Women in Business Q&A: Julia McCarthy, Executive Vice President, Workplace Marketing, Solutions and Experience, Fidelity Investments


Julia McCarthy is executive vice president, Workplace Marketing, Solutions & Experience for the Workplace Investing (WI) business of Fidelity Investments, a leading provider of investment management, retirement planning, portfolio guidance, brokerage, benefits outsourcing and other financial products and services to more than 23 million individuals, institutions and financial intermediaries.

Ms. McCarthy leads an organization responsible for improving customer engagement and outcomes for nearly 25 million plan participants from more than 20,000 Fidelity plan sponsor clients offering Defined Contribution, Defined Benefit, Health & Welfare, Non-Qualified plans and Health Savings Accounts. She and her team are focused on understanding the needs of plan sponsors and behaviors of Fidelity plan participants, and designing solutions and engagement models to help sponsors and participants maximize the value of their benefits plans. Ms. McCarthy also oversees internal and external communications for the WI business.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
It starts with my parents, who worked hard for everything they had. My mother was from Ireland and the oldest girl of 13 children. Her life was all about determination -- she had no tolerance for excuses for why something couldn't be done. My father was committed to doing what was needed to support our family of six. There was no work that was beneath him and he would always lend a hand to those in need.

While my parents helped shape me as a leader, mother, wife, sister and friend, my leadership skills are influenced by many inspiring people I've worked with over the years. You learn something valuable from everyone you encounter, although you may not realize it at the time.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Fidelity?
From my early jobs and through my career, it's been all about the customer. It started with babysitting when I was young, then working as a grocery store check-out clerk and bank teller, a stint in retail, serving customers in a mutual fund call center, in Human Resources supporting a business, many years in relationship management serving clients and now leading a team that is extremely focused on the customer. My personal journey helped me learn the key premise of customer care: put the customer first, ask questions and listen. I can't stress enough the importance of listening.

Fidelity is all about the customer experience and I could not be at a better organization to build on what I believe to be the foundation of success.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Fidelity?
The highlights far outweigh the challenges. I'm blessed to be surrounded by incredibly talented people at Fidelity − we share a passion for creating value for employers by helping them achieve their benefits and workforce strategy, and driving financial well-being for their employees.

Another highlight is the opportunity to lead a team that has such impact, with responsibility for our products and customer experience, and how we engage our thousands of employers and their millions of employees.

The challenge is making difficult decisions around prioritizing what we do - we have no shortage of great ideas in anticipating our customer's needs. We want to do it all but need to take a disciplined approach. It's a problem we're lucky to have.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
My advice fits both financial services and other industries: be true to yourself as a person and as a leader. Leadership is not just for those who lead teams. Women have a responsibility to set an example for everyone around them.

At some point along the way you choose (mindful or not) the type of career you aspire to and the level of demands on your time, mind and life you are prepared to live up to. Be true to this. To be happy and successful in life, be confident in your decisions and the path you take.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
It's very simple: "never close the file on someone." Always be open to recognizing and understanding the dynamic nature of people -- they grow, change and evolve. It is powerful insight and drives my approach to leadership. It's also something to remember in your personal life.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Work-life balance is incredibly important to me as a mom, wife, sister and friend; and professionally, to set a good example for those around me.

My family is my greatest joy and first priority. I'm lucky to have a career I love that rounds out my life. I've been fortunate to work for leaders, men and women, who set great examples of prioritizing family and work. When I'm at work, I'm there 100% and try hard to always be in the moment, despite competing priorities and pressure on time. When I'm at home, I have a 100% focus on my family.

I learned a hard lesson many years ago, when one Saturday morning my son, who was around 10 at the time, asked me if he could have my boss's phone number. He wanted to call him to ask if I could have Mother's Day off. Definitely not a proud moment for me. From that day on I was very concerted in managing my time and prioritizing at home.

You can strike a balance - be clear on your priorities, able to flex in extreme circumstances and transparent with your manager about your needs.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
It's the pressure we put on ourselves to be "everything to everyone" and not to let anything go. But it's a manageable problem - the key: be willing to make decisions about what to let go. That's something I always have to remind myself.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentors made me who I am today, but not always mentoring in the formal sense -- there are people who have been a mentor and didn't know they were doing so.

I will never forget one mentor who impacted my professional life the most. He gave me leadership examples early in my career that helped make me who I am today. He always brought me to the table, encouraged me to engage, made it clear my voice mattered despite my youth and tenure, and empowered me on so many levels. I learned more from him than I can describe and have worked hard to represent the best of him. I've also had female mentors, several of the strongest at Fidelity, who I follow carefully to watch and learn.

In my personal life, I am blessed with a sister and several wonderful friends who exemplify the best of what a person can be through caring, compassion and giving. These are some of my most fulfilling relationships.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are many female leaders at Fidelity who I admire for their exceptional leadership. They are bold in their commitments and set a tone of "anything is possible" - this is very much part of Fidelity's DNA as well as mine. We are thoughtful about the possibilities and impact our business can have, and when we hone in, we excel to the benefit of our customers.

Looking broadly, I have great admiration for Mother Theresa -- she committed her life to helping others. I have incredible respect for her choices in the interest of others. I also admire Oprah Winfrey - she breaks the boundaries on the possibilities for women with her determination and laser-focused priorities. She worked hard to achieve success and make her life meaningful. Oprah sets an example by committing to things that matter and having an impact on others by giving back.

I won't ever forget what my mother did during her life and her "of course I can and will get it done" attitude. I see those qualities living on strongly with my sister.'

What do you want Fidelity to accomplish in the next year?
I am excited about what is ahead for Fidelity. I'm very passionate about the ways we are working with women and inspiring them to learn more about their finances and take control. We know this is something women worry about, but don't always feel equipped to solve. We are helping empower them and build their confidence so they can reach their financial goals.