What Sallie Krawcheck Learned about Embracing the F-Word—Failure

Photo of Sallie Krawcheck presentingThough Sallie Krawcheck’s name is synonymous with business success, it hasn’t always felt that way for the founder of Ellevest, a digital investment platform for women.

There have been plenty of failures in her life, admits Krawcheck, a former investment banker who went on to run Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, Citi Global Wealth Management, and Sanford C. Bernstein & Company. “Success and failure are merely steps in the road—you cannot have success without failure,” Krawcheck told the audience during her keynote at the 2017 Booth Women Connect Conference.

Here’s what she’s learned about failure—and how to move past it.
Take risks

Rather than follow the crowd, Krawcheck prefers to chart her own course. Indeed, she said she considers herself “disagreeable”—in a good way. Often that means going out on a limb to stand up for a particular business decision or following her gut on an unpopular company venture. At one point, she recalled, she pulled out of a business due to the ethical limitations that she saw. “By risking failure, I was able to be successful,” she said.

Push yourself to learn new skills

It’s critical to update your skills to overcome challenges, Krawcheck told the crowd. Whether it’s focusing on understanding the digital space or ramping up soft skills, learning can help offset failure. “The biggest risk to each of our careers is standing still,” she said.

Don’t give up

When first starting out, Krawcheck was rejected from analyst positions by most of the major banks—at Lehman Brothers, she recalled, she was rejected from a position three times. She persevered and ultimately landed at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company, where Krawcheck later climbed the ranks to become the CEO. “Success and failure are not polar opposites,” she told the audience.

Embrace failure

There’s no need to shut out your failures, said Krawcheck, who recounted that she never did find her dream job in media after graduating from college. Instead, acknowledge setbacks as a way to push forward. “Declare a global day of self-pity and let yourself be in that moment,” she said.

Grow your network

At Ellevest, her newest venture, Krawcheck is focused on making more room at the top for women. Through her role, she advocates for building a network that’s both wide-ranging and close-knit—especially important advice for women, who are still underrepresented in the C-suite. “We are all supporting each other and beginning to recognize that the days when there is only one seat at the table for us are over,” she said.

Krawcheck spoke at Booth Women Connect Conference, organized by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. The annual event brought together more than 1,000 professionals for an extraordinary day of bold ideas, spirited discussion, practical insights, and impactful networking. Join us for next year’s conference on October 12, 2018.

—By Alina Dizik

Read More Articles from Booth Women Connect Conference 2017»