Barbara Novick ’81: From Cornell to Founding the World’s Largest Asset Manager
I was fortunate enough to attend a lunch at Banfi’s with Ms. Barbara Novick, Co-Founder and Vice Chairman of BlackRock. Ms. Novick shared her professional journey, starting as a Cornell student like us, becoming a leader in the finance industry and ultimately founding BlackRock–now the world’s largest asset manager. As students who are currently exploring career paths and possibly dreaming of starting our own companies one day, her personal stories, filled with career lessons and experiences, especially resonate with us and our aspirations.
“Seize opportunities to get out of your comfort zone. Know the importance of a strong, supportive group of friends and colleagues.”
The founding members had all known each other before from doing business together. All eight of the co-founders had strong working experience and professional respect for each other. In regards to the team, we had a mix of members who each had a specialized skillset in, for example, investment, financial engineering, and marketing. Each person was a piece of the puzzle. I had been working at First Boston Corporation and my area of specialization was product development, marketing, and business development. Of course, like many start-ups our positions took an organic path, where everyone really does a little bit of everything and people naturally gravitated towards their specializations.
2) As a leading professional in the financial services industry, do you think gender ever served as an obstacle to success for you or other high-achieving women? What strategies were successful for you as a woman in terms of dealing with any potential obstacles?
The industry is quite difficult for women in financial services to break through the glass ceiling. However, for me, the best way to approach this is to take action as if there is no ceiling and believe that you deserve just as much as the guy next to you. Of course, do your best, raise your hand, remain professional, and take action steps to get out of your comfort zone and try new things. This may not come naturally, but having a boss or mentor that pushes you can really help you grow professionally.
3) How has your experience at Cornell affected you personally and professionally?
I love Cornell and really enjoyed my undergraduate experience there. On the personal side, I actually met my husband at Cornell and we’ve been married for 32 years. I had a wonderful social experience and met a core group of great friends that have continued to stay very close to my husband and me.
Academically, Cornell provided me with a great foundation. I never went to graduate school and learned all my critical thinking and problem solving skills crucial to my professional future right on campus. Cornell truly gave me a great opportunity to broaden my horizons and challenge myself.
4) Lastly, is your targeted advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Startups during my endeavors were much different from start-ups nowadays, given the surge of internet technology innovations and mobile applications (which I’m not very familiar with since my daughter sets up most of my social media). But with any entrepreneurial endeavor you do need to think creatively and strive to think outside of the box. Balance this with utilizing traditional experience to figure out “here’s what we have, but here is what we need.”
I also recommend the book, Good to Great by Jim Collins. Collins’ primary advice resonated with me and I think it definitely applies to all entrepreneurs as well — while all companies have different cycles, for any business, you want to get the right people on the bus to know where and how to drive the bus. If you have the right people who are willing to jump into an idea with you, they make a commitment to each other and keep unified to figure out the best solutions together. When we first started out [with BlackRock], we didn’t really have a set business plan but we had a great team relationship. Did we have ideas that didn’t work? Absolutely. But we were all committed to each other and didn’t leave when things went wrong, we just went back to the drawing board and persevered to succeed together. That, in turn, created the successful business plan we now have. Even after over twenty years, five out of the eight co-founders still remain with the company. What kind of people join you and their staying power is definitely very crucial to any entrepreneurial endeavor you initiate.
Click here to learn more about Ms. Novick’s professional journey through her E-clips/Prendismo interview! If you are at Cornell use your NetID and password to see the full interview. Alternately, Cornellian’s can get directly to her eClips interview here.
Barbara Novick is a member of BlackRock’s Global Executive and Global Operating Committees and Chairs the Government Relations Steering Committee.
From the inception of the firm in 1988 to 2008, Ms. Novick headed the Global Client Group and oversaw global business development, marketing and client service across equity, fixed income, liquidity, alternative investment and real estate products for institutional and individual investors and their intermediaries worldwide. In her current role, Ms. Novick heads the firm’s efforts globally on Government Relations and Public Policy.
Prior to founding BlackRock in 1988, Ms. Novick was a Vice President in the Mortgage Products Group at The First Boston Corporation. Ms. Novick has authored numerous articles on asset management and public policy issues. Ms. Novick is a member of CFA Institute’s Future of Finance Advisory Council and Reuters’ Editorial Advisory Board. She currently serves as a Trustee of Cornell University, UJA-Federation, and the HCM Foundation, and coaches in the Westchester Youth Soccer League. Ms. Novick earned a BA degree, cum laude, in economics from Cornell University in 1981
Jennifer Park is a senior majoring in Policy Analysis and Management. She has enthusiastic interests in strategic business development and public-private partnerships. On campus she is involved in H.E.L.P. for Children as Co-President, Albert R. Mann Library as Student Computing Supervisor and an active member of Society for Women in Business.