Clients are increasingly making it clear that diversity is of paramount importance, and they expect more. They want to know that people with different perspectives are at the table. Different insights, backgrounds and experience lead to innovation and creative solutions when it comes to problem solving. Also, there are more incentives and other offerings such as diversity fellowships that attract more candidates reflecting the global marketplace. There appears to be more effort to retain these team members through various programming meant to illustrate how they can have rewarding, fulfilling careers in what once was a very homogenous work environment.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Hutchinson. Kelly is a special counsel in the Government and Public Finance group at law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP. As special counsel in the Government and Public Finance group, Kelly knows how to advise governments who require access to the capital markets on how to issue general obligation and revenue bonds while adhering to regulations that govern municipal securities.
Thank you for joining us, Kelly! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Finance field?
I enrolled in Pomona College in Southern California and majored in media studies with aspirations of going into the entertainment industry, potentially acting or directing. However, my father suggested I spend some time at his alma mater, the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. I applied for the Business Bridge Program offered during the summer to undergraduates with liberal arts, science, and engineering backgrounds to give them the business knowledge, skills and experience necessary to leverage their education in the business workplace and beyond. That four-week immersive program, rooted in experiential project-based learning and personalized coaching and career development, set me on a different career path. When I got back to campus at Pomona, it was too late to change my major, but I began taking a heavy load of finance courses, which later led me to become an investment banking analyst in the oil and gas industry. I leveraged that experience into a role at a financial advisory firm where I advised large municipalities on bond financing and eventually became a Vice President and the chief compliance officer. That led to an opportunity with the State of Illinois as Director of Capital Markets where I spent more than three years managing $30 billion of debt and raising over $10 billion of debt in the capital market. Using that experience, I easily transitioned to Katten as special counsel in the Government and Public Finance practice, advising governments on the issuance of general obligation and revenue bonds.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
Shortly after joining the State as Director of Capital Markets, I was pregnant with my first child. During my first year at the State, I had set an aggressive schedule to enter the market seven times with competitive and negotiated sales and refunding transactions. The State had been out of the market for over a year and was in the midst of an unprecedented budget impasse. It would take extensive work with the rating agencies and investors to prepare the sale. During that time, the letter of credit associated with $600 million variable rate portfolio was expiring as well. To say the least, my plate was full. From March to November in 2016, I aggressively worked on my execution plan. Five days before my Nov. 7 due date, I closed the sixth deal, a $1.2 billion refunding that experienced several bumps in the road during execution. With one more sale left, I had a call scheduled for Nov. 2 to discuss the process and market for the next day’s competitive sale. On that call, my water broke and my doctor ordered me to go to the hospital immediately. My son arrived at 4 a.m. on Nov. 3 and two hours later I was back online preparing for my competitive bid. When my general counsel saw my emails, she told me she would remove me from the server if I didn’t stop. It was what I needed to hear at the time to switch gears, to disconnect from work and trust the sale would work out so I could focus on motherhood. After two months of maternity leave, I went back to work part time at first. I loved being a mom and spending time with my wonderful son, but I missed my job. If you do what you love, it doesn’t feel like work. Working in Public Finance is rewarding because I am helping people in my small way. It gives me purpose, making me a better, more fulfilled mother.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Practicing public finance law gives me an opportunity to work with government entities on capital projects that benefit the public such as hospitals, schools, roads and stadiums. Currently, I am working with a large government entity to lower the interest on some of its outstanding debt, which will help save taxpayers money for many years to come.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
In my view, Katten stands apart because of the supportive, welcoming and inclusive culture. I feel that firm leadership genuinely cares about my career growth and strives to help me cultivate my skills and experience as an attorney. I have worked with Katten’s attorneys in the public finance group for many years — on my first day at my new job as a municipal advisor I was sent to the firm’s office to work on a closing. I have always been impressed with their quality of work and the aptitude for thinking through business issues. The attorneys I work with have mastered the approach of offering strategic and creative solutions to clients and are also genuinely kind people that make Katten a collegial workplace. On top of that, Katten is one of only five law firms that earned a place this year on Working Mother’s list of 100 Best Companies. That signals to me that as a woman and a working mother, I am valued here and that the firm fosters a greater work-life balance. That matters to me especially as a mother of a toddler who turns 3 in November and as a dedicated attorney who wants to succeed in her career.
Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
There has been some gradual change that I think is the result of at least a few different approaches. Clients are increasingly making it clear that diversity is of paramount importance, and they expect more. They want to know that people with different perspectives are at the table. Different insights, backgrounds and experience lead to innovation and creative solutions when it comes to problem solving. Also, there are more incentives and other offerings such as diversity fellowships that attract more candidates reflecting the global marketplace. There appears to be more effort to retain these team members through various programming meant to illustrate how they can have rewarding, fulfilling careers in what once was a very homogenous work environment.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?
As individuals, we must realize that it is not enough to just work hard. We must also take the initiative to find professional development opportunities and network at social and industry events to make connections with key people in your industry and particularly in your peer group because as you rise in your career so will they. Companies can and should continue to do the outreach necessary to dispel the notion that women and minority groups cannot succeed in the industry. Companies can be supportive by spotlighting successful female role models, partnering women with mentors to help them advance in their careers and to leadership roles, and providing flexible work schedules including remote work policies. That would help employees balance their work responsibilities and family needs and still stay productive and ascend up the career ladder.
You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive essentials for smart investing what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?
Smart investment when you’re young requires discipline and the realization that time flies.
1. Plan for retirement. It’s essential to start early if you want to be positioned to continue living your best life even after regular paychecks end.
2. Ask for raises. You are your best advocate. Take stock of your work accomplishments, current responsibilities and goals and make your case for why you deserve the raise.
3. Invest in yourself. Pay for career growth opportunities and membership dues to organizations in your profession or community. Networking will help your career advance and will expose you to additional opportunities.
4. Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks, before you have any major responsibilities. Find what you are passionate about and do it. If you do what you love, it’s easier to excel.
5. Set your financial goals early and stick to them without fail. Hold yourself accountable.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
To name one person, it would be my father, who instilled in me a strong work ethic by expecting good grades and starting me off in the corporate world at age 16 with a summer job at an insurance company. He is still my closest advisor and biggest advocate. He is the reason that my career took a sharp turn to finance. By age 29, my father owned Interurban Broadcasting, one of the first black-owned radio broadcasting companies. Despite his success and holding an MBA, he revealed his one regret was not attending law school. He considered a law degree as a “backstage pass to everything,” meaning that the law permeates everything that we do professionally and personally. He said to me, “You can be a business person without an MBA, but you can’t be a lawyer without a JD.” He inspired me to go to law school and gave me the confidence to do anything I put my mind to. In moments of self-doubt, he tells me, “You have been trained for this.” I am fortunate to have such a strong relationship with my father, and to see him imparting the lessons that he taught me to my son.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I appreciate the late Shirley Chisholm’s signature political campaign slogan: “Unbought and Unbossed.” Your true guide in life are your values. Know your worth and guard your integrity as your most valuable possession. That’s not only imperative for a lawyer but for a woman of color. My other favorite quote: “If it was easy, everyone would be able to do it.” When life gets tough professionally or personally, I remind myself to stay the course and persevere.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?
I would like to see a greater involvement in philanthropy from diverse groups of people. Everyone can participate through volunteering or contributing financial donations — big or small — to make an impact and support causes, issues, programs or initiatives we feel are important in society to make the world a better place for all.
Thank you for all of these great insights!