I took a really big risk and even though I swung and missed, it was one of the most valuable experiences of my life. Throughout my whole life, I never really felt like I was going to fail, I was at the top of my class in school and had a vibrant career in investment banking and on the trading floor. When you are at the top and surrounded by people with incredible self-confidence, you operate under the mindset that you will always succeed and never fail — and people tell you “that is a great idea, you will crush it.” After trying LIFTLUXE for two years, it became clear that the company wasn’t going to succeed. The biggest lesson I learned from this experience was that taking a risk to start something on your own, even if it ends up being a failure, is so incredibly valuable. I ended up gaining so much as I had to learn how to create my own infrastructure and operate in a world of unknowns where every detail is ambiguous. It really flexes a different muscle in your brain as you have to navigate challenges and overcome hurdles on the fly. Failing for the first time was super humbling and it has taught me that you can’t have true personal growth until you fail. Without that experience, I wouldn’t have really figured out what path I wanted to take in the long term.
As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Johnson. Amy is the COO for dv01, a company revolutionizing the mortgage and consumer lending markets through technology by creating actionable insight out of disparate data. dv01 offers the world’s first end-to-end data management, reporting and analytics platform with loan level transparency, doing their part to prevent a repeat of 2008. As COO, she is responsible for Sales & Marketing, Account Management & Reporting, Data Integrations, Finance and Legal. In a nutshell, she is responsible for scaling the business and maximizing operational efficiency. Amy has worked in finance for two decades, having experienced two major financial cycles, the dot-com bubble, as well as the 2008 credit crisis, while rising up through the ranks in investment banking, credit trading, business management and running a global sales team. She worked at some of the largest companies on Wall Street, including Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank as well as Intercontinental Exchange, one of the largest exchanges, clearing houses and market data providers to Wall Street. She also found the time to launch her own start-up, a fashion company, in the midst. Amy has a BS in Actuarial Science from the University of Illinois and an MBA in Finance from Wharton.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
It was actually a total fluke. I always had a passion for pure math and really had no idea what I wanted to be when I “grew up.” I started off as an Electrical Engineering major in undergrad and in Engineering 101 when our TA sat us down and told us to build a website, I thought, “no way is this major right for me.” I went to the dean of the math department and asked what careers I could explore, given my love for math. I didn’t want to be a professor, so he said, “maybe accounting,” or, there was this thing called actuarial science. So, I did some homework on actuarial science because accounting just didn’t seem right. And, I dove into this very narrow major, Actuarial Science. I only realized later that it was also a completely narrow career path after completing two actuarial science internships crunching numbers by myself in a lonely cubicle. By my senior year of college, I was scrambling to pivot fast. I talked to friends and “heard” of this investment banking job and decided to go for it despite the whispers of horribly long hours. Luckily, I had taken some finance and accounting classes during undergrad, so I wasn’t totally ill-equipped for the interviews. I ended up receiving offers from almost all of the bulge-bracket banks. The rest was history. I ended up absolutely loving it. I was in the Technology Banking Group during the bubble and had the amazing experience of taking several companies public, so it was really incredible getting that exposure right out of college.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
After being in finance for over a decade and surviving the credit crisis, I was at a crossroads. I felt as if I wasn’t really being challenged anymore and the incoming regulation after the crisis had really turned me off to the whole industry. In a turn of events, I ended up leaving what was a really stable career path to start my own fashion company called LIFTLUXE. It was a men’s e-commerce site selling designer apparel, footwear and accessories mixed with a lifestyle blog. The target demographic was men who were cash rich, time poor and valued convenience. Basically, the men I worked with on Wall St. While a great idea, I had absolutely no experience or expertise in the fashion industry and looking back I really don’t know what I was thinking starting it. But, I took a really big risk and even though I swung and missed, it was one of the most valuable experiences of my life. Throughout my whole life, I never really felt like I was going to fail, I was at the top of my class in school and had a vibrant career in investment banking and on the trading floor. When you are at the top and surrounded by people with incredible self-confidence, you operate under the mindset that you will always succeed and never fail — and people tell you “that is a great idea, you will crush it.” After trying LIFTLUXE for two years, it became clear that the company wasn’t going to succeed. The biggest lesson I learned from this experience was that taking a risk to start something on your own, even if it ends up being a failure, is so incredibly valuable. I ended up gaining so much as I had to learn how to create my own infrastructure and operate in a world of unknowns where every detail is ambiguous. It really flexes a different muscle in your brain as you have to navigate challenges and overcome hurdles on the fly. Failing for the first time was super humbling and it has taught me that you can’t have true personal growth until you fail. Without that experience, I wouldn’t have really figured out what path I wanted to take in the long term. This experience helped me realize that I wanted to combine my entrepreneurial skillset with my love for finance, ultimately leading me to where I am now at dv01, the perfect intersection of growing a start-up in the capital markets industry.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
As dv01 is on track to grow 3x this year, we are focused on maximizing scale and growth. I am currently in the process of building out our Account Management & Support team as well as taking on our Data Integrations and Reporting teams. My focus is set on making sure we are operationally efficient and set up to handle the massive scale in front of us. Internally, this focus on operationally efficiency will empower our teams with technology solutions that replace arduous manual workflows. We are also bringing all of the client-facing teams under one umbrella to cross-functionally shrink the communication gaps and ultimately close them across the board. Externally, this focus on growth will ultimately allow our clients to be able to access more data and encourage greater transparency within the lending markets as we onboard more securitizations and historical data sets. We know that the faster dv01 grows, the more impact it will have in making the market safer and smarter for capital markets investors, ultimately striving to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis. We want to grow from online lending and mortgages into more and more asset classes — autos, student loans, etc.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
dv01’s entire ethos is driven by transparency both internally and externally. Nothing is hidden with our team: we disclose all numbers, board decks, and are very open about our performance as everyone on our team plays a part in moving us forward. In every other company I have been at, there has always been some sort of backchannel, where only a select few know what’s really going on. That’s something that makes dv01 really stand out. Transparency and trust drive us and that is shown in how we run our company, involve our team and interact with our clients and investors. I attended an event one night held by our auditors and listened to the speaker who had launched numerous successful start-ups, talk about the importance of transparency within a company and also to external stakeholders. The following morning, I found myself in the same subway car as an employee and I asked her if she was happy at dv01. She replied saying that she really was, speaking directly about how she loved our culture and transparency ethos. Hearing from both sides, an outside speaker and an employee, connected over a period of just 12 hours, made me realize that we are really doing something right.
Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
In the early to mid-2000s, the banks started to realize that diversity was a huge issue within their organizations. They started hiring Heads of Diversity and created recruiting mandates targeting diverse Analyst and Associate classes. These classes have ultimately grown into the now senior leaders peppered across Wall Street. As we know, in finance, Analyst programs start with a healthy and diverse class, usually almost equal to the white male population, but women tend to drop off as they rise through the ranks.
Around that time, I was working at Goldman Sachs, and remember them starting a women’s initiative program. In my opinion, this change was sparked by the banks recognizing that when you only have one type of opinion or perspective in the room, it results in a lack of new ideas which ultimately could leave money on the table. Wall Street is a much better place now because of it. Throughout my career, I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity of working and learning from a fantastic and diverse group of people across the board.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?
I think there are two main factors at play.
Number 1, although there may be almost 50% of Analyst classes populated by women, generally not all women absolutely LOVE finance. They often want to take what they learn and pivot into a different career. There are so many women from my Analyst class in investment banking who pivoted into different careers and are so incredibly successful leading companies, founding companies and who are at the very top of their games — just not in finance.
Number 2, At the same time, a lot of women leave the industry when they have children. I don’t have kids, so I can’t speak personally to this, but literally all my girlfriends that are my age do and they all still work and are so incredibly successful. I will speak to what I see works for them, although it’s honest and may not be popular as it’s not necessarily achievable by most of the population.
What can be done by a) Individuals — Surround yourself with a support system. Your family and friends and a supportive partner who wants you to succeed in your career; live close to your family so you have someone who can pick up the kids from school and take them to practice without feeling guilty while you work a bit late or take a client out after work. And, to be honest, most of the women I know with kids have nannies. I know this is an absolute luxury, but I am so proud of my friends who are at the very top and I don’t know a single one who has done it without a nanny or family support. b) Companies — foster women as they grow. If you notice talent, recognize it and reward it. Promote it and pay it. Support them through their milestones, including childbirth. c) Society at large should encourage girls and young adults to embrace their passions. It is so easy to assume that every girl likes to play with dolls and dress in pink. I like to dress nice and had my share of barbies and dolls, but I loved Legos and flashcards. There are early signs to a more analytical side that society can encourage that may bring more women into analytical careers like finance and engineering.
You are a “finance insider”. 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? Can you please give a story or example for each.
If I had to advise someone on five non-intuitive things to do in order to become more financially literate, they would be:
When you have achieved great success, you often forget how you got there. Here are some things that worked for me and I continue to re-visit in my adult years:
- Learn the value of money at a young age. I started working the day I learned that I could make money doing it. I babysat, waitressed, tutored, was a TA and did two internships, allowing me to graduate without any debt after college.
- Invest early and save money. Try to save at least 10% in your 20s and 20% of every dollar you make thereafter. Save every bonus.
- Material things that matter more in your 20s, handbags, fancy shoes, designer clothes, etc., become so much less important later in life and they don’t last forever. Surrounding yourself with people you love and caring for yourself trumps all material things. Spending money on experiences and travel will create memories that last a lifetime. By practicing point 2, you can spend on experiences and health and wellness that pays dividends.
- Follow companies — they are stories and can be fun. Pick 5. Learn what revenue is — what drives revenue? What is profit? Why? What is cash flow? Why does that matter? You can learn so much by reading content and listening to podcasts — some of my favorite podcasts are How I Built This with Guy Raz and Boss Files with Poppy Harlow. These podcasts often explore the backstories behind how companies were founded and can be a launchpad to following just 5 companies that you love and may invest in.
- Understand how the economy and the government work together. This video “How the Economic Machine Works” by Ray Dalio is a good place to start and is only 30 minutes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHe0bXAIuk0.
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 get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My first Managing Director at Merrill Lynch, Steve Moss. He really threw me into the fire and gave me an incredible amount of responsibility from the start. I was talking and presenting to CEOs right out of college, modeling companies (financial models), taking companies public (IPOs), you name it. He was a really great manager who granted me a level of trust that allowed me to grow and develop professionally at a rapid pace. His management style is one that has greatly impacted the way I manage my team today. I strive to be the transparent, open communicator that he was. I remember after he had an important meeting, he would always send a voicemail to the entire team to fill us in on the meeting and the takeaways. I was able to learn so much from him. He showed me that the best managers delegate, are transparent and invest in their team’s success.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” — Benjamin Franklin
My grandmother and my mom used to say this to me when I was young and didn’t want to go to sleep. I always just thought it was an old saying to trick me into going to bed… I didn’t know Benjamin Franklin actually said this. I believe there is truth to this, though! I have come across many wise words and often write them down. There are so many quote-worthy phrases. This one is just close to the heart.
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’m not running for President or the Mayor of New York City, so I can’t make immigration reform or the homeless epidemic my movement, although I am passionate about these. Let’s actually start with something that people can work on today. Inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s quote above, sleep matters. As I have grown into my wiser years, I have learned that being less involved in the details and operating at a higher level comes by delegating and empowering others. At the same time, this often comes naturally by taking care of yourself, meaning your mind, body and soul. I find that the very first thing that helps me with performance at work is sleep. So, if I were to inspire a movement, it would be to encourage sleep. Leave your day behind you to get 7–8 hours of sleep a night. You will operate better and make better decisions as a result. Not getting enough sleep leads to poor decision making, impacting your team and your company. So, let’s all strive to catch some zzz’s, who knows what dreams could come to life if we all had a little more sleep!
Thank you for all of these great insights!
About The Author:
Tyler Gallagher is the CEO and Founder of Regal Assets, a “Bitcoin IRA” company. Regal Assets is an international alternative assets firm with offices in the United States, Canada, London and Dubai focused on helping private and institutional wealth procure alternative assets for their investment portfolios. Regal Assets is an Inc. 500 company and has been featured in many publications such as Forbes, Bloomberg, Market Watch and Reuters. With offices in multiple countries, Regal Assets is uniquely positioned as an international leader in the alternative assets industry and was awarded the first ever crypto-commodities license by the DMCC in late 2017. Regal Assets is currently the only firm in the world that holds a license to legally buy and sell cryptos within the Middle East and works closely with the DMCC to help evolve and grow the understanding and application of blockchain technology. In addition to his role with Regal Assets, Tyler is a regular contributor to Forbes, Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global and Authority Magazine. Tyler has also been featured in many news publications and has been a guest expert on “The News with Ed Shultz”. Tyler is a proud member of the Forbes Finance Council a private invite only-group of hand-selected industry leaders.