May 19, 2016

Behind the Scenes with Darah Kirstein: Mentoring BNY Mellon’s CEO

Behind the Scenes with Darah Kirstein

Welcome to our new content series “Behind the Scenes,” which goes behind the walls of BNY Mellon to speak with the people on the front lines helping to shape the future of finance. We’re kicking off the series with Darah Kirstein, a vice president in the technology services group. If you boiled her mission down to a single question, it would be: How well is technology serving BNY Mellon’s employees? In her role, she coordinates a network of 300 volunteer digital workplace advocates who go above and beyond their regular job duties to help their peers and colleagues make the most of the technology available to them. She also takes a special interest in one employee – chairman and CEO Gerald Hassell – by serving as his reverse mentor on all things technological. She recently spoke with us about her roles and her career path.

What is your position at BNY Mellon?

My title is Digital Workplace Employee Engagement Lead. My mission is to make sure every one of our 51,000 employees is completely aware of the technology they have available to them while they are at work so they can be effective and productive. I’m also privileged to have a rewarding side role: For the past three years, I have served as a reverse mentor to our chairman and CEO, Gerald Hassell. I help him stay up-to-date on technology.

You’ve been with BNY Mellon for your entire career, which is considered pretty unusual for millennials like yourself. How did you come to this organization, and what has kept you here?

I’ve lived in Pennsylvania my whole life, and I majored in information technology at Penn State University. As an undergraduate, I learned that Mellon Financial was one of the few companies with a rotational program for new hires in technology, so I applied. I felt so lucky to be offered a job and have a start date lined up before I graduated. Soon after I accepted, the merger with Bank of New York was announced. I started in June 2007, less than two weeks before the merger closed.

Being part of the Technology Leadership Program, as it’s now known, was a great entrée to the company. I got to experience four different roles within the technology organization. As trainees, we did four- to five-month assignments in different departments, and then we put in our bids for a permanent position in an area where we thought we could contribute and grow.

When my rotation ended, I went after a position with the strategic technology group and got it. My job was to research emerging technology and to analyze how it would impact BNY Mellon from a business and technology point. That certainly helped me prepare for the role I’m in now.

The opportunity to do exciting work and to learn from others is what has kept me engaged and happy to be here. I realize that staying put in a job for nine years is unusual nowadays. People tend to bounce around.  I’ve been fortunate to have many mentors throughout my career here, and BNY Mellon has supported me through my efforts to figure out how to balance work and family. I see myself being here long-term.

Mentors can make such a difference. How did you become a reverse mentor – and to the CEO, no less?

Gerald had asked for a robust, tech-specific mentoring pilot program. His idea was, “Let’s get some of our digital-native technology leaders and pair them up with executives and see how this goes.” Three of us were picked for the pilot. For some reason, I could not be at a planning meeting with my two counterparts, so they picked who they were going to mentor, and informed me that I was matched with Gerald. My response was, “I’ll take that challenge!”

It has been such a great experience. We’ve developed a real give-and-take relationship. Gerald wants to better understand how technology is shaping business, not only outside our company, but internally. He grills me on the tools we offer our employees and is very concerned with making them workable and accessible. He is also curious about how our future clients consume information and how BNY Mellon needs to be quick to adapt to these trends.

How do you meet, and how often?

We have met at least once a quarter for the last three years, usually for around an hour. Sometimes it’s in person, sometimes via video chat.  Given the scale of what he is managing on a day-to-day basis, this is a serious commitment to something that others might consider optional. 

Sometimes we talk about ways he can use technology in his personal productivity. Other times, the discussion focuses on how people are using tools internally like our customized employee social media platform.

What have you learned from being a reverse mentor?

The biggest thing it teaches me is that you can never stop growing and learning, no matter how prestigious your title is. Here is our CEO, saying that there is something valuable that he can get out of this relationship. In the corporate world, everybody tends to look up and ask, “Who can I learn from at the top?” As CEO, Gerald doesn’t have that luxury, so he looks around him. It’s an incredible testament to the value this organization places on its people.

Interested in more on reverse mentoring? For Gerald's perspective, read his latest LinkedIn post.