Jane Fraser is the Chief Executive Officer of Citi, the world’s most significant global bank, serving millions of consumers, businesses and institutions across 160 countries and jurisdictions. She is the first female CEO in the firm’s history. Fraser has deep experience across Citi’s consumer and institutional businesses and, in many ways, has helped shape Citi into the company it is today. Fraser serves as a Board Member for the Business Roundtable and the Council on Foreign Relations. She is Vice Chair of the Partnership for New York City and a member of Harvard Business School’s Board of Dean’s Advisors, the Stanford Global Advisory Board and the Economic Club of New York.
Born in St Andrew’s and educated at Cambridge, with a Master’s in Economics in 1988, Jane Fraser started out as an M&A analyst at Goldman Sachs in London at twenty. Growing up, she had always been something of a ‘nerd,’ in her own words, and she found herself in a diverse UK financial office where she dreadfully recalled that she was ‘the boring British girl.’ All her colleagues came from different places in Europe and had exotic experiences to share, which created a hunger in young Fraser to experience that firsthand and move to a new city.
Her search narrowed down to Germany or Spain, and eventually, she settled on Spain. “That was the driver of my decision,” she says as she took a brokerage job in Madrid. However, after a few years in Spain, Fraser wanted to see how she would do in the US and began to think about returning with an MBA from Harvard added to her credentials to give her an edge in corporate America.
But, one thing bothered her; only a handful of women held senior positions at Goldman at the time. Fraser says, “And those who were there were rather scary, dressing practically like a man, or in suits that were horrendous. And none of them seemed happy.”
So Fraser began working tirelessly towards her goals in a pursuit to reach the top and change the status quo but hoped to lead a well-rounded life. The hope for success with overall fulfilment led Fraser to take on a consulting role with McKinsey & Co. She adds, “It was not a walk in the park, but a bit more predictable than M&A.” She spent ten years at McKinsey and, after just five years, was the forerunner to make Partner at the firm.
Fraser recalled her dilemma at the time, “Against all the advice I was given, I planned on getting pregnant the year I was right in the run-up to partner. Everyone said, ‘Oh, don’t be so stupid,’ but I thought, you can’t just lead your life that way. So I was told I was a partner in McKinsey & Co two weeks after I had given birth.” While after that, she chose to be a part-time partner to spend time with her young children.
In some cases, Fraser recounted how this meant training people who ended up overtaking her own position at the firm. She says that this was something that took some getting used to, but she put those feelings aside and took the perspective of seeing people she worked with advance and prosper. “If people have a whole life, it makes them far better leaders and professionals. You need to have the courage to say, ‘This is my path — and the organizations have to support it.”
Fraser also feels that having children made her more grounded and taught her about work-life balance. “You learn that you can’t do everything at the level you are comfortable with,” she explained. “You learn to do things at 80%. That was a game changer for me.”
While at McKinsey & Co, she also co-authored the book Race for the World: Strategies to Build a Great Global Firm. Fraser spent time interviewing leaders from across Asia for the book and, while talking about the book later, attracted the attention of Citi, who recruited her as Head of Client Strategy in 2004 and where she has been ever since.
However, as her sons grew older, Fraser returned to work full-time, taking on the post of Citi’s acquisitions of the London Private Banking job that followed. She stepped into a role where the division was losing money but managed to turn it around quickly.
Adaptability is a skill which Fraser mastered along the way to enable her to succeed in her various roles. After working in London for a private banking job, she moved to St. Louis — as the Head of Citi’s mortgage operation. The family had to make multiple adjustments to shift into their new home but Fraser soon excelled at the role.
In September 2020, Fraser was appointed to succeed Corbat, becoming the first female CEO of a top-tier Wall Street Investment Bank, leading the third-largest bank in the US. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Frazer took a different approach than her peer CEOs, instituting permanent plans to allow staff to work from home some days of the week and granting the team greater flexibility in their schedules than other Wall Street firms.
Fraser is also a big fan of empathy and relies on it greatly while leading her team. She added that in the course of turning around and transforming several demanding businesses, she has tried to think of how she would want to hear things if she were on the other side of the desk. “You do it with empathy,” said Fraser. “One can be a straight talker without being an unpleasant person,” an essential skill she has acquired that allows her to connect with all her employees.
Due to her phenomenal work in the industry, Fraser has received numerous awards and recognition, including being ranked number 41 on Fortune’s list of the 51 Most Powerful Women in Business in 2015; American Banker named her the ‘Number 1 Woman to Watch’ both in 2014 and 2015. Fraser was also selected for the inaugural 2021 Forbes 50 Over 50.
In conclusion, she says, “I urge all the younger women not to feel that you have to be 120% qualified for a new job. You don’t; you can’t possibly be. So don’t let that hold you back. But at the same time, keep enough of that fear to keep you on your toes.”