AN INTERVIEW WITH WISSAM FARAH, MANAGING DIRECTOR AT CITI

Written on 28 May 2015.


Some global companies struggle to invest strategically in talent management, what is Citi policy to attract  and retain the best talents?

Talent retention has indeed become an issue. After the crisis, investment banking has lost some of its appeal to young graduates from the best schools and universities. The compensation culture has started to normalize and the career progression paths are less obvious. Overall social perception of the financial industry has degraded and the better talents tend to look elsewhere. Talent retention for experienced workers is also an issue, as the environment  becomes more challenging, and the competitive landscape keeps evolving. Many new players are emerging in niche sectors or geographies, that attract talent with higher and faster growth potential. Citi has consciously deployed a talent program, which actually constitutes one of the legs of Execution 2.0, the new corporate strategy implemented in 2014. It emphasizes training, development and mobility. From recent observations, one continued difficulty seems to be retaining the more senior talent.

Recruiting more women into banking is a hot topic at the moment, what do you think they bring to the industry?

The low percentage of female population in banking is a reality but it is tending to increase, especially in the recent years. It probably results from many years of perception that banking is a high pressure environment with highly demanding commitment particularly in terms of time. The peak years in Markets for example are typically in people’s 30’s and to a lesser extent their 40’s. During that time, women can be naturally drawn by their family plans. This does not prevent women from striving in banking but they continue to be in minority compared to men. Looking broader, there have been obvious efforts towards better balance between men and women, for example in the board rooms of blue chip corporations. In Banking similar efforts are made, for example in the corporate promotion system. But it can be a fine line navigating between that and positive discrimination. On the trading floor, there can be entire rows of male traders with a relatively modest number women. However they can bring a lot to teams particularly in sales coverage functions that require strong interpersonal skills. In my sales team for example we employ a record 35% female with a dozen different nationalities.

With the Millennials joining the job market, the relationship between managers and recent grads is changing, what is your experience? 

Graduate expectations continue to evolve and they are no longer driven by just the high compensation or the corporate career potential. They also look at the environment, the sector potential like new technologies.  They are less prepared to work countlessly for large firms and seek better recognition and they want to have more fun. It has been more difficult to find and recruit top potential graduates into the programs. Looking at MBA’s for example, much smaller numbers of them actually apply to investment banking positions than before the crisis. Interestingly though, graduates born in the 1990’s  bring significantly fresh skills to the workplace. They are much more technology-savvy and can operate much faster in some areas like finding information or figuring out how to operate software. On the other hand they can be impatient and tend to neglect the more time-consuming training on fundamentals. Individual performance is really case by case and much depends on their relationship with their lines of management and how driven and open they can be to development.

As a graduate from EDHEC, what is your favorite memories of your study at the business school ?

EDHEC twenty years ago was probably quite different to nowadays in so many ways. We keep fond memories of certain lessons particularly certain professors that were real characters. Many of the subjects (particularly in finance) would be obsolete but the fundamentals remain. The social life at EDHEC was exceptional, and has left me with a valuable network of close friends, who today all work in different sectors and even countries.

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