Ever looked at a working woman in a high-profile job and wondered, “How did she get there?”. Same. In our series “How I Got Here,” we speak with women who’ve navigated the ups, downs, and sideways maneuvers that make up today’s modern work version of “climbing the ladder.” Ahead, we hear from Jess Liberi, head of product at eMoney, second biggest wealth management platform in the U.S. After college, she began her career working for SEI, a financial services company with, at the time, more than 2,500 employees. Here’s how Liberi networked her way to a new job and pitched a new product team to eMoney.
Meet our career woman
As Head of Product I am responsible for a team of people that help to shape the vision and strategy of the different products and solutions that we build for our financial advisor’s clients, the advisory firm, and our end investors. We are a software company that works with financial advisors and professionals, to help their clients develop better financial futures.
On my education and early career plans
I was really good at math and science. And those were the things that I was most interested in. As I went into college I wanted to be Pre-Med. And about a year and a half into that, I shifted gears. Everyone always jokes around about, “Was it organic chemistry that got you?” Yes, it was. I decided the Pre-Med path wasn’t for me. I switched majors and ended up studying economics with a concentration in finance. I went back to what I’ll call “pure mathematics.”
My mom was a big proponent of: as soon as you’re able to get a job, you’re gonna to get a job. From the time I was 14, I worked in restaurants, starting as a hostess at a restaurant and then “moving up” the ranks to become a server. In college, I did a work-study program but it wasn’t a good fit so I went back to working in restaurants.
Later, when I got my first job at SEI, we would often say, “It doesn’t matter what job you have, everything is a sale.” Every situation that you’re in you’re selling something. I would say waiting tables is a sales type of role, too. You have to work with people. You want to come off as amicable. People do business with people they like, and they are going to come back if they have a great experience.
SEI, the company I worked at for more than a decade after graduating from college, was a company of roughly 2500 people. Most of them were based in Oaks, Penn., where I was, too. I began working in one of the back office functions that supported the main business units. I learned quickly that to get noticed, what you really needed to do was network.
I knew that just because I had entered the company in a certain role, it didn’t mean I had to stay on a path in that particular department forever and ever. That was one of the first big challenges and lessons learned. To advance, I had to spend time talking to people, eating with people, and really trying to figure out what was the right thing for me at the company.
I met a few people that were in the advisor market. We had lunch, we had coffee, several conversations, and then they set me up with meetings with their boss, or their boss’s boss. You almost get your foot in the door before the positions are even open. So, that when they are open, they’re already thinking about you for it.
“Get your foot in the door before the positions are even open.”
It works because you’ve kind of laid that groundwork. And that’s exactly what happened. I applied, was really excited, and I got the role.
I started at eMoney in February of 2014 and exactly a year later, February 2015, was when the acquisition by Fidelity was finalized. My first year here at eMoney was an exciting one with lots of changes. But with those changes came lots of opportunity. During the acquisition and the subsequent resignation of our founder and then-CEO, I stole an opportunity to really start to develop a true product management function in the organization.
“With those changes came lots of opportunity.”
We had built products, solutions, services, features, and delivered them to our customers. But, I would say, we lacked a true product management function. What I mean by that is really thinking about how we want to shape the next three to five years: Who do we want to target? Where do we think we can make the biggest impact, and why? And what solutions, features, services are going to have the most impact to those people? And that’s exactly what the team that I began to build did. Over time, we went from a team of roughly 10 to 38.
On my biggest lessons to date
At a certain point you just do it because you don’t have anything to lose, right? It’s like, why wouldn’t I go up to this person and introduce myself and say, “Hey, I’m interested?” Why wouldn’t I ask for an introduction if I noticed that a friend of mine was talking to a friend who is connected to this other person?
“Why wouldn’t I ask for an introduction”
There comes the point that if you’re not advocating for yourself you realize that no one else is going to. Big company, small company, it doesn’t matter.
Often, we feel constrained by what seems like the obvious opportunities. Don’t necessarily expect a straight, linear career path. There will be lots of twists and turns in your career, but all of them are valuable and teach you lessons. It’s usually the twists and turns that get you where you are meant to be, which may not be where you initially envisioned yourself. And that’s okay!
No one is perfect, and everyone makes tradeoff decisions. Be proud of the ones that you make, and don’t compare yourself to other people. There is no instruction manual for working parents. Make your situation work for you.
I’ve been fortunate to have a great team of people around me. I wouldn’t be where I am without them. They work hard and believe in our mission at eMoney. And they’ve believed in me along the way. Being able to adapt to change—and roll with the punches—has been a good thing for me as well. Finding opportunities in the madness is always the silver lining.