Leveraging Diverse Mentors and Sponsors in Career Development

A conversation with Libby Cantrill of PIMCO

We kick-off part II of our SIFMA DE&I Podcast series with PIMCO’s Head of Public Policy, Libby Cantrill, for a discussion on Libby’s career path starting from what sparked her initial interest in finance to her time on Capitol Hill and the journey that has led to her current role at PIMCO.

She shares insights on the role of mentors and sponsors throughout her career which provided her with an important example early on that you can be a pioneer but at the same time be a parent and/or a spouse. She shares the challenges she faced as she evolved, and advice she’d give the younger generation as they think about their career development.

For more information on fostering and expanding workforce, client, and supplier diversity equity and inclusion, please visit www.sifma.org/diversity.


Edited for clarity

Cheryl Crispen: Thanks for joining us for the latest episode in SIFMA’s DE&I podcast series. I’m Cheryl Crispen, Executive Vice President and Head of DE&I at SIFMA. Today I’m speaking with Libby Cantrill, Managing Director and Head of Public Policy at PIMCO. We’ll talk about the firm’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and their efforts to recruit and retain diverse talent in the financial services industry. Welcome Libby.

Libby Cantrill: Thank you, Cheryl, it’s nice to be here.

Cheryl Crispen: Before we dive into our discussion, I’d love to hear more about your career path. What sparked your interest in finance? I know you spent some time up on Capitol Hill as well. What led you to your current role at PIMCO? What has helped you grow as you’ve advanced in your career and your current role?

Libby Cantrill: Yes, I would actually start first with sort of the policy side of my job. As kind of a baseline, I think about policy risk and political risk for PIMCO’s investment committee. I speak to our clients about the same topics, and I also read policy engagement for the firm. I’d always been interested in policy, actually going back to age 14. I spent a summer volunteering for a campaign of a woman who was running for the state legislature in my home state of Colorado. I used to ride my bicycle down to her headquarters and that sort of formalized what has been now a lifelong interest in policy and politics and in many ways public service.

When I was in college, I was deciding between investment banking and the Peace Corps. So it sort of showed you where my heart was. I was pretty confused, I would say. But I’d always been interested in math and economics and again, sort of macro, both from a policy perspective and then from an economics perspective. I joined Morgan Stanley in their investment banking analyst division, I think by my own admission, it was certainly a bull market hire. I was hired in the fall of 1999, right before the tech bubble burst. I joined the tech corporate finance group at Morgan Stanley, spent three years there, really enjoyed my time, learned a lot, worked incredibly hard, and really sort of tested the boundary of hard work in many ways.

But then when a lot of my colleagues at Morgan Stanley were going on to private equity firms or going back to business school, I decided to kind of scratch the itch that I’d always had and moved down to Washington, DC to go work on Capitol Hill to work for the member of Congress who I had worked for in Colorado when she was in the state legislature. She had in the interim been elected to the House of Representatives and I worked for her for several years before going to business school at Harvard and then joining PIMCO almost 17 years ago. In many ways, my job now is really a culmination of interests in markets and economics and finance and policy and politics. I also think it’s the best job around. It’s something that is always changing. It is never the same.

Again, it allows me to keep my toe very much in policy circles while really squarely residing within markets and the client space.

Cheryl Crispen: That’s really a great overview and an exciting career path, certainly very interesting. As you’ve moved through your career, maybe you could talk a little bit and share with our audience the role that mentors and sponsors have played for you throughout your career. It clearly is an important role, but we’d love to hear from you on that.

Libby Cantrill: I think this is something that young women in particular, but also young men who are joining ask all the time about mentorship and sponsorship. As I reflect back on my career, there were times when I had some really important mentors who then became sponsors. I also just had some peer mentors who really helped and provided a sort of sounding board along the way. Then I had sort of exclusively some sponsors. I would put the member of Congress for whom I worked, as a mentor and a sponsor. She really, in some ways, encompassed to me that you could only really be what you can see.

At that time, in the House of Representatives, I believe it was something like 10% of the House was female. Now I believe that’s nearly a quarter. Still, some progress to make, but has come a long way. Seeing her being a real pioneer in the policy area, but also at the same time, having a loving husband and having two, at that point, very small children that she was devoted to, I think really provided an important example for me in my own life. You can sort of be a pioneer and do hard things. To be one of the few women in a room. At the same time, be a mother and, and a spouse. Fast forward to Pimco and I have had again, lots of mentor relationships. I have a lot of colleagues who are sort of similar who joined PIMCO at the same time and have just been wonderful sounding boards to me providing advice along the way. But again, several sponsors as well, most of whom have been men. I do think this is something kind of a misnomer that maybe junior women make at the beginning of their career that they think that they can only sort of look to the woman at the firm to be a mentor, to be a sponsor. I would say in my career, again, especially here at PIMCO, the men have been really vital and invaluable sponsors. Mohamed El-Erian, who was the previous CEO of PIMCO, really helped me sort of outline my role here and gave me the credibility in many ways to do something that had never been done before at the firm. Our current CEO has been a great advocate of mine as well. So again, I think that my view on mentorship in particular is that kind of using a mosaic theory, trying to glean a lot from as many diverse points of view as possible. In terms of sponsorship, really opened the aperture about what a sponsor could look like and not necessarily that it had to be somebody who looked exactly like me. And that in fact, men have been incredibly effective and powerful sponsors for me as well.

Cheryl Crispen: That’s really a great vantage point and those allies as we move through the diversity journey are always so important. So thank you for that. Maybe building on those thoughts, what advice would you give to the audience in terms of challenges within the career development or successes in terms of your career path? There are always sort of some challenges and successes. We’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

Libby Cantrill: Yes, and I think that is right, Cheryl. I think that’s actually a really important point that if people look at, and I certainly have done this in my career, you look sort of at successful people above you and you think that it’s always been easy. And in fact, it’s usually not that way. Like other folks, I also had my challenges. I would say one sort of piece of advice that I provide to younger people starting out is just being an advocate for yourself and you’re articulating what you want and being proactive. I do think that working hard and putting your head down actually can get you very far. So it’s not to say that that’s not incredibly important, kind of the workhorse component. But I also think that no one cares about your career as much as you do. And if you don’t ask, then you certainly will not receive. My mom growing up would always say, that the worst thing that can happen is people just saying no. And I’ve sort of adhered to that in my career as well. There have been times when I’ve asked for things that I thought surely the answer would be no. And it turns out to be either a maybe or even a yes. I think articulating what you want and making sure that you’re taking the opportunities to help your manager sort of see the path for you as well. Speaking up because the only person who cares as much about your career as yourself and really no one else. Related is that if you’re given the opportunity or if the door even opens a little bit make sure that you walk through the door.

I do see folks starting out in their career who might understandably be a little bit more passive or kind of waiting for all the circumstances to be right, to sort of step up. I have to say that oftentimes folks will only give you the job if you’re actually already doing the job. There was an example of this in my own career, actually an example of what I would say about speaking up.

I was in discussions about how I could make partner at the firm and was told that I probably couldn’t in my existing seat at the time. So I asked what could I do in order to potentially qualify or be considered to be a partner. At that point, I was here in the New York office. I’ve been in New York my entire PIMCO career.

My manager at the time said, well, at some point, maybe you could lead the New York office and I said, I’d absolutely love to do that. That’s something that I think I’m very qualified for. Lo and behold, six weeks later, the existing head of the New York office had stepped down and at that point, my manager was a little bit in a bind because we’d already had this discussion. I had already said that I really wanted to lead the office.

He sort of grudgingly on a very temporary basis, gave me the title. Instead of waiting for it to become permanent, I just started doing the job. I started sending out emails to the office. I started having social events and six months into that experience they were going to revisit who should be the permanent head of the office. At that point, it would have been very difficult to not make me the permanent head because I was already functioning in that role. I think making sure that when the door opens a little bit, making sure that you’re maximizing that opportunity and walking through it in a fulsome way. Two things I think just to keep in mind that have held me in good stead. One is, and this is actually a quote from James Gorman, the CEO of Morgan Stanley.

But my friend, Sharon Yeshaya, is the CFO of Morgan Stanley and she came to speak at our recent PIMCO Women’s Summit. She said that one thing that James always says is, “No strategy by envy”, meaning Morgan Stanley shouldn’t just be doing things in terms of their corporate strategy because other banks are doing that and she ascribed this to her own career.

It articulates what I’ve done as well, is that you have to make sure that you feel comfortable with what you’re doing. Even if it may be unconventional or people may have other ideas about what might be better for you. You have to just tune it out and as long as you feel like you’re growing and contributing and you’re enjoying yourself, that’s the most important thing. I created this role of PIMCO. There were lots of times, across the 17 years where it’s been suggested to me that I do something else, that I run a business, that I move or what have you, and I may have been promoted more quickly if I had done that, but I really believed in what I was doing. I tuned out what was maybe the conventional norms and I think that’s held me in good stead.

The last piece of advice Cheryl, that I give a lot of folks, but particularly young women as they’re starting out and I know this is not an original thought. I think Cheryl Sandberg, talked about this in her book Lean In, but honestly who you pick as your life partner is, in my case probably the biggest career decision and the most important career decision I made. I met my husband at business school, and he knew that I was going to be working hard, and that I was ambitious, but that I also wanted a family. He has been incredibly supportive, not only in words but also in action. He’s the one who took care of the kids when I was traveling a lot, when both my kids were quite little. He allows me to go to TV early in the morning like I had to do this morning, he’s the one who’s getting the kids ready for school and taking them to school. It sounds pretty corny, but it really has been, true that if I had picked somebody else, I don’t think I would have been able to do what I’ve done at PIMCO.  I think in retrospect, maybe by luck, I just happened to pick a partner who has really not only supported me but also I think facilitated a lot of my career success. I think that’s something that a lot of younger folks are not necessarily thinking about, but having the benefit of a little bit of time and in retrospection, it really has made a huge difference.

Cheryl Crispen: I love that and I love that keeping track of and an eye on the balance of work and personal and that life partnership really can make a big difference in terms of what you can accomplish from a career perspective. A little shift of gears. As an active member of the SIFMA board, you know that we frequently talk about our commitment as an industry to improving D&I overall, through better recruitment strategies or training or striving for a more inclusive culture. Give us some thoughts on how you would define within PIMCO or more broadly within our industry inclusivity and an inclusive culture and what are some of the things that PIMCO is doing to help create a more inclusive environment?

Libby Cantrill: This is something that we’ve really been focused on for as long as I’ve been at PIMCO. Again, I’m going on my 17th year. I do think like lots of firms, we’ve really evolved. It’s become, I think even more professionalized. The fact that we have somebody whose job it is to think about inclusion and diversity, but then also really importantly has the buy-in from our senior management, from the CEO and the CIO below. So this person’s not just on an island unto itself but really has the buy-in and the support from the most senior people in the organization. I think that’s now table stakes, but that’s so important to have that function, but also to have that function really have the buy-in of the senior folks around an organization. I think the way I’ve sort of thought about inclusion and diversity at PIMCO is there’s this kind of top-down element to it, which includes the inclusion and diversity team. It includes a managing director, and advisory council, on inclusion and diversity and that top-down effort has been very data-driven. We have these periodic assessments that we conduct across the firm that then really help to drive the top-down strategy. Having folks around the table who look different, who are from different places, who are of different genders.

This is all sort of table stakes at this point. It probably wasn’t five years ago or 10 years ago. I think it does show you how it’s evolved. But then there’s also sort of this bottom-up component and that’s where I’ve been most involved through our various employee resource groups. I actually started out more involved in what we used to call PIMCO Parents, but now we call PIMCO Families Employee Resource Group. Part of that was Cheryl because I had a husband who was working at Hedge Fund and we were having our first baby. I realized that in many ways, while a lot of this used to be kind of historically talked about as a woman issue, this was really a working parent issue and working mom and working dad issue. I became more involved in and then, later on, have been part of PIMCO women and sort of our evolution there. I think like other firms, we’ve had fits and starts with those efforts, but I can say that, just looking around our PIMCO women group, it’s so much more inclusive than it used to be. I think we’re going to talk about sort of the evolution in finance, but I think that’s actually one of the bigger evolutions is that it’s not only kind of women talking to women anymore. It is a really important component of it. I think that the community aspect, the comity aspect, and the support aspect are super helpful and important. As you said in the beginning, having these allies there as well. Looking at the composition of our PIMCO Women Employee Resource Group, it used to only be women, and now it’s much more diverse, in many ways, signaling that evolution.

Cheryl Crispen: That’s great. To wrap up our final question, clearly, you have a commitment to diversity and improving diversity and inclusion in the industry. As a thought leader in this space, we all know senior leaders who also want to have that same commitment and want to prioritize DE&I within their firms, but quite frankly, may feel unqualified to discuss the topic. How can we empower these other leaders who have a desire to lead on DE&I to utilize tools such as research data or other internal resources to empower them to create change? If you have any examples of how that may have sparked change at PIMCO that would be terrific.

Libby Cantrill:  This is sort of an evolution. As I said, just starting out at Morgan Stanley, 23 years ago, it was women talking to women. We just had a big annual PIMCO Women’s Summit, earlier this year, and one of the marks, I think of real success was that we had about half the firm, about 1500 people tune in live and many of whom were men. That is an indication of men becoming part of this really key part because a lot of times men in finance are the decision makers and they’re the ones who are in the C-suite. Creating a culture and an environment that’s very welcoming, of allies. I think my advice to men is don’t be shy about it. It may feel uncomfortable.

Women are so appreciative when men indicate that they want to be included, that they want to be involved. We can’t all experience or understand how it is for a specific colleague from a specific background, but we can still be there to help and support. I would encourage men that even though they may not understand exactly what’s going on but really just showing up honestly to these events can be incredibly powerful. I also think, and this is something to, to earlier question about what we’re doing is just making sure that folks are holding other people accountable. I think that inclusion and diversity are so broad and you have to define what that means for your own firm. It’s something that it feels good to talk about. But kind of when push comes to shove, when the rubber meets the road, to mix my metaphors, it’s really important that people are held accountable.

Make sure that if a goal you have is to diversify your team, whether it’s around the gender lens or color or ethnicity that folks are really held accountable. Having men show up, ask the questions, ask if they can help or how they can support. Maslow’s hierarchy, men just holding other men accountable for creating these diverse teams, and not taking it out from the rhetorical space where it feels good to talk about and really the more actionable and substantive space. Making sure people are actually held accountable for all this talk. It’s not just happy talk. It is actually a real, really meaningful action.

Cheryl Crispen: I love that, accountability, and don’t be afraid to ask questions are two great themes to end on. Libby, thank you so much for joining us today. It was such a pleasure to talk with you and I know our audience will really enjoy hearing your thoughts and comments. For the listeners to learn more about SIFMA’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, please visit www.sifma.org/diversity. Thank you to all of our listeners and again to Libby for today’s session. We hope you will join us for future podcasts. Libby, thanks again.

Libby Cantrill: Thank you.

Libby Cantrill is Managing Director, Head of Public Policy at PIMCO.

Cheryl Crispen is Executive Vice President and Head of DE&I at SIFMA.