Center for Women & Wealth

1. During your tenure at Brown Brothers Harriman (BBH), you’ve held various positions that focused on the intersection of business and technology, including the global head of BBH Infomediary®, chief development officer for information technology and co-head of information technology. You’ve discussed the need for business leaders to be more fluent with technology. How has BBH worked on increasing the integration between the business and systems?

Given the importance that technology plays in financial services, everybody needs to be at the table to help make the best decisions, as opposed to technology getting involved after the decisions are made. BBH has aligned technology and business goals to ensure there is more integration. Work has been done to align the business and technology teams from an organizational design and a process perspective. We are leveraging agile methodology and working together in cohesive teams on projects. Our oversight and operating committees include leaders from both sides of the organization to bring those functions together.

2. How can technology engage more women? What have you seen work during your career?

One of the biggest challenges for the technology industry is to attract women. Diversity and inclusion is good for business, and it is important for people with different ideas and skill sets to be at the table. For that to happen, the industry needs to convince women that there are exciting roles for them and that technology can offer a great career path. Several organizations are trying to attract women at younger ages, including Girls Who Code and different STEM programs that are hugely beneficial.

I’m one of many examples of leaders at BBH who applied their business talent to a role in technology. That wasn’t a coincidence; it was part of a thoughtful plan. The skills that I had – strong people management, organizational design, budgeting – were as critical for technology as they are for business. I think people often underestimate how many of their skills are transferrable.

Despite it being a challenge that I came in without a technology background, it also benefited me that I was coming in with fewer preconceived notions of how things should work. Given the rapid pace of change, it helps that I can step back and with less bias judge which changes we should adopt, as well as feel freer to move from how things have been done historically to new ways that we can do things.

Five Questions with Deborah Theobald

3. While working at BBH, you have played a pivotal role in the BBH Women’s Network. Why is the Women’s Network important to you?

I was one of the initial members of our first Diversity and Inclusion Council. Ten years ago, I joined as the co-chair of the Boston Women’s Network. At the time, I wanted to pay it forward to the younger generation and create a support network for women across the company.

At a leadership level, BBH was looking for ways to advance our diversity and inclusion efforts. I felt that involvement in the Women’s Network would allow me to understand the different needs of women at the firm, especially those who were early in their careers. It would allow me to help while providing ideas to the Diversity and Inclusion Council and to test different programs within the workforce

As much as I joined to pay it forward, I got back at least as much as I put in. It allowed me to build out my own network at all levels and helped me build my tribe and meet other women who continue to support me when I bump into challenges. It has been incredibly rewarding and amazing to see how many women and men at the firm volunteer their time and make an effort to be involved.

4. How have you seen BBH change since you started working at the company in 1994?

When I started at BBH, we didn’t have cellphones or email. We had a Telex machine in Luxembourg. Today, the world is so interconnected and news travels fast. We are online 24/7, which is a tremendous change. It is even more important that we think about how we handle work-life integration because you could work 24/7 easily. How you manage that balance for yourself and for your team is increasingly important.

5. What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

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PB-02984-2019-06-26