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Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Diversity in Action

The year was 1897, and May Gosman had just accepted a position as stenographer with Brown Brothers Harriman in Boston. As the Firm’s first female employee, she received $10 per week and worked in a frosted glass enclosure across from the manager’s office where male employees were barred from entering.

It was a different time, to say the least. But BBH’s decision to hire Gosman 100-plus years ago could be seen as the Firm’s first, very small step toward a more diverse, inclusive workforce. 

The face of BBH today would be unrecognizable to those 19th-century employees. With 17 offices around the world providing services within an increasingly globalized economy, BBH attracts talented employees from every walk of life. Firm leadership maintains diversity and inclusion as key priorities, knowing that a wide breadth of opinions, ideas, and experiences contributes to our ability to innovate, move quickly on new ideas, and better serve each client’s unique needs.  

“While the Firm's early diversity efforts were grassroots and focused largely on networking among employees, today we clearly have commitment from the top,” says Glory DeSimone, Managing Director for Human Resources. “Our leaders are embedding diversity and inclusion into the fabric of the Firm – it has become a key aspect of our business strategy globally. In fact, we now measure individual commitment to an inclusive workplace as part of our performance management (EDP) process, having established a specific inclusion goal on which all leaders are measured. In addition, all of our talent and development initiatives – including hiring and career development – reflect inclusion as a prominent core objective.”

Daily Efforts, Long-Term Success

When an organization commits to nurturing the inclusive environment DeSimone mentions, there’s a notable positive influence, says Ken Komal of Banking Systems. Komal, based in New Jersey, manages a team responsible for custody systems in support of Cash Accounting, Funds Transfer, Treasury, Controllers, and Reconciliation and Analysis. 

“These are critical core systems” says Komal. “If any one of them goes south, business stops. One of the most critical systems we have in the Firm is Keystone, because without it, no payments come in and none go out.” 

And while DeSimone acknowledges BBH is still gaining ground in terms of a diverse workforce, Komal’s team exemplifies the Firm’s global reach. “We have team members originally from Russia, the Philippines, India, Taiwan, Guyana, as well as the U.S.,” says Komal. “Some of us are from Poland, based in Krakow, some of us immigrated to the U.S. We come from a wide range of backgrounds, various cultures, and there’s a fair amount of gender distribution as well.”

What’s the secret to attracting such diverse talent? Komal attributes it to the connection and mutual respect among his coworkers. “Part of it is BBH culture, and part of it is the diversity of the group,” he says. “People care. They take pride in their jobs. There’s a huge focus on communication, our different viewpoints, and our different ideas, and these translate into higher quality output.”

For Banking Systems, the business benefits have been tangible. “We have had very few outages in our systems that had a significant negative impact to our business over the past couple of years,” Komal says. “Our upgrades go in flawlessly. And this isn’t me – this is our people working in partnership. I believe having a diverse set of people at the table and soliciting feedback from them has been very helpful. It makes them see that they really are part of the solution, and we couldn’t do it without every person’s input.”

Komal sees morale boosts as well. “I personally think happy employees are productive employees. We have very low turnover in our group. Our employees are our most important resource, so our work style is always about the people, about the individuals,” he says. “You take care of the people, and they take care of everything else.”

Case Study: Dealboard

The strength of BBH’s worldwide team was put to the test by a major business opportunity last year – a chance to create the unique new Securities Lending product now known as Dealboard. The BBHers who came together to create it sat in offices across the globe – multiple U.S. locations, the United Kingdom, India, and Poland – and worked 24x7 to develop, test, and deploy the new product in just 24 weeks.

"Dealboard is an online application that tells the portfolio manager how much is available from the market right now to lend each security that they hold," says Partner Bill Tyree. "It enables portfolio managers to allow their securities to be borrowed according to whatever terms they set. It also, for the first time, gives them the opportunity cost for not lending those securities."

The idea for Securities Lending Dealboard originated in BBH’s London office with Product Manager Adnan Khan. The concept was solid, innovative, and a potential differentiator for BBH in a crowded financial services marketplace – but at that point, only an idea. Seeing the opportunity to create a competitive advantage for the Firm, Partner Chris Remondi, BBH's Global Head of Markets, wanted to move quickly. To lead the effort, the Firm turned to Marcia Reid, Senior Vice President of Market Systems.

"Chris said, 'Look, we want to make sure that we engage our clients. It will be revolutionary and innovative for them, so we really need to get something out in a quicker time to market. How about the end of June?'" recalls Reid. "We thought, this is crazy! It did take us aback, but one thing I've learned at this Firm is that, if we believe in something, we do whatever it takes to get it done."

To meet the tight deadline, BBH would have to forgo the traditional development process and adopt an agile approach with around-the-clock development work conducted on a global basis.

Enter the team – one of the most diverse groups of BBHers ever assembled for such a major initiative: Reid oversaw the project from her New York office. India-born Majid Khalil, a vice president in Boston, managed the development team in his role as head of Systems for Securities Lending. A 10-year BBH veteran, Anand Koottilingal stepped up as Chief Software Architect, also working in Boston with several of the developers. Meanwhile, Primary User Adnan Khan was contributing to the project from his vantage point in London.

Reid and her colleagues knew they would never meet their aggressive 28-week deadline without marshaling additional global resources, so they brought in BBH developers from Krakow, headed by Robert Florczyk, as well as contributors in India, Mexico, and China.

For Khalil, the far-flung project team was not a concern. "I've worked with people from different cultures and time zones before," he notes. "Here it was Poland, India, China and Mexico, as either support or development. Even here on my small 14-person Securities Lending team, we're very diverse."

"The idea was to have a 24x7 development lifecycle to get more productivity out of the team," Khalil continues. "The major first phase was done by Krakow, and subsequent phases were shared. Everybody could rotate the work around the clock and cut down the time to market."

Team members at each location "owned" the workspace and source control during their regular work hours, then turned over control to the next location at the end of the day. Communication was key, as was consideration of cultural differences. "Our Indian team's communication and understanding are very different from ours here in the U.S., but because I'm originally from India, I was able to act as a liaison between the two," says Khalil.

That ability to bridge different cultures was crucial because, from the project's inception in late 2013 to its initial delivery in June of 2014, the pace never slowed. "Every day there was a deadline," says Koottilingal. "Every day there was a deliverable. Every day somebody was reviewing it. The pressure was coming unbelievably fast."

The pressure was equaled by strong support from the BBH management team, and with that backing, as the development effort went on, the team grew closer.

"Before long, we were a single team," says Reid. "Roles didn't matter. It was truly a team without borders or constraints. It was a very open environment, with everyone working toward a common goal."

The finished Dealboard product was delivered on schedule and launched commercially in November to company-wide acclaim. 

"We talk about inclusion and diversity, and I think that's the key,” says Reid. “We could not have done this project with just the core Securities Lending Systems team in our Boston office. We would not have had the fresh ideas that we gained, and the different perspectives, if this were not a global effort. If we have those ingredients for a project and a diverse group of individuals working on every project, especially where everyone's ideas are valued, we know it will work."

SIDEBAR

BANC: Helping Colleagues Connect

Among the HR initiatives to foster an inclusive environment are the BBH Affinity Network Communities – better known as BANC. 

Entirely employee-led, BANC gives BBHers the opportunity to come together as a global team, across groups and borders, creating a competitive advantage that enables the Firm to better serve clients and remain a trusted, valued, differentiated partner in those relationships. At the core of BBH’s BANC networks is the deeply held belief that we are stronger because of our differences.

“Our BANC networks have grown considerably since their formal inception back in 2010,” says Laura Scherban, Senior Vice President in Talent Acquisition and BBH's Head of Diversity and Inclusion. “Last year, BANC had over 3,800 attendees at 74 different global events. It’s wonderful to see employees network and grow professionally as a result of their involvement with BANC, and it has truly become a unique part of the BBH culture.”

Scherban says the primary goals of BANC are to promote retention and mobility of BBH employees, create opportunities for business and leadership development, and support philanthropic efforts at BBH. At present, there are nine active affinity networks:

  • Asia Link Network
  • Black Affinity Network
  • Global Employee Network
  • Latino Cultural Network
  • Military Veterans Network
  • Parenting Network
  • Pride Network
  • Women's Network
  • Young Professionals Network

The affinity networks are always welcoming new participants. Among the benefits are mentoring, professional development, networking, and gaining a broader understanding of the Firm’s inner workings. BANC provides a place for people with common interests to come together, discuss ideas, and celebrate our diversity.