Olivia Goldstein of TD Asset Management on the value of great mentors and why the external view of you is always right

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Olivia Goldstein is a Vice President within the Strategic Initiatives team at TD Asset Management (TDAM). With experience which spans finance, law, entrepreneurship and martial arts, Olivia utilizes her unique and nontraditional background to lead high value strategic projects across TDAM’s business. She is a third degree black belt in Shotokan Karate and a passionate photographer.

Looking back five/ ten years, where did you think you’d be by this point in your career? How did you get here?

I originally wanted to be a lawyer and never thought I was going to end up in finance. Growing up, I had a very hard time with school because I didn’t feel like it was incredibly valuable. My grades were always relatively good, but I had very low interest in whatever I studied. I think I changed my major about 5 or 6 times! In order to pay for school, I taught martial arts and ran a photography business on the side. While I wanted to quit school in my third year to focus on the photography business full time, I decided to finish up the English degree I was doing and started studying for the LSAT. Since I couldn’t afford law school right away, I got a job working as a paralegal which I thought was a logical next step. That was when one of my mentors who is an executive at TDAM, recommended that instead of going to law school, I explore the world of finance. I had no professional background in anything remotely numerical so I had no idea how I would get a job in finance.  I was somehow able to land a contract position in TD Asset Management’s Regulatory and Policy Governance Group. I’ve been very fortunate to have people take chances on me throughout my career which has allowed me to get my foot in the door of some interesting places.

How did you transition from Regulatory and Operational Risk work to Strategy work?

In my mind, the two aren’t that different. I was never in actual "compliance"; I was the middle man between Compliance, Bank Risk and the front lines. I always believed that the most important responsibility of my job was to see things from the client perspective and ensure things got done in order to satisfy their needs. That kind of thinking is a big part of what strategy is—that, and understanding the competition. While in Risk, I deliberately put myself in a role that involved a lot of change management work and "getting things done" which helped move me to where I am today. Despite being in risk, I made sure that I was positioning myself in a business-focused segment of the risk group and that made moving to strategy easier.

How is the world of finance changing and what are the major trends to watch out for?

The rate of change in finance is faster than it has ever been. Firstly, automation is having a massive impact on the way banks manage their business from AI to Blockchain. The ability for banks to respond to these changes within the rigid regulatory frameworks that they operate within is going to be a defining aspect of how collectively, the industry to going to look in a few years’ time. It will largely be about striking a balance between leveraging automation while still delivering a real human service to customers.

The second thing shaping the financial industry is the newest group of folks entering the workforce. Younger people tend to want to have a deeper connection to their work and they are looking for something more than just a paycheck. They want the companies that they work for to invest in their development and help them grow whether that be from a diversity and inclusion perspective or through ESG initiatives. The other thing I’ll say is that younger people want to change their jobs within two years whether that be through promotion or lateral moves. The challenge with that is institutional knowledge doesn’t get developed the same way and is often lost. Every company needs a good base of “life-ers” who can help build other people’s skills and capabilities. Most companies are facing that issue but the financial industry in particular will be deeply impacted by this.

You have a very nontraditional background. Was there ever a point in your career where you felt stuck and didn’t know what to do next? How did you overcome that?

For me, I’ve always removed the question of, “what do I want to be” when it comes to my career because I think it is impossible to really know what that looks like. I think about the skillsets that I’ve wanted to develop and the type of work that I want to be doing whether that be technical, client facing, etc. I’ve also enlisted the help of my mentors who have helped me focus. I tend to be interested in a lot of different things and that can actually be a part of my downfall. Thankfully, I’ve had some pretty great people over the years who have helped me keep my head straight and I can’t emphasize how important that is.

Taking risks is also something that I’ve had to do to get where I am now. For starters, I left a full time job for a contract when I first joined TD and for the potential opportunity of becoming a member of TDAM’s team which was a lateral move. There wasn’t even a job opening in the strategy group at the time but I knew I wanted to be in strategy and was more focused on gaining a breadth of experience as opposed to chasing a higher level.

What have been some of the important business lessons that you’ve had to learn the hard way thus far? How have they made you better?

Learning the importance of emotional intelligence has been big for me. I’m by nature on the aggressive side so I’m constantly asking for feedback from others in that area and looking for ways to improve.

Secondly, striking a balance between adjusting your management style to mesh with different types of people and groups while remaining authentic to who you are and what makes you successful is also a hard lesson that I’ve had to learn. You can’t force your way on others. You need to adapt and meet people where they are.

The last thing has been not striving for perfection because it doesn’t exist. Focus on the things that matter and recognize that marginal improvements have diminishing returns. Spend your calories on the things that truly matter and enable you to accomplish your objectives.

What does leadership look like to you? What makes a great leader?

For me, leadership is about three key things; trust, transparency and promoting the successes of others. Without trust, it is impossible to be a leader because all relationships are ultimately built on trust. When it comes to transparency, you need to be transparent so that others know where you stand and have a real understanding of your motivations behind getting something done. Lastly, effective leaders understand that the success of their team ultimately defines their own success and the success of the firm. Not to mention, I don't believe any senior leader got to where they are now without the support and sponsorship of the leaders before them; you have to pay it forward. Each of these three elements go hand in hand, and you can’t have one without the other.

What would be the one piece of advice you would give to someone in the workforce today to get ahead and find work that is fulfilling?

I strongly believe that you will not get anywhere without self-awareness. Look at yourself critically and admit where you are strong and weak. There is no shame in admitting those things about yourself. You also need to go out and look for criticism because that is the only way you will learn about how others see you. At the end of the day, the external perception of how others see you is always right because that is how the outside sees you. That is your personal brand. It doesn’t really matter how you see yourself if others don’t see you in the same way. Lastly, find mentors who push you and make you be better. I wouldn’t be where I am if it were not for the people who have opened doors for me to be successful and gave me a chance. Those same people keep me grounded and call me on my nonsense. They are critical but I can’t stress enough how important they have been to my development, and how grateful I am for that.

Olivia is an employee of TD Asset Management. Statements made during the interview are expressions of Olivia’s own opinions and not that of TD

Aubrey Chapnick