Meet The Female Titans Of Wall Street: Helen Kane, founder and CEO of Hedge Trackers

I would want to encourage employers to consider offering challenging growth opportunities to the women and men who what to make a substantial time commitment to their families/arts/communities but are also interested in and very capable of making a meaningful contribution in a corporate environment. With the increasing tightening of the job market, I hope […]

I would want to encourage employers to consider offering challenging growth opportunities to the women and men who what to make a substantial time commitment to their families/arts/communities but are also interested in and very capable of making a meaningful contribution in a corporate environment. With the increasing tightening of the job market, I hope to see many talented individuals return to the workforce in a way that is financially and professionally rewarding for both the employer, the employee and ultimately our communities.

As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Helen Kane, founder and CEO of Hedge Trackers. Helen Kane is the epitome of a successful female entrepreneur. As one of the few top women executives working in the complex space of derivative accounting, in 2000 she was inspired to leave her comfortable position at Deloitte and Touché and branch out on her own. With the formation of Hedge Trackers, Kane had two major objectives: (1) To carve out a niche by delivering practical solutions to make hedging and hedge accounting accessible to corporate clients; and (2) to attract and retain top talent by offering smart people both challenging work and balance between professional responsibilities and personal obligations outside of the office. The latter of the objectives enabled Kane to spend more time with her growing children … and enabled the employees she recruited to do the same. Kane has purposefully created an opportunity for her employees to have it all — family life and a productive, stimulating professional life. She knows how to foster fellow female derivative accountants by remaining attuned to their needs in the industry. Today, what started as a one-woman, San Jose-based shop in 2000 has grown to include more than 50 professionals in locations across the country serving hundreds of clients.

Thank you son much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?

I’ve always been interested in banking and finance. My original plan was to graduate college and go into international banking in Latin America. Unfortunately, I graduated in the 80’s when the Latin American countries were starting to default on international obligations … and that was the first of many sharp corners in my career.

A few corners later, I found myself running the international treasury operations of a mid-sized public company in the heart of the burgeoning Silicon Valley — a perfect sized company and a great time to get a lot of opportunities and growth in a short period of time.

I took those learnings into the 90’s when I moved to a “Big 4” accounting firm — consulting for clients with currency and other market risks.

I found myself in the right place (Silicon Valley) at the right time (2000 — I did not foresee the bubble burst, so I thought it was the right time) with the right skill set (deep corporate hedging and derivative accounting) and the right network (treasurers) to take advantage of market dynamics.

I was very comfortable and satisfied with my flex-time position as a Sr Manager in the Capital Markets group at a “Big 4” firm.

What tipped the scale to leave my comfort zone and start Hedge Trackers were my three daughters. In 2000, when I made the decision to venture out on my own, I had three daughters (ages 4, 7, and 10 at the time) that I wanted to raise to be confident enough to take risks with their careers. I knew the statistics. I knew that the chances to fail as an entrepreneur exceeded the changes to succeed — and the statistics were even worse for a women entrepreneur.

However, I also thought there would be, if necessary, a lesson in failure that I could share: It is ok to take risk and fail. Better to prepare you to try again, and perhaps, again.

Now that my girls are women, I hope they will take risks with their careers. I hope that the daughters of my employees will take risks. I hope the women that read about other women taking risks will feel emboldened to take risks. Measured, thoughtful and appropriate risks (I’m in finance so I can’t resist the caveat). And if the fail … that’s ok … there is more out there. Women are resilient. And if they succeed … even better.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are of course innumerable people who have helped along the way. The person that really made it possible on a day to day, week to week, and year to year basis for the last 20 years is my husband.

In the days of exploring the idea of starting a business, the one clear and consistent message was “it will eat your life” — and it did … and it continues to take a lot of care and feeding. As I mentioned earlier, I had three small children when I dived into this venture head first. That was only possible because the kids were nourished and instructed and supported by the person who loved them as much as I did. Maybe I could have started the company without that … but, it would have been a toe dip, a wading in, but being able to dive in thanks to the support of my husband made all the difference.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’m very excited about expanding our business model. When I started Hedge Trackers, I sought out professional women who had to step back from their careers to make a major commitment to child-rearing. I offered these CPA “stay at home moms” challenging technical accounting work they prepared in their homes and executed the first week of the month. We trained them on derivative accounting for currency, interest rate, and commodity hedges — not your everyday debit and credit. This freed them to tackle “other worthy pursuits” the rest of the month.

In the 20 years we have offered this employment model, the professionals that value this flexible work relationship has expanded to include both men and women and the “worthy pursuits” have expanded beyond their family to include art, community service, travel and more. With this model, we have been able to attract amazing talent. Brilliant, dedicated, client service-oriented professionals. By ignoring conventional daily 9 to 5 thinking we have accessed previously unavailable talent and provided clients superior professional output at a reasonable cost.

My personal objective is to increase the awareness of talent acquisition teams that flexibility can be the key to accessing highly talented people. Work doesn’t have to dominate all aspects and weeks of every employee’s life. One of my greatest challenges is finding more of these individuals, (accountants, software engineers, marketing, etc.) as they are as unaware of our interest as other employers are unaware of their potential.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We are committed to understanding our client’s risks, as well as, their hedge strategies and related accounting. Our clients most frequently learn hedging and related accounting applications “on the job”. The very experienced have generally seen less than a handful of hedge programs, and most of those look the same. They come from very lean shops and the currency, interest rate, or commodity hedging they do is a small part of what they do, and frequently the least comfortable part. When their hedge programs are running efficiently, no one notices — and when there is a problem, it is big, it is visible.

Recently we had a client reach out about a new hedge approach. The new leadership had colleagues from backing that pointed out his hedge program wasn’t a typical hedge program, so he was poised to put in the cookie cutter hedge program and “hedge more”.

Hedging is all about sheltering from risks, and what the colleague and client hadn’t understood was that the proposed hedge program would actually create risk for this company. We were able to refocus the corporate on their risk management objectives and help them evaluate strategies designed to mitigate — not create risk.

There are far too many nuances of corporate market risk that are not covered in the single chapter (our less) studied in business schools — and we excel at helping companies navigate the real world of hedging corporate market risk.

Can you tell us 3 challenges that women may face when they step from a mid level position to a senior board?

Women are frequently confused about their relationship with the rest of the management team or board. As they advance, they begin to think they have arrived and are “family” now — free to talk about and discuss the problems and issues across the company. They start to contribute insights and suggestions outside their area of responsibility, to peers or the broader team. This is not a popular or welcomed trait.

My most frequent advice is to remember that professional colleagues at all levels are not “family” and operate more like in-laws. Never family. If that analogy doesn’t resonate I rephrase it as playing a zone defense in basketball — stay in your own zone and don’t tell your teammates your ideas or recommendations for their zone, especially in a group setting. Learning when and how to offer “improvements” in a collegial and accepted fashion is a hard won but valued lesson.

Listen more.

Don’t loose the woman inside while winding your way to the top.

I know women who tell themselves that they will not try to take up senior executive roles because they want to prioritize being a “good mother”. In your experience, are the two really in conflict? What suggestions would you give to balance both?

I believe highly motivated women really struggle to find a healthy balance between work and home priorities. Reality is, work is easier. The risks are lower. I was raised in the era where women were promised they “have it all” (powerful career, happy marriage, motherhood, contributor to the community). I still believe you can have it all — but not all of it, all the time, and there will always be conflicts in priorities.

Frankly, marriage, parenting, and careers all require both quality time and quantity time. And there are still only 24 hours in a day. There are a lucky few who only need four hours of sleep a night, but fort the rest of us, we need to figure out what we can let others do for us.

Delegate all the things that don’t require your skill set. Protect your time. Both at home and at the office, time is your most valuable asset. That includes paying others to do time consuming tasks that are traditionally the mom’s job: daily housekeeping, meal prep, yard work, etc.

You don’t mention it in your question, but I hope women are also asking how to nurture their marriage as well. Relationships need to commitment of time and energy — two things that can be sucked dry by the career and kids (the divorce statistics are there to prove it). But I think women and men need to keep a focus on staying connected and engaged. I know I’d like to spend that time reaping the rewards of investing consistently over a long period of time in that relationship.

I recently had a woman with young children come to talk to me about a growth opportunity at work. And like most women (and I don’t know how many men) she was seriously weighing the impact that additional responsibilities and travel would have on her family. We had a very serious conversation about her feelings of responsibility and the pull of the potential personal growth and the pull of the developing lives of her children. I don’t know if she accepted the position. Either choice she made, I think she is right.

I know when the reface is over, won’t bemoan the hours I could have been at work — and I continue to work hard to make the kind of decisions such that I won’t bemoan things I should have done for and with my family.

Relationships aren’t everything, but they are a most important thing.

This may be intuitive but it’s useful to articulate this. Can you share with us why it is important for Bank boards to be more inclusive of women?

The value of diversity — any diversity, is the additional insights and perspectives applicable to all aspects of an entity. When you have a board of all white males over 45, your board can only relate to the wants and needs of all white males over 45. As non-white, non-male individuals make up increasing numbers of your customers, you employees, your competitions, and your shareholders, it is critical that the board grow to reflect the wants and needs of their stakeholders.

A second benefit that could be especially valuable would be less tolerance for sexual harassment. I would hope women in leadership positions would provide a bulwark against this specific abuse of power and privilege.

I mentioned earlier that I wasn’t convinced that the “old white boys club” days were over. We may have convinced women and men of color to play the “old white boy” game to get a bigger share of the pie. But I hope that in the future the diversity that comes to the board irrespective of race or gender will share a more robust commitment to the full spectrum of stakeholders — the employees and the communities they live in and the families they raise, the customers and communities they live in and families they raise — not just the large shareholders and activist investors

Which organizations would you encourage a woman aspiring to be on a bank board to join?

I am not in the banker space; however, I would encourage women to recognize the great value they do to their careers when they step back from their current task and employer, and network both within and outside the company engaging with formal and informal mentors. There is rich, relevant experience that we miss when we confuse commitment to getting the job done versus commitment to grow so we can do the job better.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Do you have to die to prove it”. When considering starting my business, I had voiced a concern to a mentor that even though my husband offered to be the primary parent to raise our kids, I was still reluctant. My mentor asked if I died, did I trust my husband to raise our children. I responded that I did trust him to do that. He then asked me, “Do you have to die to prove it”?

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would want to encourage employers to consider offering challenging growth opportunities to the women and men who what to make a substantial time commitment to their families/arts/communities but are also interested in and very capable of making a meaningful contribution in a corporate environment. With the increasing tightening of the job market, I hope to see many talented individuals return to the workforce in a way that is financially and professionally rewarding for both the employer, the employee and ultimately our communities.

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