May 04, 2016

Future leaders must “grit” and bear it: BNY Mellon President Karen Peetz at New York University

Karen Peetz

Karen Peetz speaks to students at an NYU “Leadership Off the Record” event.


“Make no mistake,” said Karen B. Peetz, president of BNY Mellon, in her address to students at New York University’s Stern School of Business, “in a long career, it is inevitable there will be ups and downs that you will need to work through.”

Peetz recently spoke to a select group of executive MBA, graduate and undergraduate students at an invitation-only “Leadership Off the Record” event about why businesses are waking up to the need for diversity and inclusion in corporate talent. She stressed that it’s a two-way street: corporations must be truly invested in diversifying their talent to drive business success, while employees need to be courageous enough to demand diversity in their workplaces.

“It’s no surprise that diverse companies perform better,” said Peetz. “In our fast-paced and increasingly global industry, diversity has become a business imperative and competitive advantage.”

According to Peetz, companies have to truly value diversity in order to attract and retain this talent to drive a successful business.

Peetz also emphasized that people must take individual accountability for their rise to the top. In response to a question from a Stern student on how employees can impact the make-up of their teams, Peetz said, “You have to demand diversity and have the courage to do so.”

Peetz, a 34-year veteran of the financial services industry, offered the following advice to rising leaders:

  • When the going gets tough, get some grit. Peetz referenced Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk on Grit in speaking about what differentiates a leader: it’s someone who is determined and sticks with it, rather than running away. On the way to the top, people look for leaders who have more willpower to ride out the difficult situations.
  • Build relationships with mentors, but also sponsors. While mentors are seniors and peers who coach you throughout your career, sponsors “have the power to make things happen for you.” Sponsors choose to champion for you, and the best way to get their attention, according to Peetz, is excellent performance.

Prior to the close of the evening, Peetz left the audience with this final piece of advice to carry throughout their careers: “Have a voice, have integrity, be someone who can be trusted, and most importantly—have the grit to work through challenges that are certain to be part of long, but equally rewarding careers.”