Barbara Novick ‘81 Kicks Off Dyson Symposium on Women in Leadership

In a room filled with driven students and accomplished women, I couldn’t help but feel inspired during the Keynote that kicks off the Dyson Symposium on Women in Leadership. We were fortunate enough to hear Keynote Speaker Barbara Novick ‘81, Co-Founder and Vice Chairman of BlackRock, shed light on how she navigated her career path after graduating from Cornell to where she is today. Novick has helped create the largest asset management company in the world, which now manages over $4 trillion worth of assets. Curious to hear what helped her along the way?

My personal takeaways:

  1. Barbara NovickFirst who, then what. Barbara Novick referenced Good to Great by Jim Collins to highlight the importance of finding the right team. Find the right people to board the bus before you pick a destination. In doing so, the flexibility of individuals and the team collectively would create a dynamic environment for adaptation, in the case that the direction needs changing. If you choose your team solely on each member’s destination, there’s hardly any room for flexibility.  
  2. Work-life balance often stems from a great partner. Pick wisely.
  3. Make conscious decisions and own them. Novick realized that she didn’t need a Master’s degree because her career was going well without it. She and her husband also made the conscious decision to move from San Diego, CA back to the Northeast to be closer to family. Whether you choose X, Y or Z, be comfortable with your decisions regardless of what others think or say.
  4. The creativity, flexibility, and strong desire to make it all work will go a long way. The decisions you make won’t always be right, and you may often feel overwhelmed, but you can gain so much from the creativity to solve problems, the flexibility to adapt, and the tenacity to make every situation work out.
  5. We can do anything does not mean we have to do everything. Relax. You don’t need to strive for perfection. Simply set your priorities (Novick prioritizes family and career). Never feel inadequate for seeking help. Finding a nanny was one of the best things that happened to Novick when she was raising 3 children: it freed up more quality time and allowed much more flexibility in her schedule.
  6. Find a mentor and be a mentor. There are much more women in leadership today than there were when Barbara Novick was in college. Use your resources. Ask questions. And importantly, be a mentor to someone else so you can pay it forward. It’s often a rewarding experience for both you and your mentee.
  7. Create your extended family. Whether it’s your friends, coworkers, or family, create a network of support. You will never know how much you’ll need their help when the time comes. With that said, what goes around comes around. Transferring the phone to her friend’s young girl so she can find out the gender of the new family baby was a heartwarming experience for Novick.

I found Barbara Novick’s talk comforting and reassuring. We often pressure ourselves into biting off more than we can chew. Sure, it can be a test of our abilities – to challenge and improve ourselves – but sometimes we just have to take a step back and look at the big picture. Instead of spreading ourselves to thin, by prioritizing what we can realistically fully accomplish with our time, we open up the possibility to delve even further into our priorities and open other opportunities we might not have otherwise have noticed. As Barbara Novick says: Make conscious decisions and own them. Be creative. Be flexible. Be tenacious.

In the words of Albert Camus, “Life is a sum of all your choices.”
What choices will you make to create the life you want?


Read more about Barbara Novick’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs on how to start a company and the story behind founding BlackRock.

Missed the Keynote? Rewatch it 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 joined First Boston in 1985 where she became head of the Portfolio Products Team. From 1982 to 1985, Ms. Novick was with Morgan Stanley.

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 previously served on the boards of Robert Toigo Foundation (2007–2010), City Harvest (2010-2012) and Westchester Day School (2000-2005), and served as both Treasurer and Trustee of Westchester Jewish Center (1994-2012).

Ms. Novick earned a BA degree, cum laude, in economics from Cornell University in 1981.