenty of opportunities for future generations to take advantage of.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
A college education needs to be powerfully connected to career exploration, preferably through experiential learning like the Drexel cooperative work experience. Higher-ed must prepare graduates for lifelong learning, personal and intellectual growth.

John Grady
President, PIDC
Years in the industry: 25
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

The growth and development of the Navy Yard as a major regional employment center.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
The importance of building talented teams and partnerships in order to build long-term, sustainable success.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
Always look to build relationships with peers and mentors that support continuous learning.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
Expanding access to capital for growing businesses and development in areas that need it the most.

Job Itzkowitz
Executive Director, Old City District
Years in the industry: 4
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

This past year we completed two planning processes: One addressed OCD’s marketing needs and the other, which we called Vision2026, addressed elements of economic development, in both the public and private realm, for which we intend to advocate and support over the next 10 years. Though completion of the planning stage of any endeavor is important, the accomplishment is not realized until successful implementation is complete.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
The special services district industry is no longer a new one. The professional network is strong, international and supportive. Though I was familiar with local colleagues and institutions at the outset, I have benefited from an introduction to the global community.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
To quote Michigan coaching legend Bo Schembechler, “The team, the team, the team.” In addition to establishing a great and cohesive staff, this role demands cooperation with numerous stakeholders whose opinions, preferred methods and ambitions may differ, but whose ultimate goal is uniform: a safer, cleaner and more prosperous community. Recognition that these players are on the same team is paramount.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
A mentor once told me that “change is a process”—it takes time. BIDs, by their nature, tend to support neighborhood improvements, and sometimes those improvements break from tradition in response to changing conditions. The industry is challenged by the speed at which conditions change on the ground and the ability to plan for the end result.

Frank Leto
President and CEO of Bryn Mawr Banc Corp.
Years in the industry: 14
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

I do not believe I have achieved my greatest professional accomplishment yet. I am always looking for more from myself. I am proud of the solid company we have built here at BMT, and I feel a sense of accomplishment knowing that my work is creating a positive impact, but I will always be looking for more.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
When I began, I wish I had known the depth of the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009, and how the business of banking and financial services would change so fundamentally.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
Embrace change and each day help your employees see the power of that change. With change, surround yourself with people who challenge you to think both inside and outside of the box.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
Cost of regulation, particularly the combination of dealing with the current requirements and then managing the uncertainty of new regulations, all while navigating the shifting economy and low interest rate environment.

Bill McNaBB
Chairman and CEO, Vanguard
Years in the industry: 30
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

My best professional “accomplishment” happened before I truly got started: It was my decision to work at Vanguard. I was drawn to the culture, the values, the people and the mission of helping folks invest for the future. Thirty years later, those same factors continue to energize me every day.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
Over the course of three decades, I’ve watched Benjamin Graham’s famous observation on investing ring true time and time again. He said, “In the short run, the market is a voting machine, but in the long run it’s a weighing machine.” For investors, it’s a reminder to tune out the daily noise and stay focused on a long-term plan.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
If you look at many great organizations, you’ll find a high-caliber leadership team and a strong team-orientation among the employees. Fostering a “we” rather than a “me” mindset can be a powerful force, especially when people trust each other, support each other and push each other to achieve a shared goal.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
Today, many people don’t have access to quality retirement plans. We have an opportunity to make simple, lowcost, high-quality retirement plans available to all working Americans. It will take a collective effort from investment companies and policymakers to make it happen.

Carol JeaN Vale
SSJ, Ph.D., President,
Chestnut Hill College
Years in the industry: 24
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

My greatest professional accomplishment has been to participate wholeheartedly in the successful transition of a women’s college to a coeducational institution boasting an undergraduate student population that is 42 percent male. Chestnut Hill College was the first women’s college in the Philadelphia area to make the move to coeducation and the decision is one that has been reaffirmed repeatedly as we consider the composition of the student body and our students’ many outstanding accomplishments.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
I wish that I had foreseen 20 years ago the twists and turns that higher education has taken in recent years: growing public criticism of cost, the questioning of return on investment, the erosion of income growth for the middle class, the excessive demand for financial assistance, the expectations of greater accountability. Perhaps if administrators and financial analysts had begun essential conversations on these topics long before they became a reality, the problems would not be as seemingly insurmountable as they are in this moment.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
No matter how gifted and intelligent a person may be, it is imperative to remember that no one succeeds alone. Build a diverse team of hardworking, loyal, insightful, energetic, creative people, whose talents and abilities complement one another, then listen to them and provide the environment and the tools necessary for them to be successful in their work. Dare to do what others say you can’t and don’t fear failure. Failure hides lessons that will teach you how to succeed. When you succeed, share the spotlight with your colleagues, who, with you, will have taken a vision and given it a face.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
For liberal arts institutions, I believe one of the greatest challenges is to marry the practical arts with the liberal arts to meet the needs of the 21st century marketplace, while simultaneously educating the whole person in a manner that will continue to feed the heart and spirit long after graduation. It is not enough to be competent in a profession, though that is necessary if one is to earn a living. Of unsurpassed importance, however, are the attitudes and values that are essential if one is to live a meaningful life. In a society that views people as drivers of the economy, who are expected to produce more and better products in order to produce greater yields of capital, the challenge is real when an institution insists upon a core curriculum that includes the development of aesthetic sensibilities and spiritual sensitivities. Convincing the public of this is one of our greatest challenges.

Published (and copyrighted) in Philly Biz, Volume 1, Issue 11 (November, 2016).
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