Women in Business Q&A: Leslie McNamara, Managing Director of Partner Management, Citi Retail Services

Leslie McNamara

Leslie McNamara is Managing Director of Partner Management for Citi Retail Services, one of North America's largest and most experienced retail credit solutions providers.

In her role, Leslie provides strategic direction and leadership for Citi's retail partner private label and co-brand credit card programs for portfolios including The Home Depot, Best Buy and Sears. She brings multi-channel retailing expertise, trend insights and analytics capabilities to benefit retail partners and help them grow their businesses, especially in this digital era, when consumerism is undergoing a fundamental shift.

Leslie joined Citi in early 2002 and has held positions of increasing responsibility in Partner Management, Marketing and Customer Engagement. Previously, she held positions with CoreStates Financial Corp, Mellon Bank, Qwest Interactive, and Proctor & Gamble.

Last year, PaymentsSource magazine named Leslie one of the 2015 Most Influential Women in Payments. Based in Wilmington, Delaware, Leslie can often be found on the road or in the air as she travels across the country for client meetings and shopping sprees -- for research purposes, of course.

Q: How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My family's motto is, "if there's a harder way, we'll find it." I truly believe that the wisdom I've learned from failure has provided the foundation for my success. It's from the situations in which you haven't made the right or best choice that you learn the most and can course correct for future improvement. My biggest failures have led to my biggest successes.

Q: How has your previous employment experience aided you at Citi Retail Services?
Throughout my career in financial services and consulting, I've held client-facing roles. The skills I've acquired to be able to understand how different industries and organizations function and the common characteristics that make them successful have been invaluable.

Occupying lateral positions provided me with broad-based expertise as opposed to solely a specific skillset in one function and has given me the opportunity to be considered for increasingly senior positions that require strategic thinking on a holistic scale.

Q: What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Citi Retail Services?
The highlights of my time so far at Citi Retail Services have been the good fortune to work with a team of immensely talented people who are all here for a common purpose: to serve retail clients because they genuinely love the business. Because many of us have been part of the retail cards space for more than a decade, we have a unique, collaborative connection in terms of our clarity, mission and why we're here that transcends the day-to-day issues and enables us to serve clients in a highly effective manner.

The single largest challenge we've collectively faced was the 2008 financial crisis and resulting recession-- a time of great uncertainty and instability for most. It was an immensely difficult time period, but one that ultimately brought sharply into focus our strategy and core mission. Our business team came together and was honest and forthright about what was working - and what wasn't - and the clarity of purpose emerged that really has been the hallmark of our success since.

Q: What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
The importance of developing a strong voice and using it -- with conviction. Have a command of the facts, a point of view and believe your perspective is valuable. Be fearless about making your thoughts heard and don't allow the status quo or popular opinion dictate how you command a room.

Q: What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Being talented isn't just about competence; it's also about being confident.

The shortage of female confidence is well documented and quantified. Compared with men, women don't consider themselves as ready for promotions; they predict they'll earn less money; and they generally underestimate their abilities. But by carrying this reticence through our day jobs, we're limiting ourselves and allowing others to limit us ... drastically.

Throughout my career, I've acquired confidence and learned to take risks, bigger challenges and push myself to take on new and different projects. I've come to the realization that you don't have to be perfect -- you just have to be good enough.

Q: How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I'm not a proponent of the idea of achieving work/life balance or that you can "have it all" at once. Rather, you can have it all, but probably not all at the same time. The more we focus on priorities and what is right for us at this time, the happier and more successful we can be.

Through different chapters of my life, I've had different priorities. For example, when my son was an infant, I chose to work three days a week. Fast forward a few years to when he was older and in pre-school, I decided to lean in to my career and go back to work full-time. Three years later, my husband became an at home dad and I went "full bore" in a highly travel-based role. It's important to periodically ask yourself what is the priority for you, for your life, for your family, at this moment in time?

Q: What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
There aren't enough of us. Women's presence in top management positions today remains below 9%, and only 4.6% of the overall S&P 500 labor force are female CEOs, according to a recent report by the Center for American Progress. In Harvard Business Review's latest "Best-Performing CEOs in the World" (November 2015), 98 out of the 100 CEOs are men. We can do better and we can do it by helping each other and pulling others through.

The system needs to bend to help talented, driven women succeed. Many companies have instituted women's leadership programs to help propel women into the pipeline but we can't just rely on these to effect change on a broad spectrum. Keep your eyes wide open and seize every opportunity to jumpstart your own career and foster the talent of other promising women as they enter the workforce.

Q: How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Life is a continuous mentorship experience; I'm perpetually connecting with people to share experiences and best practices in both my professional and personal life. But, what has been invaluable in my career and helped catapult it forward has been sponsorship. Obtaining a sponsor - a champion who can open doors, use his/her social capital and credibility to advocate on your behalf and make things happen - has been a game changer.

Sponsors - who, in my case, have largely been men - have made a significant difference for me in my personal and professional life. They have been powerful advocates willing to stand up for me and push me forward. I've been lucky to have these relationships at pivotal moments in my career and I'm incredibly grateful for their investment in my career.

Q: Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
From a general perspective, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, for the way she handled herself in a time and place that wasn't overly welcoming to women, has been very inspiring for me. She has had the courage to be vocal about her struggles and unapologetically speak up, often saying, "It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent."

Within the retail industry, I've been incredibly fortunate to work with a number of very senior women among our clients. For example, Carol Tomé, Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President of Corporate Services at The Home Depot, is an inspiration. Her genuine concern and care for the employees, customers and stores is readily apparent and she walks the talk - literally - as she often can be found in stores, perusing the aisles. She takes it upon herself to stay abreast of the organization at all levels and as a leader, is the ideal mix of tough and in touch.

Q: What do you want Citi Retail Services to accomplish in the next year?
With the rapid adoption of e-commerce and the proliferation of smartphone devices (a whopping 64% of Americans own one, according to the Pew Research Center), the consumer now has an ability and expectation to get anything, anytime, anywhere. The shopping journey is fundamentally changing.

It's an incredibly exciting time in the payments industry to draw a new road map and create the next generation of payments solutions. The in-store experience will continue to be the bedrock of retail as consumers are inherently tactile but the transactional component is undergoing a radical transformation.

Citi Retail Services is at the forefront of this as we work with our retail partners to innovate and accelerate change in delivering a superior, highly personalized omnichannel experience for customers. In 2016, digital is by default and I'm proud to say that we have the expertise and tools to provide thought leadership to retailers and help them through this tremendous shift to emerge ahead of the pack.