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Where Women Have Truly Broken the Glass Ceiling

Forté Foundation
Forté Foundation
Where Women Have Truly Broken the Glass Ceiling

Elissa Sangster: Welcome back to our three part series on careers at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset management firm. Barbara Novick is Vice Chairman of BlackRock, and one of the firm’s founders.
Barbara Novick: Hi, I’m Barbara Novick. I’m one of the founders of BlackRock. I currently head our government relations and public policy efforts. For over 20 years I headed what we now call a global client group, which was responsible for all business development, marketing, and client service across all business and across all products.
Elissa: We asked Barbara what sets the firm apart.
Barbara: BlackRock is different in a number of ways. When we started the firm, all eight of us came from what’s called the sell side, and we came with a different perspective. So rather than coming from a buy side firm and trying to replicate what we had seen, we actually sort of came at it in a way that everything was fresh, and we said, “What should it look like?” Not, “What does it look like at another firm?” That doesn’t mean we didn’t look at other firms, but we ended up being a leader rather than a follower. Very much forward thinking. What are the new trends? What’s coming next? How should we position the firm? And less looking back.
Of course, we had no legacy systems. We had no legacy products. It’s very easy to do that when you’re new.
We also put, from the very beginning, an emphasis on teamwork. Very client-centric business model. Thinking about what could we do for clients from a solutions-based marketing approach, and how could we bring in the resources of the firm, literally across the firm, from any portfolio group to operations groups to legal, to any questions clients might have, really forming client teams and answering clients’ questions more broadly. So very little silo-ing and very much a one BlackRock approach.
The culture is really, like I said, one of teamwork. It is designed around a client-centric business model. Many firms in asset management are more siloed, very product oriented, or very individually focused. What we try to do, everything from our compensation model to how we cyclically rewarded people was to encourage them to think about the client first, and to be part of a broader client team, as opposed to just their own area.
Elissa: Barbara spoke about careers in financial services, and why she chose asset management.
Barbara: Asset management is a great career. First of all, it’s interesting. It’s always changing. If you like finance and you like capital markets, you’re very much involved in those aspects of the financial services sector. What I particularly like is you’re all on what I call the same side as the client. If you’re at a sell side firm, everything you do, you’re buying, you’re selling, there’s a price you’re negotiating. As a buy side firm, you establish a relationship. You’re really selling trust, and it’s a very different business model. It’s one that is, I think, really a lot of fun. We are fiduciaries to our clients. It shows in everything that we do. And if the clients win, we win, and vice versa. So being on the same side as the client, I think, is a nice place to be, and builds a very different kind of relationship with the clients.
Lots of people say things like, “You either evolve or you become a dinosaur,” and in this industry that’s absolutely true. Over the course of the years we started out very much as a boutique manager in the mortgage and asset backed area. We rapidly expanded into a broader fixed income. Over the years we also started buying other companies and building an equity platform, and most recently, we did a very large transaction which has taken us from the active space to the passive space. So today BlackRock is a very large asset manager. Actually, the largest in the world. We have over $3 trillion under management. And that includes passive and active equity fixed income cash alternatives, and it gives us the ability to deliver all sorts of solutions to clients that we would not otherwise be able to if we were one product or only two of the four things like that.
Looking forward and looking at trends has been a strength of the firm, and understanding that there’s been an ongoing separation of what’s called Alpha and Beta in the industry, and positioning ourselves to play in both the Alpha and the Beta spaces, and to create customized solutions for clients that maybe go across products, has been really instrumental to our growth and success, and I think going forward we are uniquely positioned in having all the different pieces in asset management.
Elissa: Barbara also spoke about the opportunities for women in financial services from her point of view as a veteran leader in the field.
Barbara: We started our business in 1988, and I’ve been building my career at BlackRock for 22+ years. Going from startup to small to medium to large to global to truly the market leader in the world. A lot of things have happened in 22+ years, and it’s a fun place and an interesting place, and it’s always changing, and it’s always dynamic, and it’s always interesting.
I think in financial services especially, when you look at the role women have played, too often it’s been in support roles, and I think we’ve demonstrated at BlackRock … Two of the original eight founders were women. Both of us have had fantastic careers at BlackRock. At BlackRock there are women, senior women in portfolio management, senior women in risk and quantitative analysis, senior women in BlackRock solutions, senior women in the global client group. As well as in all of the infrastructure groups, legal and compliance, HR, and finance. So it’s really a great example of role models who are there for younger women and it’s a great example of financial services firm where women have broken that glass ceiling and have really thrived in their careers.
Elissa: Thank you for joining us for this profile of BlackRock and careers in financial services. For more information visit BlackRock online at

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