Citi's Terri Gerosa on the power of make-or-break moments Within reach: Conversations with leaders on the front lines of the financial services industry

26 May 2020

The road to leadership is different for everyone. For Terri Gerosa, global head of operational risk and control for Citi?s Global Consumer Bank, it involved three countries, multiple pivot points, and seeing the difference between ?no? and ?not now.?

Terri Gerosa: I think it’s always acceptable, or it’s always OK to say not now. I can’t take this opportunity now because, I love what I’m doing, or I can’t take this opportunity now because it’s not the right time for my family or whatever the reasons are. [But] I don’t think you can continuously say that. Then it just becomes no. And those are two incredibly different answers.


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Tanya Ott: Balancing life and work as a woman in financial services. That’s what we’re talking about today on the Press Room.

Tanya: I’m Tanya Ott and this spring we’ve been talking to women about their journeys in the financial services industry—what motivates them, where do they find inspiration and support, and how do they grow as leaders. Today I’m talking to Terri Gerosa. She’s the global head of operational risk and control for Citi’s Global Consumer Bank. It’s a job that’s taken her all over the world … but it all started with—of all things—a literature degree.

Terri: Citi is actually my second career—financial services. I was born and raised in the US, and when I went to college, I graduated with a literature degree and my job search was incredibly sophisticated. If the job was in New York, that’s what I wanted to do.

So I joined the Macy’s department store training program as a general manager and I was with Macy’s for just about twelve years all over the US, in various roles in stores and in the buying line, where we purchased and made choices of products and distributed them to the stores. While I was sort of at the end of those 12 years with Macy’s, they sponsored me to go back to school and get my MBA, which I did. Now I’ll candidly say I don’t use my MBA too much in my day-to-day work, but I met my husband in the MBA program. So that was a significant moment in our lives. When we graduated, we both looked at new roles. He’s a Swiss national and we followed his career back to Switzerland. I wasn’t going to work. You know, I was in my mid-thirties at that point. We knew we wanted to start a family. I was home for about two months, and it turns out I was terrible at not working. We were living in Lugano, Switzerland, and a college friend of mine who was working for Citi in Geneva, Switzerland, contacted me and said, “Hey, can you do a temp job for us for six months? We need someone to translate some compliance requirements documents that we have from Italian into English.” I said, sure, I can do that. So I joined Citi actually as a temp, in a six-month role in Lugano in Switzerland. And, 22 years later, I’m still here. And that path has taken me from Lugano, where I worked in our private bank, supporting the work of our bankers, with our high-net-worth customers. I then moved to Geneva in Switzerland, which doesn’t sound like a big deal. But when you move in a place like Switzerland, you can change languages and cultures very quickly. We moved from Italian-speaking and Italian culture in Lugano, to French-speaking and French culture, Geneva. It really felt very different and business was done differently. I took a series of roles there, all interesting in my view, all exposing me to new things. Ultimately, I needed to make a choice. After having run essentially the largest role that I could run from Switzerland in my area at the time, which was operations and technology, I needed to choose whether we would stay in Switzerland and keep going in this area that I loved or possibly change areas, but then, needing to change geographies as well. I should mention that by that time I was actually four kids later.

Tanya: Oh wow!

Terri: Exactly. So four children born in that segment of the career. And we decided at that point, I had the opportunity to take just a terrific job in Warsaw, Poland. That was very cool. An incredibly different cultural environment but also a very different role. Switzerland, it’s a small country. Citi’s business there was relatively focused and by our normal scale, pretty small. Moving to Poland with a pure leadership job in one of our Citi solution centers, which are large operational sites. I jumped up to a responsibility where all of a sudden I was not talking to the 200 people that I had been talking to in Switzerland, but by the end of my tenure in Poland, to the 4,000 people who were working in our solutions center there and supporting all of Citi’s businesses globally.

Tanya: There are some people who would look at that journey that you’ve been on and go, oh, my gosh, that’s a little terrifying. Picking up, moving to another country or countries, juggling family, lots of kids and work, and all of that. Then there are others of us who jump at that kind of stuff. Were you always like that? Or, what prepared you to make those kinds of moves?

Terri: I was not always like that. I was never in my youth, and nor do I come from a family of big travelers. I’m one of three children. I have two brothers. And at one point, my parents, who were in their 70s at the time, found themselves with two of their three children living in Europe. And my parents had never even owned passports. So if you would ask, is it part of my DNA? Probably not naturally. But I like to tell the story that my parents’ reaction to finding themselves in their 70s with two kids in Europe was actually go out and get passports.

Tanya: That’s awesome!

Terri: Right? To travel over and start visiting us. I do think maybe there is something in the DNA that goes there. You have to be realistic that you don’t ever have 100 percent of the information required to make such a decision. Some of it is a leap of faith. Some of it is timing in your life. I think our children, when we moved from Geneva to Poland, which was a much more dramatic move than moving from Lugano to Geneva, our children were between the ages of 8 and 14. It felt like the right time to ask them to move. I also think, it came down to a massive commitment by my husband to put his career on hold for a moment while we relocated from Geneva to Poland.

Tanya: I was just going to make the observation. It sounds a lot like the arrangement my husband and I have had for the last 30 years, which is we sort of tradeoff who gets to move for jobs. It doesn’t always work, you know, back-forth, back-forth. But generally, it evens out and it’s kind of dictated where we’ve lived as well.

You’ve been at this for a very long time. You’ve had an opportunity to see what gender in the workplace looks like, particularly in financial services over a period of time. When you’re looking at gender equity, give me a sense of, when you first got into this, what it was like and then what you’ve seen since then.

Terri: I have to start out by saying, I’ve had the personal pleasure and I guess good fortune, based on what we know about the statistics, to say I have never felt personally any of the potentially negative impacts that you can feel as a female in an industry and a workplace where there are a lot of very successful men.

The transparency around the desire to have women move into leadership positions and into their very visible roles has shifted. Shining a bright light on anything—I always think it’s a significant part of getting to the root of the issue and making the changes that will help drive what is needed. I do remember over the years in Citi—and Citi is a company that, both internally working here and externally from measures in the industry, we are well-regarded and we are very focused on having a diverse and equitably managed workforce—I think that the dialog has shifted from 10, 15 years ago from, let’s look at women in senior positions to, let’s look at women in senior positions that are revenue-generating positions. Because all senior decision-making authority is important, but a company’s focus is to run a profitable business on behalf of all of its stakeholders and run a responsible business on behalf of all of its stakeholders. For us, that’s shareholders, it’s customers, it’s regulators. But I do like the shift in saying, hey, let’s not only focus on getting women into these senior positions, but let’s get them into the ones that are owning profit-and-loss centers and driving the firm’s solutions for our customers and interactions with our customers.

Tanya: When you’re talking about that shift, you’re talking about not focusing exclusively or more on things like senior leadership when it comes to marketing and communications or H.R. and those kinds of roles, but something that’s more directly related with the profit-making of the company.

Terri: Exactly. And you know, these subtle changes in messaging are all steps forward. When you do talk about moving to building a pipeline of women who are ready to take on these senior roles, it starts by putting them in roles where they’re going to build the experience and the capabilities that we want them to have. While that sounds a little bit like a subtle shift, it’s an important one. It makes it feel like we’ve taken a step forward: Not only how senior you are, but what you do with that seniority.

Tanya: I would imagine that shift, however subtle, also may open up other opportunities for women to move even higher into CEO positions and such, because I would imagine a lot of those would come through the types of jobs that you’re talking about—senior leadership in profit-making ventures.

Terri: Absolutely. That’s route to the C-suite, because the C-suite is, about being able to demonstrate that you can deliver returns for the shareholders and the firm. That’s one of the major objectives of those in those offices. And that includes the revenue side of the equation. We need women who are in those roles and all throughout the hierarchies that we have, so they’re growing and learning. Running businesses maybe in small countries or maybe in smaller businesses and moving up a classic career ladder as would anyone up there.

Tanya: You’ve been in a number of different positions and you talked a moment ago about moving from leading a couple of hundred to several thousand. How would you describe your leadership style?

Terri: I would describe it as genuinely always trying to stay true to myself. I am very open. I know that sometimes sounds trite when you say it, but the two things that matter to me are being incredibly consistent. The more people who need to be responsive to your message, they need to hear that consistent message over and over again. That tone at the top helps tone at the middle and then execution all the way through the organization. I try to say the same thing to my direct reports as I would say to a town hall. And the second thing is, I really try to work very hard to be—it’s silly to say you work hard to be genuine, that sounds odd as I say it, right? But I do try to let my personality come through. I like that I am known to have a sense of humor that I use appropriately and at the right time, and that I am open to having a dialog. When I have an “ask me anything” session, I really mean, ask me anything. Saying, “no,” or, “I don’t know and I’ll get back to you,” is OK. If someone has an idea, they think it’s great and there are reasons we can’t do it, I just don’t think we can leave false hopes laying out there if we know the answer is, we’re not going to be able to do something. Consistency and genuine human approach, I hope, that’s how I would be known.

Tanya: There’ve been a lot of narratives around what it means to be a “boss” over the years. I’m curious how you think you’ve seen that narrative changing for women, driven by women or maybe just in general.

Terri: That’s interesting because that’s one thing that still, for me, remains slightly different in different places, even with the same company. I certainly think that boss has a less hierarchical connotation than it probably used to. But there’s still a certain level of respect that needs to always exist between a boss and the individuals who work for them. Financial services is a good example. It is a relatively hierarchical industry. We have structured organizations. We need to have structured decision-making because of the regulated nature of what we do. You can be collaborative. You can try to build consensus. But ultimately, when you’re the boss, your role is still to make the decisions that will be best for the organization, be best for its people, drive you forward toward your strategic goals. We may use different language around it but a boss is still the boss. I think of my boss as a boss.

Tanya: I have a daughter who is a junior in college studying economics, and she’s going to be working at a financial services firm this summer as an intern and looking at that as a career. I’m wondering what you would say to someone like that, what you would hope the gender equity conversation might be when she’s in this industry 10 or 20 or 30 years from now.

Terri: Ideally, I would hope it wouldn’t be a conversation! In the sense that we wouldn’t need ask questions in our surveys that we ask to all employees around, whether they see gender equality as something that still needs work or needs to be discussed. But in fact, we’re using 50 percent of the world’s brainpower, as we would expect to. Right? 50 percent of the world’s creativity.

But if you were saying what advice would I give to her for this summer? There are things you can always start that will help you out. In my view, they can be even more helpful to women than to men. I consider my network of women in Citi my most powerful network. We all have our different ways that we categorize our networks and those we can help and those who will help us. My women’s network is something I’m incredibly grateful for. So, I would say, your ability to start building a network—which can be absolutely diverse and is more malleable when it’s diverse—but to start building that on day one. The folks you grow up with, if you will, within an organization are incredibly valuable and can provide insight over the course of a career. Summer internship programs where you start with large classes of peers, it’s just a great opportunity to do that.

Tanya: So that’s really great advice for someone who’s just starting off in the career. You spoke at the beginning of our conversation about having four children and moving around Europe for your job. I’m wondering what advice you would give to women that are a little more experienced and are looking at that challenge, quite frankly, of balancing family life and work life when you’re in a high-stress environment or an environment that demands a lot on both sides.

Terri: I have two daughters and two sons. So, I do look at some of this through the lens of my daughters and also, quite frankly, how we try to teach our sons. I try to make sure that I have the big moments that I’m completely available [for], right? Not only physically available, but emotionally there. This real sense of being present now, because there will be times, both at work and in your personal life, when you have two things that do look equally appealing. I’d love to go to this meeting because, this person I’d like to work for is going to be there, and it’s my son’s football game or my daughter’s volleyball game and I know she’d like me to be there. Neither of them is make-or-break but you have to make real priorities around the make-or-break moments. My daughter [is] playing her volleyball game against a team who she considers to be their absolute rival, so it’s more important to her that I show up to this one. If you can plan around it, plan around. I’m a big list maker. My husband thinks I need a spreadsheet to do everything. That’s not really true, but …

Tanya: My husband says that’s true for me and it’s actually not far off.

Terri: We don’t need a spreadsheet for that, and don’t use your managing director voice with me.

Tanya: I get the, why are you using the announcer voice with me? Stop it, mom!

Terri: Our families can be our greatest source of, quite frankly, keeping us grounded and keeping our perspective. When I lived in Poland, my role was really a lot about communication. I did a lot of what we call town halls internally. And I was talking to a lot of people at those sessions. I rehearsed for those. I practiced out loud. I practiced in the mirror. Then, of course, my husband and children got the presentation, and when I was finished presenting to them, my kids would look at me and say, “Mommy, what you do is really boring.”

Tanya: That’s a little humbling, isn’t it?

Terri: Exactly. So that keeps you grounded, too. There’s no magic to getting it all right, in terms of that balance. Everyone has come to the realization that you can’t have it all at once. You have to pick those high-stakes meetings at work, those high-priority things at home, those activities that are important and where you need to really be present and make sure you’re there and 100 percent in.

Tanya: What’s one thing that you would change or maybe enact in order to make a difference in the gender equity of the financial services industry?

Terri: The leadership that certain firms, and I’m proud to say that Citi is one of them, are showing in terms of compensation, transparency. I am proud of Citi because we put out what we call adjusted and unadjusted numbers.

Tanya: Explain what that means.

Terri: We take a look at the roles that folks are performing and say, “Are you paid the same at the same level?” But then we also adjust that for the number of folks who are performing those roles and do finer comparisons. So when you look through that, if you will, that simpler lens, Citi looks very good. Pretty strong. You’ll have to go back and check on the numbers, but it’s close to in the high 90 percent parity. But when you do some of those further adjustments that help make a more real-world comparison around the diversity of women that you have in the more senior roles, real apples-to-apples comparison, then there’s still work to be done. I’m a genuine believer in that nothing can change the world like putting the facts out there and then taking actions that will help address changing those facts. I would just applaud all efforts to shine a bright light on the differences that do exist.

There’s the pay and reward component that’s clearly the most measurable one. I don’t know how you measure personal fulfillment and satisfaction with what you do across industries and businesses. If we could figure out how to do that, that would be another brilliant measure because I’m very fulfilled with what I do every day, and that’s an important part of why I want to keep working and keep delivering for what is expected of me. That bright sunshine is the biggest thing that we can collectively do to get to the right place.

Tanya: We’ve spent a lot of time talking about your work in Europe, but you’re in New York now, and this is a relatively new role for you. How did you get into this?

Terri: When I needed to leave Poland, that was an assignment that I took for three years and I was actually looking around for something new to do. I was presented with the opportunity of moving to New York for a role in compliance, which I had no experience [with]. Something incredibly different, in anti-money laundering.

Tanya: That’s fascinating.

Terri: It really is. And very different from my previous experience. And at a really difficult time, for my family. I had two students who were starting their senior year in high school. And the family would have needed to move while that was happening, so we actually made the call—this is, a once-in-a-lifetime call—to split the family up for a year so my two seniors could finish high school back in Poland. And I came to New York to take on this role in the compliance and anti-money laundering space. Taking that leap, turned out to be a very good choice. Again, trial by fire and vertical learning for about the first six to nine months that I was in that job. Then a year later, two happy seniors graduated from high school and moved into their colleges and the rest of the family came over. I did that for about three years in total, worked in that compliance area, and then moved into the job that I’m in right now about six months ago. So, continuous change and continued interesting opportunities.

Tanya: It sounds like this sort of lifelong learning and not being, I don’t know if it’s not being satisfied with not being challenged or simply really wanting to take the leap to try new things, is important to you.

Terri: It is important, and I actually think it’s ... always acceptable or it’s always OK to say, not now. I can’t take this opportunity now because, I love what I’m doing, or I can’t take this opportunity now because it’s not the right time for my family, or whatever the reasons are. [But] I don’t think you can continuously say that. Then it just becomes no. And those two [are] incredibly different answers. It’s not that I said yes to everything or that I’ve gotten every opportunity I went for, because I didn’t. But I do feel like [when] I’ve thought through it and discussed through it with both my professional network and my personal network and my family, and we’ve gotten to yes, it’s never let me down. I feel pretty fortunate about that. It’s a tribute to those who give me advice and help me think through those big pivot points.

Tanya: Terri, I would say that it’s so interesting how closely your experience parallels mine in some ways, because I took a big leap out seven years ago to move two and a half hours away from my family for five years to work. I did the bistate weekend commute thing. It was tough personally and otherwise very professionally rewarding. It was a good move. But those decisions are really tough to make. I had a senior in high school, an eighth grader and a sixth grader. It was rough.

Terri: One of the sad moments—and this was at some point after we had made the decision to do that and I had been here maybe two or three months in New York—so it was September or October and the kids were just back in school. My husband said, and this is over the phone, over Skype—he said, “Do you realize, this is the last year, that all six of us would be living together?” I’m like (fakes crying) ... “Why did you tell me that?”

Tanya: Oh, my gosh. Terri—thank you so much for sharing your story with us. It was great and our listeners are going to get a lot out of it.

Terri: It was my pleasure. Thanks so much.

Tanya: Terri Gerosa is the global head of operational risk and control for Citi’s Global Consumer Bank. Her career in financial services has taken here all over the world.

Each of the women we’re talking to for this series has their own journey. And you can learn about those journeys on the podcast and at our website,

We’re on Twitter at @DeloitteInsight and I’m at @tanyaott1. So glad you joined us for today’s conversation. I’m Tanya Ott and we’ll be doing this again in about two weeks. Don’t miss it. Subscribe to the Press Room podcasts wherever you get your podcasts. It’s easy and free.

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