In a Fireside Chat, Jeffrey E. Garten, Dean Emeritus of the Yale School of Management, sat down with Norma Corio, CFO of American Express Global Business Travel, to discuss taking risks and lessons learned throughout the financial crisis.
At the 2015 Chief Financial Officer Leadership Forum held in New York on November 5, Jeffrey Garten interviewed Norma Corio about her career path throughout the tumultuous financial recession, and what lessons stood out the most. He began by asking Corio to discuss her unique career, in which she has worked with a number of different institutions in various capacities. “How do you deal with these career transitions,” he asked, “and what has been their significance in terms of what you’ve become in your professional life?”
Corio responded that though she never intentionally sought out these new jobs, in hindsight, she viewed each position she held as a tremendous learning experience. “Think of yourself as a sponge,” she advised. “Ask questions. Surround yourself with smart people.” Corio said her business career has been highlighted by people willing to take a risk on her, and offering her a position in something she’d never done before.
“I took the treasurer job at JP Morgan, even though I felt unprepared for it. I took it because the CEO said I was good in a crisis and he trusted that I’d learn what I needed to.”
In most cases, she said, “I was ready to say no [to the job], because I was comfortable where I was. But I knew it was important to embrace changes and challenges. That gets scarier the more senior you get,” she confessed, “because the risks are larger. I took the treasurer job at JP Morgan, even though I felt unprepared for it. I took it because the CEO said I was good in a crisis and he trusted that I’d learn what I needed to. He also said he had my back. Being able to say to someone ‘I think you can do it, and I got your back’ is great for creating a team.”
Garten also asked Corio to expand on her strengths and how they played a role in her success. Corio quickly identified two chief strengths: problem-solving and building a great team, “including two or three people who can replace me. The only way you’ll get a more senior job is to have replacements in line being groomed. You want two or three guys who are hungry and want your job.”
Following this train of thought, Garten asked Corio to describe the traits she seeks out in team members. “They have to be able to communicate, with precision, and they must be good listeners.” Corio also explained that she surrounds herself with subject-matter experts, as she’s first to acknowledge that she’s not an expert in all subjects.
“The only way you’ll get a more senior job is to have replacements in line being groomed. You want two or three guys who are hungry and want your job.”
Upon reflection, Garten commented the CFO often serves as the conscience of an organization, in terms of protecting its values. He then asked Corio how she ensures that the people on her team possess the right values, in addition to being a great communicator, technically qualified, and hungry to succeed.
Corio’s response was simple: values are key. Integrity is key. She explained, “Often we have to make judgments and that requires integrity. We also need to hear the pros and cons of a situation, so we need a balanced perspective as well as the individual’s point of view on it. I want people to be able to argue both sides of an idea.”
As the discussion progressed, Garten switched gears and redirected to the financial crisis that began in 2008, asking Corio to share how her career evolved as a result of the recession. and what she can share with executives who haven’t yet directly navigated a crisis.
“We need to realize that things can change overnight, literally. … Make sure your information and communication are good, especially in a crisis.”
“It was scary,” replied Corio. “I’d never in my professional career realized the depth of how big the problems could be. I never before realized things were as fragile as they were. We all need to reflect on what happened and why. We need to realize that things can change overnight, literally. Also, information matters. Make sure your information and communication are good, especially in a crisis. This is critical.”
ABOUT NORMA CORIO:
Norma Corio is Chief Financial Officer of American Express Global Business Travel (GBT), responsible for overall financial management of the company, its financial reporting and transparency, and for multiple corporate functions including Controller, Treasury, Tax, Audit, Pricing, Billing, and Financial Planning and Analysis.
Previously, Ms. Corio served as Co-President and a Managing Director of Miller Buckfire, a leading restructuring firm focused on providing strategic and financial advisory services in distressed situations. Prior to joining Miller Buckfire, Ms. Corio spent 30 years working at JPMorgan Chase & Co. Most recently, she served as Head of the Special Investments Group, which invested in financially challenged companies. In August 2008, Ms. Corio was appointed Treasurer of JP Morgan Chase, responsible for the direct management of the firm’s $2.3 Trillion balance sheet, capital, global funding and liquidity, insurance services, and relationships with credit rating agencies. Previously, she was Managing Director and Head of Restructuring in the firm’s Investment Banking division. Ms. Corio also held positions in corporate finance and lending, investor relations, and credit and risk management.
Ms. Corio earned an MBA in Banking and Finance from Pace University and a BA in Economics from LeMoyne College. She has served on the National and New York Boards of Directors of the Turnaround Management Association, the American Bankruptcy Institute, Johnson Publishing Company, and Her Justice (f.k.a. inMotion), a non-profit organization which provides free legal services to women and children in need in New York City.
ABOUT JEFFREY E. GARTEN:
Jeffrey. E. Garten is Dean Emeritus at the Yale School of Management, where he teaches courses on the global economy and crisis management. His new book, From Silk to Silicon: the Story of Globalization Through Ten Extraordinary Lives, will be published in March 2016 (HarperCollins.)
He was dean of the Yale School of Management from 1995-2005 and has been teaching at the school since he stepped down. Prior to serving as dean, he was undersecretary of commerce for international trade, 1993-1995, where he focused on trade and investment negotiations and policy toward big emerging markets—particularly China, India, and Brazil. Before government service, he spent 13 years on Wall Street. As a managing director of Lehman Brothers, he specialized in debt restructuring in Latin America, built up Lehman’s investment banking business in Asia, and restructured some of the world’s largest shipping companies in Hong Kong. Later he worked on mergers and acquisitions for the Blackstone Group. From 1997-2005, he wrote a monthly column for BusinessWeek on major challenges facing global business leaders. His articles have also appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and the Harvard Business Review.
A graduate of Dartmouth College (BA) and Johns Hopkins University (PhD), from 1968-1972 he served as a lieutenant in the 82nd Airborne, aide-de-camp to the commanding general of the Special Forces, and advisor to the Royal Thai Army.
He is married to Ina Garten (“The Barefoot Contessa”), author of nine best-selling cookbooks and host of an Emmy-award winning cooking show on TV around the world.