Leslie Rahl, Capital Market Risk Advisors: Career Path

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Rahl joined Citibank immediately after earning her graduate degree at MIT. She took on a succession of banking duties that put her in the "right place at the right time" when the bank turned its attention toward new securities products called "derivatives."

"There were so few women, Kathy Wriston (wife of Citibank's then-chief executive Walter B. Wriston) used to hold quarterly luncheons for us in her apartment," says Rahl.

Rahl didn't dwell on the era's sexism, despite earning undergraduate and graduate degrees from one of the most prestigious universities in the world and only being offered positions in staffing and operations management. Over the next ten years, her responsibilities grew to include managing 250 people. Still, "I wanted out of the staffing and operational management side of the business. I wanted to go to the investment bank," she says. When she was offered a position as chief of staff, Rahl suggested a deal: She'd take the job if after a year she could learn trading. The bank agreed.

The Right Place, The Right Times

As it turned out, her timing was good. In 1983, shortly before she was to begin her education in trading, the Chicago Board of Trade introduced bond options. Executives at Citibank "turned to me and said, 'You don't know anything about trading, but at least you went to MIT. Maybe you could figure these out.'"

And she did. As the bond options area expanded, so did Rahl's job. Soon, she was running Citibank's proprietary options business, then its complete derivatives business. "So it was truly being in the right place at the right time with the right education," she says. Not only was her quant training put to work, but so were other approaches learned at MIT, for example, "how to take complex problems and divide them up into smaller pieces, one of which is manageable even though the aggregate may seem overwhelming. Something can seem really complex, but if you break it down into pieces, each one is soluble."

Rahl saw the derivatives business at Citibank through its early years and accepted a seat on the board of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association. In 1990, she took a three-month maternity leave, returning soon after the Federal Reserve took over the bank's operations, prompted by the real estate crash, money laundering investigations and a deep drop in the bank's capital. Working in such a tense atmosphere "was not a way I wanted to spend my time," Rahl says. At 40, she resigned to set up a consultancy of her own, drawing her initial clients from former Citibank colleagues who'd also left the firm.

Her Own Opportunity

Unique at the time, Capital Markets Risk Advisors offered risk analysis of investment models and advised boards on risk governance. She attributes the success of the business to her ability to act as a translator in a complex world. "I can talk quants and models, but I can also talk governance and (about) what trustees and senior managers need to know, and what institutional investors worry about. I can work at both the quant level and the strategic level," she says.

For women wanting to punch up their profile on Wall Street, Rahl offers this advice: "Not only be known in your career and acquire experience in your field, but be very good at what you do. Then get board experience on a not-for-profit board. There's a lot you can learn that's applicable to a corporate board." The reality, she says, is "you're not going to get on a for-profit board at this stage of your career without considerable credentials and experience." While special breaks do come along, says Rahl, you have to be ready by having the education to take advantage of them.

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