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Wasserman CFO Elena Rochelli: “The main reason why such a small portion of senior level positions on Wall Street are held by women is work-life balance”

In my opinion, the main reason why such a small portion of senior level positions on Wall Street are held by women is work-life balance. It’s one of the reasons I left that world: the 100-hour work week and the choice of getting married and having a family are at odds with one another. One […]


In my opinion, the main reason why such a small portion of senior level positions on Wall Street are held by women is work-life balance. It’s one of the reasons I left that world: the 100-hour work week and the choice of getting married and having a family are at odds with one another. One thing that companies can do to fix this is to be more understanding of the trade-offs that working moms have to face and be more flexible around them. Things like better maternity leave policies, work-from-home and flexible hours, and part-time opportunities are so important in today’s working world.


I had the pleasure to interview Elena Rochelli. Elena joined Wasserman in 2015 as Chief Financial Officer, overseeing the company’s finance, accounting, M&A and IT activities. Prior to joining Wasserman, Rochelli worked in private equity at firms including Providence Equity Partners and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts after beginning her career in investment banking at Morgan Stanley. Rochelli received an M.B.A from Harvard Business School and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Princeton University. She currently resides in Manhattan Beach, CA with her husband, Mark, and their two children, Lila and Lucas.


Thank you so much for joining us Elena! Can you tell our readers a bit about your background? What attracted to the finance industry?

Having always been good at math and science, I grew up thinking I would be a doctor. It wasn’t until I took my first economics class at Princeton that I realized there might be other ways to apply my strengths that could be a better fit for me. I was fortunate in that my mother was a CFO herself and helped introduce me to finance through a different internship each summer while I was in school. Eventually I made the decision to abandon pre-med and was offered a spot in Morgan Stanley’s investment banking analyst program after college. Though the 100-hour work weeks were grueling, I adopted the philosophy that these were the years to soak in as much as I could and surround myself with the smartest people I could find. It was with this mindset that I made the decision to join KKR, a private equity firm that I would describe as both brilliant and exceptionally demanding. I was only the second female investment professional ever hired at the time and felt intense pressure to not disappoint. I was drinking from a fire hose and learned to hold my own amongst a pretty intimidating group of individuals. Harvard and my private equity roles after that were no different. I kept my head down and learned as much as I could so that I could get to a place where I could finally step back and say to myself: OK, I’ve got the tool kit. Now, what do I want to do with it?

What do you think makes your company stand out?

I learned about Wasserman from a colleague of mine who was a friend of Casey’s [Wasserman] and knew he had been looking for a CFO. This was a little over four years ago now. I will admit that when I first got the call I was skeptical. Having met with some of the other talent agencies in an investment capacity over the years I had an unfavorable image in my head of what working at one of these companies would be like. I took the meeting anyway upon the encouragement of my husband and I am so glad I did. Within 15 minutes of meeting Casey and the leadership team, I knew this place was different and it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I accepted the job a few days later and haven’t looked back since.

I think what sets Wasserman apart is the people. Yes, we’re in sports which is fun and I can’t complain about that, but honestly we could be selling widgets and I would be just as happy. I firmly believe that 95% of your job is who you work with, and at Wasserman, we have incredible people. There are also a lot of women in senior leadership positions, which is great to be a part of and has played a big role in the uniqueness of our culture. I think our clients really value that too so it’s been cool to see it from that angle as well.

Wall Street and the finance industry used to be more of a boy’s club and although there’s still work to be done, a lot of has changed recently. What do you think has caused the change?

I think companies are waking up to the fact that too much of one perspective is a bad thing. Diversity and inclusion initiatives are the hot topics in board rooms today for exactly this reason. To attract diversity and combat groupthink, you need to foster environments where people feel included. Boys club work environments are the opposite of that. Making progress on this front will go a long way towards attracting and keeping high-quality employees of all genders and races in the workplace.

According to CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion, what three things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and /or c) society to support women in the finance/banking industry going forward?

In my opinion, the main reason why such a small portion of senior level positions on Wall Street are held by women is work-life balance. It’s one of the reasons I left that world: the 100-hour work week and the choice of getting married and having a family are at odds with one another. One thing that companies can do to fix this is to be more understanding of the trade-offs that working moms have to face and be more flexible around them. Things like better maternity leave policies, work-from-home and flexible hours, and part-time opportunities are so important in today’s working world.

I think what society and individuals can do to support women in finance is recognize that women’s perspectives and approaches are going to be different from men’s, and not only is that OK, it’s actually a good thing. It goes to the groupthink problem we talked about earlier. We need more diversity of perspectives in the workplace and to make that happen we need to encourage people’s differences. Annual reviews and feedback need to reinforce that not everyone is going to fit into the same mold nor should they for a company to achieve its goals.

California made a big step forward on this front end of last year. All public companies headquartered in-state will be required to have at least one woman on the board by the end of 2019. More diversity of opinion at the top should lead to better, more supportive work environments at all levels. So good things are happening, they just need to keep happening.

Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are today?

The obvious answer to this question would be my mom, but I’m actually going to say my dad. Growing up, the thing I remember most about my family is how supportive my dad was of my mom in her career, and how much he put her on a pedestal, being her cheerleader on the sidelines, and reinforcing that there was nothing she couldn’t achieve. There was a quote that my dad used to say to my sister and me which was, “your mom is in the fast lane girls, your mom is in the fast lane.” My mom is a role model to me and it was because of how my dad set her up. I wasn’t raised to be a fairytale princess waiting for my prince to come — I was raised to go out there and get things done for myself.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” and explain how this is relevant to you in your life?

There’s a Maya Angelou quote I love that I see on a building on my drive home every day from the office: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” I think it’s super impactful, because she’s basically saying to stop moping about or playing the victim — you have the power to make a change, even if it’s just changing your perspective.

If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non-intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say?

  1. Do your own research
  2. Do your own research
  3. Do your own research
  4. Do your own research
  5. Do your own research

Nobody is going to watch out for what’s best for you financially like you can so you need to take ultimate ownership of your finances. That doesn’t mean you can’t have advisors. Just be diligent in choosing them and don’t blindly trust. Check in often. Ask questions. If something doesn’t sound right to you, ask more questions until you are satisfied. We have access to every piece of information we could want so it’s important to get educated and feel empowered that you have a right to completely understand where your money is going.

Are there any books or publications about finance that that you like to read that you can recommend to our readers?

When I was in business school, a group of women and I formed a book club to read all of the great investors’ books. My favorite book was “The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America” — I highly recommend it. It’s a great read.

Thank you so much for your time!

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