In the business of mentorship: Harriet Edelman, vice chairman, Emigrant Bank
By Alexandra Loizzo-Desai
Note: This excerpt was originally published in Fordham Magazine and was re-published here on GabelliConnect.
Growing up in New York, Harriet Edelman caught the business bug early, from listening to her father’s dinnertime stories about his work as a vice president for production at a company in the garment district. But she also had a passion for music. So she studied piano performance at Bucknell University, thinking she might eventually be able to combine music with business later on in her career.
But shortly after deciding to pursue a master’s degree in music, Edelman, next month’s keynote speaker at Fordham’s second annual Women’s Philanthropy Summit, realized she was taking the wrong path.
“It sounds like an apocryphal story,” Edelman admits, “but I woke up one morning and said, ‘I’m doing the wrong thing.’ So I took the GMAT, applied to Fordham, and started going to business school at night that September.”
She was attracted to Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business because of the University’s culture, which the 1980 grad describes as “scrappy, diverse, with no pretensions. And you can still feel that now.”
Two years after enrolling in Fordham’s MBA program, where she concentrated in marketing and operations research, she got a job in marketing at Avon. Over the course of 25 years there, she worked her way up through several marketing and product development positions and later led the sales organization and global supply chain—until she ended up in IT. “I had not written a piece of code since I had been in the seventh grade,” she laughs, “but they felt I understood the global IT area well enough to run it while we recruited a CIO.” She fell in love with the job and ended up as senior vice president and chief information officer for eight years.
She left the company in 2008 to deal with family matters and, for flexibility, decided to focus on expanding her positions as a board member for two public companies. But she was soon recruited as vice chairman at Emigrant Bank, which Fordham founder Archbishop John Hughes helped establish. The bank’s values and ethos have a lot in common with those of her graduate alma mater, Edelman says, noting that both were founded to support Irish immigrants. And, she adds, she loves working for an organization whose “footprint is primarily in the community.”
“It almost seems like, no matter who I meet, if I tell them where I work it’s like, ‘Oh, I had my first mortgage with you,’” she says. “It’s terrific to see the values and legacy of the bank in action.”
Edelman especially enjoys using the diverse experiences and knowledge she’s gained to support young women as they begin their own careers, something she does often with her own daughter, Julia, now a first-year law student at Fordham, and her friends.
“I’m close with several of her friends,” Edelman explains, “and I’ve met with several of them often, either helping them write résumés or coaching them on how to handle work situations that sometimes get political. Early in my career I had terrific mentors, people who explained the dynamics that weren’t apparent to a young person starting out in the workforce. And that was tremendously beneficial to me. So I have a great time with her friends, soaking in the stories, and helping them if I can.”
Though sometimes, she says, they already know exactly what to do. “I’m so impressed with this generation. Sometimes they tell me the situation, and I just ask what they think they should do next, and they’ve got it. They just need to hear themselves speak it.”
She hopes to touch on some of these themes on October 24 at the Women’s Philanthropy Summit on the Lincoln Center campus.
“Part of what’s important for women and women’s development,” Edelman says, “is leadership, not only in terms of your professional life but your full life.”