KeyBank CFO Advice: Play the Game, Not Victim

As the CFO of KeyBank’s technology and operations unit, Manigault shares advice: “You can’t play the victim. You’ve got to play the game.”

By Tamika Cody

Kim Manigault had a successful career in banking, holding several positions at various large global organizations. But it was a mentor who helped steer the New York native into her current position as the chief financial officer of technology and operations at Cleveland-based KeyBank.

Although mentors are key factors to Manigault’s success, she also follows an operating model, which she lists in five points:

  • Always give your all
  • Consistently exceed expectations
  • Build relationships
  • Take smart risks 
  • Be ready
Kim Manigault New
             Kim Manigault

“When an opportunity is available, the candidate needs to be the best person for the job, not just the best woman or the person of color for the job,” she said.

“I do believe, if you ‘play to win’ and you believe you can win, the opportunities will be presented to you when it’s the right time for you,” she maintained. “If you’re not ready, no matter who you are or what you look like, the opportunity shouldn’t be given to you.”

There are more people who are truly playing to win, she added. And if you’re a woman or a diverse professional she gives this one last piece of advice, “You can’t play the victim. You’ve got to play the game.”

Team of Mentors

Manigault made sure to always to surround herself with people who helped her figure out her own game plan. She credits one of her mentors who coached her about her current employer, KeyBank. “She was someone who I admired and trusted,” Manigault recalled of her mentor. “When I spoke with her she was very impressed with the culture, and the people she met here at KeyBank.”

Manigault felt that the company, a subsidiary of KeyCorp (No. 49 on the DiversityInc Top 50), would give her the opportunity to learn and grow and said she knew that she could give back by contributing to the success of the organization. Shortly after her mentor reached out, Manigault said she was contacted with a job proposition. “It was actually aligned with my skill sets and my career interests going forward.”

Manigault said she was impressed during the interview process with KeyBank’s consistent messaging of teamwork, the commitment to drive the organization forward, and the focus of its genuine employee promise — Doing Work That Matters. “It didn’t feel like it was a typical recruiting talk during the recruiting process,” she noted. “I could see myself as being part of the team and I could envision the opportunity to do great work [there]. I thought at that moment, it would be an amazing honor for me to be able to be a part of the KeyBank team.” And thanks to her mentor, who also doubled as a sponsor, Manigault joined KeyBank in June 2012.

Diverse Mentoring Track 

Manigault believes that it’s important to have mentors early on in any career. The values that she grasped from her mentors and sponsors were taken straight from her personal life experience as a “diverse female from an inner-city environment.” When talking about diversity, Manigault said she wasn’t exposed to it until her high school years, which she described as “experiential diversity.”

“My high school was predominately comprised of people of color but with many different backgrounds,” Manigault said explaining that diversity is usually measured by what you see. She quickly learned that although she looked like the rest of her classmates, there was no inclination of how diverse they all were beneath the surface. “As we got to know each other a little bit more, we learned that we were not all from the same backgrounds,” she shared. “We all just lived in the same area and we all landed at the same high school.”

Manigault attended University High School in New Jersey, which mainly focused on academic enrichment and less on extracurricular activities. It was required for aspiring students to take a test to attend the school. Those who were accepted were high performing individuals, and Manigault said everyone believed they were all very similar but as it turned out they were all from different backgrounds.

“When you sit and start talking to people who aren’t from your neighborhood, who aren’t from where you’re from, you really start to learn that although we believe that we are all very similar we are actually all very different,” she said noting that this helped her to understand that there is a varying degree of perspective. “That is where the idea of diversity beyond what you can see was instilled in me.”

As a result, Manigault and her classmates learned from each other’s diverse backgrounds. “We were all very ambitious students and we came together to share our stories and developed goals for our individual futures.”

Those same classmates turned out to become mentors to each other as they helped one another focus on their personal goals. Manigault said the entire experience gave her clarity, “Having someone who looks like you, believes in you, enhances the belief in yourself, [which] is very critical to overall success.”

Lessons Learned 

Growing up in the New York/New Jersey area, Manigault always had her sights set on the financial services industry. “I was so close to Wall Street. I could see it. Smell it. I could taste it and I just wanted a part of that,” she said. “Quite honestly, what you saw on Wall Street didn’t look like me. There weren’t many women or people of color at the time.”

To overcome the hurdle, Manigault referred back to the lessons she learned during high school. She also turned to her mentors and sponsors who encouraged her to move forward with her goals. “I really just went for it because I thought [working on Wall Street] was an opportunity that was available to everyone.”

After high school, Manigault started to build her professional network, which continued to teach her valuable lessons, especially lessons she picked up from her mentors and sponsors. She made it a point to make it easy for people to believe in her. And those same folks wanted to support her professional development. “I’ve had several mentors throughout my career and I had a few influential sponsors,” she said. “They all served different purposes at different times, but they all stressed the importance of hard work and preparation.”

Manigault got a taste of hard work when she began to cut her teeth in the banking industry. Her mentors advised her to take on assignments that pushed her outside of her comfort zone. Those stretch assignments, some of which she opposed to taking on at first, helped her to build the reputation of delivering good quality work. In the end, her budding work ethic allowed her to express her desire to contribute beyond the scope of her job description.

Beneficial Challenges

For Manigault, banking is very different from when she started nearly 20 years ago. “There’s an increased regulatory environment, the advancement of technology and digital capabilities, and the demographic evolution of generations in the workplace,” she said describing some of the daily challenges in the profession.

However, the challenges she experiences are actually beneficial to her career. “I get bored when I’m not challenged. … To remain relevant and to be successful, you have to keep your skills current, innovative, and be prepared when disruptors enter the industry.”

But there are also challenges that women of color harbor within themselves. “When you’re a woman and a person of color, you sometimes talk yourself out of some of the things that you really believe you want,” Manigault said. “When you look around you don’t see women in situations that you would like to aspire to. You don’t see people of color in positions that you would like to aspire to. So you talk yourself out of doing what it takes to get there.”

Manigualt did what she had to do not to talk her way out of ambitious life career goals. And she always managed to stay several steps ahead of the game. “At my level now, there’s an expectation for me to be an influential leader and manager. That just comes with the territory.”

The other challenges women and people of color may come across are related to their career development. For example, when they feel that they have been overlooked for a position they thought they were ready for. “When you have good mentors and sponsors in your life, they help you understand that it’s not about what happened,” Manigault explained. “It’s about what you can do to change the situation. I believe that becomes a challenge throughout a lot of people’s careers. It was a challenge for me as well.”

In retrospect, the right opportunity eventually came at the right time, which was the perfect situation for Manigault. “You have to understand that you have to continue on your path to success to do the work, which is sometimes a challenge.”

The banking executive admits that she is still faced with challenges to build results now that she’s at an executive level. “Early in my career, I was told that diverse employees should expect to work twice as hard to earn half the accolades of a non-diverse employee,” she recalled. “That’s the challenge that has stuck with me throughout my entire career. And I believed that.”

Manigualt said she’s not exactly sure if having to put in double time as a minority is factual or not, but it did make her raise the bar for herself. “The hard work and the increased expectations I set for myself, have led to a career with many opportunities which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.”

As a Black female executive who chose to set high standards for herself, Manigault is now often asked to mentor individuals and help train them in their careers. “I recall the value mentors had in my life, and I’ve committed to helping anyone I can, however I can.”

Women in Banking

Manigault realized that there are more women in corporate America, than when she first started her journey into the banking industry. “I don’t really differentiate women executives from men executives. I consider all executive positions to be in scope for any aspiring leader.”

It’s a powerful statement that many in corporate America may disagree with, given that when you peek into the doors of Wall Street, most of who you see running the show are not women or people of color.

However, Manigault said it all depends on how you look at the full picture. “When I look around KeyBank, I see many executive level women doing great things.” As an example, she referred to the first and only female chief executive officer of a top-20 U.S. financial institution, who happens to be at KeyBank. “Beth Mooney has been named the most powerful woman in banking by American Banker for three years in a row. … Beth Mooney is not only a brilliant leader, who leads an amazing organization, she’s a guider and a coach who encourages everyone to give their all.”

Manigault said that KeyBank’s internal mantra, Playing to Win, is evident in the way the bank executes at all levels of the organization. “KeyBank commits to engage, grow, and retain a high performance talent and diverse workforce.”

Manigault’s journey into the financial services industry started many years ago, but she only got into the executive level after she joined KeyBank, which she said she attributes to a few specific things. “One, I’ve always understood the significance of being ready when the opportunity presents itself. And two, I think you always have to give your all.”

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