Who is Fabienne Gimenez?
My name is Fabienne Gimenez. I come from a small town in the South of France. I consider myself a small-town girl who thrives in a big city like New York City. I've been in the industry for 20 years, both in capital markets and in financial technology. Today, I'm with ADP leading their strategy and business development efforts for one of its the largest global units. I would like my legacy to be seen as an incredible and inspiring leader and very supportive of gay women and minorities, whether it's in self-discovery or helping them fulfilling their dreams.
Tell us about your career journey.
My career journey started when I was 16, when I saw a role model on a big screen and I told myself ‘I can do it.’ And the idea was to be head up strategy and M&A for a company. So everything that followed was basically based on that goal.
So it started with a postgraduate degree in banking and finance. Then I moved to Cairo where I was a financial analyst for a UNDP program and then moved to a bank. From the bank – this Egyptian investment bank – then sent me to New York, and then everything started. I worked for the Stock Exchange, then I worked for Thomson Financial, Standard & Poor's. And at Standard & Poor’s, the first job when I started there was to lead strategy and business development for one of the S&P units basically. And this is how it all started. So when I got to S&P, this is when I basically achieved my 16-year-old goal. And basically from there I've been growing. I got promotions; I got bigger jobs, as head of strategy and M&A. Today, I'm with ADP leading their strategy and business development efforts for one of the largest global units that they have within the company.
What are your top accomplishments?
I think about two of them that would be more related to me being a gay woman. So the first one will be around coming out to myself when I lived in Cairo. And as you can imagine, coming out to yourself when you're living in Cairo is not the easiest part, knowing that the environment or the community is not necessarily supportive. I think that, as usual, I was not afraid of it; I just wanted it to be who I was.
And then the second accomplishment probably was around the work that I had done for an organization called FSIX, which was to help people in financial services find a community and making sure that we had more of a voice within the financial industry as well. And I won an award a Stonewall Award for this back in 2006. So there was also an accomplishment, in terms of the work that I've done to help others go be who they are and be more confident or feel more safe – providing them with a safe environment.
How has your background influenced your success?
I come from a small town called Limoux, where there’s like ten thousand people – which basically is like two or three blocks in Brooklyn, right? But the bottom line is that I knew everyone, and everybody knows each other. And what it does is that – people become very important to you on a daily basis. And so what it taught me is how to make sure that you do not judge people; to make sure that you are there for people; you support people and you love people. And I think that's part of being a small town girl – there's always the caring part, and the understanding that you survive in this world thanks to people. So I think that's the first thing that definitely defined who I am as a person today.
I think the second part is that when I grew up in this small town, I always felt like it was too small for me. I wanted to know more. I didn't want to just know 10,000 people or just this town. I wanted to branch out. And so I was very ambitious and very driven, and I think that led me to get out of there, and do something different with my life. So I think both basically, that is the plus and not necessary the minus, but the things that actually pushed me to leave and become who I am today. Having the drive, being different, being the outcast. If I had been born in a big town or in a big city I might not have felt as strongly as I felt that I needed to get out. And having the drive and the ambition that I had at that time. That I still have actually.
Which P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles resonate with you?
In terms of the overall P.O.L.I.N.G.® framework, I think that there is probably one story that will reflect on each and every one of them. The six different criteria.
10 years or 15 years ago I used to run an organization called FSIX, Financial Services Industry Exchange that I had rebranded with the rest of the board. And the idea of this organization was to make sure that we provided a safe environment for people who are in financial services, but also make sure that we tell the banks to be more open-minded and to understand the value of our community within the banking and the financial services industry. And so I led the organization for a few years, and we took it from where we were just the network of people coming together to influencing how the financial services industry will see our community and the benefit of being more inclusive of our community. And so it captured the six different criteria.
So when you think about P.O.L.I.N.G.®, the first one – the (P)riorities – what was very important was to focus on giving a voice and a platform to the LGBT community within the financial services community. Then there’s the second one, which is around helping (O)thers, and I think that it was very important to me that we all felt safe to be working where we work and not needing to hide. So the fact that we could be who we are as people, and we could still thrive as individuals. Not only because we have the right competencies. It would have nothing to do with the fact that we are basically gay people. It’s all about the value that we bring to the company instead of just being gay.
So when you think about the (L)ead within the P.O.L.I.N.G.® framework, I think that it all relates to me wanting to take the initiative and trying to make sure that we were doing something much better than just being a network. And really the idea was, let's influence the financial services industry. Let's provide them with all the tools they need to give us a real voice. And to understand that – at the end of the day – it's okay for us to be who we are, and the value that we bring within the workforce has nothing to do with our sexuality or our gender. I mean basically the valuable beings because of who we are, with all of us skill sets and our management skills; so it has nothing to do with who we are. And I think that it was very important for me to make sure that we were going to be in a safer environment and helping everybody else get to this goal across the industry.
The other P.O.L.I.N.G.® framework criteria would be around (I)nspire. And I think that in order to get this done you have to not only be inspiring, but you also have to be passionate, and you have to believe that what you're doing is the right thing to do. So it was all about bringing the right board of directors around me, but it was also around influencing all of the different companies within the financial services industry to hear us. To work with us. To give us the right framework so we could move forward. So in order to get to this – to be to be successful in that goal – you need to be inspiring and you need to influence as well.
When it comes to (N)etwork, the FSIX story was very much around leveraging the network that I had, but also building relationships and new relationships and cultivating them and nurturing them. And I think that was very critical in order for FSIX to get to the next level of its journey and have more of a voice within the community. In terms of (G)rowing I think that it was a chance for me to grow as a leader, as it was my first experience to actually lead an organization. I also think that it taught me how to leverage the passion to make sure that it will go to a place that would have a lot of impact and I think that we were able to achieve it at the time.
Another more personal story and more recent story around the P.O.L.I.N.G.® framework will be around helping (O)thers. A year and a half ago I decided to invest in a coffee shop startup based in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and the reason is not because I know anything about coffee because I don't – I just like to drink strong coffee. But what was really critical for me was because it was a woman who was building the startup. And not only a woman, it was a gay woman. So it was very important for me to help this gay woman be successful in not only investing some money, but also investing my time and helping her basically be successful. The name of the coffee shop is Super Crown – it's based in Bushwick, Brooklyn so please go and check it out.
What are your thoughts about the P.O.W.E.R. ® Managing What Matters framework?
So when you think about the P.O.W.E.R. ® framework, I think about my current role as a head of strategy for a global division, I think what's really important is when you build a strategy, you have to make sure that it also gets executed – otherwise what's the point or building a strategy? And I think that you have to (P)rioritize what you need to do within the strategy, therefore you are able to execute. And I think that when you think about this – because you have an (O)bligation to your shareholders, you have an obligation to your client, to your peers. I have an obligation to my team, as well. So prioritizing what you actually do is critical for you to have a real impact, and I think that's what I strive to do.
And then it's very important to focus on what is (W)orthwhile – like worthwhile activities. So when you have your strategy, priorities, how do you execute? How do you implement? What do they look like? And I think once you do that, you also always work with stakeholders in strategy and basically they are the ones who execute. But what's important for my team – I have to make sure they not only are there to understand those priorities. What's the impact in the business, and how are they going to help the business be impactful and therefore be successful? So the head of strategy is basically a person that helps the business be successful; and my job with my team is to make sure we're totally (E)nergized because they understand what we're trying to do and basically get there with the President of the business.
The last piece of the P.O.W.E.R. ® framework is (R)esources. I think what's really important is to have the right resources so you can actually understand how you can focus on those priorities, how you can make them happen, and attach the right resources to each and every one of them or in general. I mean, every priority is different but the resources component is very important. In terms of the number of resources, but in terms of the right resources – which resources should go to X,Y and Z and why. So you have to apply the resources in two different ways – the number and whether or not they are the right resources.
When has your background posed a challenge?
So when my background was the central issue is when I actually came to New York. And I think that I realized that being a French woman and having a specific communication style was not going to be necessarily very helpful. I think I understood very quickly that what was perceived as ‘bluntness’ had to be remediated, and I had to adapt to be a little bit softer in terms of my written and oral communication skills. Over time, I've had coaches – executive coaches – that have helped me basically speak or adapt my communication skill to more of an American style. To basically help me be more influential or to build the right relationships thanks to having a more a softer communication style.
So what I've learned through coaching is how to adapt my communication style to be more friendly to the American communication style. But I also learned a few tips: never answer an email when you are annoyed, and never answer an email when I'm tired because I tend to go back to being bullet-points-one-sentence, no ‘thank you’, no ‘hi’. So I'm very conscious of this and I make a very conscious effort to make sure that I do the right thing. Because an email nowadays – over text I think it's easier to be short – but in email I think that it's important to be thoughtful in how you write an email. And so I make sure that there are times where I am NOT going to respond to emails. I wait until the next day so I can actually communicate in the right way, and I can influence in the right way.
Who are the people who have influenced you?
The way I see how I operate is, it's like I have a Board of Directors around me. And there's two different types of people within this Board of Directors. There are the people that are coming from my job, and currently I have probably two or three people that are guiding me, who I always talk to if there are issues and I need help and I need mentorship. And then when it comes to personal life, or even for work sometimes, I go to the Board of Directors who are friends and the family. And I've done this my entire life; I make sure that I seek their advice, and they help me basically be the person who I am today. Basically make sure that I'm true to myself and I stay sane.
When I was at Thomson Financial, one of my role models was Sharon Rowlands, who was the CEO of Thomson Financial. She was – and she still is – this incredible woman and incredible leader. And to this day, I actually miss her and I wish I will one day to work with her again. She was an inspiration to me.
What advice would you give your younger self?
My advice to my younger self would be definitely based on where am I today and what I've been through. And probably some of the things I could have done better. I'm a worrier. I've always been a worrier, but I think that what I'm starting to learn now, through meditation and spirituality, is that it's important to just relax and trust the universe. So I will tell my younger self, I would tell little Fabi, ‘hey, you know what? Just love yourself. Just trust the universe. Just think that everything is actually going to work out. Just relax.’
What is your idea for a call to action?
The call to action for organizations, if I want to bring more diversity and inclusion, can be around a three criteria framework. I'm a strategist, so I always think about frameworks. One of them will be ‘assess’, and bringing processes in terms of where you are today, where do you want to go, and how are you going to go about it. The second piece is around the culture, and with that you include the ‘leadership’ and making sure that your leadership leads by example on a day-to-day basis, so you have the right behaviors. And then the third piece – which is also very important – is the networking, the community. And I think that's really critical because what you want to do with it is inspire people with the cause that you're trying to elevate. And if you can inspire people, people are going to try to help you. And so there's a lot of helping each other that happens, and I think that can be extremely powerful.
For the call to action for individuals, the first one is just please give money. Just help the different organizations that are focused on inclusion and diversity to thrive. And money is always something that matters. The second piece is, don't sit back. Just be proactive. Have a voice in whatever capacity you can, wherever it's within your work environment, whether it’s within your community, whether it's leveraging your network, whether it's creating new events with people or giving ideas. But just be present and be passionate about it. Create voices or create a platform in your own way, but then you will have a greater voice. In today's environment it's even more important than it was a year ago. I would say that everybody has the obligation to do something. To leverage whatever they can – whether it's money, network, time – to do something, to help inclusion and diversity rise.
Tell us something about yourself that no one would guess.
So let me give you real facts. Not alternative facts, real facts. Just to be clear.
So one of them is that I started swimming when I was really, really young – around three and a half year old. Another one is that I was a tennis champion when I was young as well – around 12 years old. At the regional level, not the great level, but you know a little bit like that. And then another one will be, I love to count everything – anything – whatever I, my brain can look at and wants to count, I would count. And then the last one maybe, and this might sound really nerdy, is that every license plate that I see, I try to mix the numbers and the letters and make an equation out of it in my brain. So those are probably some of the facts people wouldn't know about me.