Three in 30 Episode 2 Recap: The ‘Key’ to the Citi with Bill Hartmann

Bill Hartmann has been around the block. From his nearly 30 year tenure at Citigroup, to transforming Key Bank as part of their C suite, it’s safe to say that Bill has seen a thing or two in his day. 

In this episode of Three in 30, we were fortunate enough to sit down with Bill and get a small dose of his potent insight – and delightfully dry wit. Here’s a quick skim of what he shared with us during our conversation: 

Recession: More Than a Feeling?

As of the morning of July 28th (the day we recorded this episode), Q2 GDP numbers were released at -90 basis points, putting us in a recession by the commonly accepted definition – and yet, there still seems to be a real lack of consensus about what’s happening. Bill’s take? Diagnosing recession might be a bit more nuanced than we’d like to believe. In fact, he thinks it has a lot more to do with how it feels than taking a simple litmus test: 

“It doesn’t feel like we’re in a recession, even if we technically are. I would say probably not by my definition. Nobody can hire enough people, there are jobs out there that are paying more than they’ve ever paid and they can’t find people to take those jobs — and this is across the skill set. That, to me, doesn’t feel like a recession. Yes, we have inflation. Yes, things are getting more expensive. Yes, people are looking at ways to cut back on what they spend, but we’re not seeing the normal signs of recession that are out there.” 

Sure, this interpretation doesn’t necessarily make navigating the current market any easier, but it feels closer to the truth of what we’re all experiencing. We’ll take it. 

Imposter syndrome, Quants, and asking the right questions 

If you’ve ever felt imposter syndrome on the job, this episode is a must-listen. In our conversation, Bill recounts the trials and tribulations of trying to ‘turn the ship’ at Key Bank – starting with their data. In a process that took the better part of a few years, the bank was able to completely transform their operations, cutting reporting times from months to just a few days – an effort that put Bill at the helm of a crew with some pretty serious expertise. 

“We had to build models that reflected what would happen in a stressful situation. So we ended up hiring a bunch of PhD’s. I had responsibility for the modelers and the model risk management and I’m sitting in this room listening to these PhD Quants debating back and forth and I had no idea what they were talking about. But what I did find out is that there is a logic to all of this stuff, and if you knew how to ask the right questions even the Quants would listen to you.” 

The moral of the story? You don’t have to know everything, and you shouldn’t try (or pretend) to. In this case, coming in with an open mind, being a good listener, and asking the right questions helped take Key Bank, and Bill, to new heights. 

Keeping up with the regulators: A race with no finish line

How to make it to the top in the banking world? Having endurance is a good start. It’s not hard to imagine that throughout his career, challenges like the one described above we’re aplenty, but no matter how many times you’ve done it, targeting a moving goal post is no easy feat: 

“The standards kept changing. Every year they’d come up with a different scenario, but they also kept changing their standards. This year we want more fields, we want more data. More, more, more. Everything you do comes with a cost. You have to store it, process it, understand it. That challenge of having to, every year, up your game was tough and your board of directors didn’t really understand: “When do we get to the end game?” There was no finish line. It’s like climbing to the top of the mountain and every time you think you get there, there’s another peak.” 

We’re mixing metaphors here, but you get the idea. How’s your cardio? 

A Change Will Do You Good

To some, a 30 year stint at any job might seem like a recipe for complacency, but Bill was quick to point out that Citi, and his role there, was in constant flux, “I tell people that yes I was at the same company for 30 years, but it wasn’t the same company over that 30 year period.” Between M&A’s, leadership changes, different ways of doing business, and living and working around the globe, Bill lived several lives at just ‘one’ job. And therein lies his secret (or Key) to success: change is good – and so is a healthy dose of fearlessness. 

“I was always looking for what the next thing would be. I was trying to figure out which way things were going and was always looking for the opportunity to learn something, to do something different. And as I’ve told my own kids, I was never afraid that I was going to make a mistake and lose my job. I had enough confidence that I could learn it. I might have to take a step back and go in a different direction. I just did that all the way through my career looking for opportunities.” 

Listen to the full episode here. 

Lindsay Curry | Head of Marketing


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