When Paulette Mullings Bradnock joined BNY Mellon as Chief Auditor in 2015, she brought with her more than 30 years of top-notch experience and a deep conviction that mentoring can transform employees.
In a career that took her through a succession of financial services powerhouses – from Chemical Bank to Chase Manhattan to JP Morgan Chase to AIG – Mullings Bradnock was first a beneficiary and then a benefactor of mentoring programs. Today, she occupies both roles: She is an active mentor to several members of her 300+ person team, as well as a mentee in BNY Mellon’s reverse mentoring program.
Mullings Bradnock spoke with Behind the Scenes about the powerful role mentoring has played in shaping her career and her management philosophy.
How did you enter this field?
I came to the U.S. from Jamaica when I was 16 and went straight to college at Fordham University. I had huge culture shock, and my parents, thankfully, recognized it and pulled me out to give me time to acclimate.
When I went back at 18, it was to Queens College of the City University of New York, where I earned an accounting degree. The gift of extra time as well as the seasoning that comes with your college years helped me understand my goals more clearly. I wanted a career, and I wanted marriage, a family, and balance. Based on what I saw in the marketplace, those goals were incompatible with public accounting jobs, so I focused on internal audit. I started out working at an insurance company, but after six months I was recruited over to Chemical Bank.
Now press fast-forward, and we can see you’ve enjoyed decade-long tenures at several great financial services companies. What gave you such staying power?
It helps that I love what I do. In the audit function, I meet a lot of people and look at a wide variety of functions across the organization from a bird’s eye view. Some say you don’t build subject-matter expertise in internal audit, but I saw it differently. Internal audit is where I gained broad knowledge and an ability to dig into any part of an organization by asking good questions.
Did you know much about mentoring early in your career?
I never thought about it. I was always of the mindset that if I worked hard, someone would notice, and I would be rewarded. As I progressed through my career, my perspective changed.
A few years into my tenure at Chemical Bank, they launched a mentoring program. The goal was to retain talent, and I’m proud to say I had been identified as having high potential based on my feedback and evaluations. So I was invited to be mentored.
I was matched with a mentor whom I really liked. He was a Caucasian male from the U.S. and I was a young African American woman from Jamaica. We came from different cultures and eras, but somehow our goals aligned. That’s important, because I have seen mentor relationships that do not work because objectives aren’t clear and aspirations don’t match. My mentor and I had similar personalities – we are both very transparent, and we don’t beat around the bush. We also agreed on what we expected to get out of the relationship and how we wanted to interact.
What did your mentor do for you?
I asked for honest feedback, and I got it. Not everyone can give it, but I told my mentor not to worry about hurting my feelings -- just give me the feedback. I could also bounce ideas off my mentor. If I had a challenge or had reached a fork in the road, he could help me. He was ahead of me in his career, having traveled a similar path to mine, and he was senior enough to have influence within the organization.
At some point you realize that career success is not just about technical skills. You have to learn to navigate the organization. One of my “aha” moments as a mentee was about networking. Developing a network of people around you can really help you with a lot of things, whether it’s your communications style or improving your knowledge. I had rationalized that networking wasn’t important, because I had three kids at home, a husband, and only so many hours in a day. When I started making time for it, my career flourished.
Along the way you became a mentor yourself. How do you approach the role?
I had learned from my mentors that setting the foundation is important, so I care about transparency and openness. I ask my mentees how often they want to meet, and what they want out of the relationship. I’m committed to being available to my mentees, someone they can pick up the phone and talk to.
Empathy and good listening skills are important to a mentor. I don’t mean just hearing what people have to say, but understanding it at a deeper level. A good mentor can challenge you to do or see things differently, and not by telling them what to do, but by being clear and candid.
Coming full circle, I now have a reverse-mentor, a mid-tier staff member who teaches me about technology and social media. This relationship is keeping me on my toes.
People ask me all the time whether I expected to be where I am today. Becoming chief auditor wasn’t something I set out to do. But the skills I built, largely through mentoring relationships, ultimately got me where I am today.