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Career advice from Ellen Alemany, CEO and chairwoman of CIT Group

Featured Events | Apr 01, 2019 |

Ellen Alemany, MBA ’80, speaks with Donna Rapaccioli at a fireside chat on March 26, 2019.

Reading a résumé with roles including head of The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) Americas, CEO for Global Transaction Services at Citigroup, and board member of Fidelity National Information Services, Inc., The Center for Discovery, Operation HOPE, and the Partnership for New York City, one might come to the conclusion that the person behind this résumé knows a thing or two about building a career.

That person is Ellen Alemany, MBA ’80, and she is currently CEO and chairwoman of both CIT Group and CIT Bank. At a fireside chat on March 26 at the Gabelli School, she spoke of implementing a three-year strategic plan at CIT, finding your competitive strength as a mid-size company, and how keeping the community engaged will help your brand. She also shared career advice based on her own experience.

Below are five tips from Alemany that can apply to anyone looking to begin or advance in any industry.

“You can’t expect someone to say ‘this is what you should do or not do.’ You really have to search for it yourself.”

By this, Alemany doesn’t mean that you should ignore other people’s advice; in fact, it’s the opposite. She suggests talking to as many people as possible and networking whenever you can so that you can find out what you want to do. “Be inquisitive,” she encourages.

“Look for every learning opportunity.”

Alemany says she was fortunate because Chase paid for her MBA, but she still needed to take the initiative to pursue it. Beyond that, she also took credit training and “tried to take advantage of every program possible.” Whatever the learning opportunities are in your desired industry, they are worth the effort.

“Ask for feedback.”

It can sometimes be hard, Alemany acknowledges, to hear negative feedback about yourself, but she has found “if you can listen to it, and try to pick a couple of things you’re going to work on, it will help advance you.”

“Sometimes, it’s not about moving up—it’s also about moving sideways. ”

Alemany believes different work experiences can be important for building a broad background. Instead of trying to immediately climb the ladder, she worked in such varied areas as bank operations, credit training, the front office, and leveraged finance before moving into lateral management positions that helped her in her current role as CEO. “By working in all of these jobs,” she says, “it prepares you for the tough roles.”

“It’s about resiliency.”

No role is going to be perfect all of the time, and there may be “a lot of times you want to just throw in the towel,” says Alemany. Whether it’s a difficult manager, or an unsuccessful project, there will always be challenges. But she stresses that “sometimes it’s worth it to stay in one place for a while and learn a lot.”

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