In Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic magazine cover story about women’s difficulty of “having it all,” she argued that high-profile women who have both a thriving career and family can set an impossible standard for other women. She writes:
“To be sure, the women who do make it to the top are highly committed to their profession. On closer examination, however, it turns out that most of them have something else in common: they are genuine superwomen. These women cannot possibly be the standard against which even very talented professional women should measure themselves. Such a standard sets up most women for a sense of failure.”
As the CIO of Fixed Income and Proprietary Investments at ING Investment Management, the mother of five boys, and a marathon runner, Christine Hurtsellers is nothing short of a superwoman. Yet, when we sat down to talk in September, I found Hurtsellers to be far from an impervious superhero. Instead, I met a woman of incredible charm, humor, and accomplishment who has learned as much from her mistakes as her triumphs.
Give Yourself a Little Bit of Grace
For Hurtsellers, the key to having both a big job and a big family is to stop trying to do everything perfectly all the time. She explained, “Women tend to be perfectionists. The truth is that, in both life and work, you’re not always going to get everything right.”
To illustrate her point, Hurtsellers told me about a time when her second child’s class was holding an open house. “I was a bit late that evening, so I ran into the school and asked someone where the open house was. When they asked for the name of my son’s teacher, I realized I didn’t know it,” Hurtsellers said, laughing. “The face that woman made when I forgot the teacher’s name made me feel like a horrible mother.”
She continued, “Mommy guilt is normal, but it’s crucial to remember that it’s not the end of the world. My number one piece of advice to working women is to stop being so hard on yourself. You don’t have to be perfect. Spend quality time with your children. Be with them when they’re sick. Let them know that you love them. That’s what really matters.”
No Risk, No Reward
After earning a BA in finance from Indiana University, Hurtsellers began her career at Banc One in Columbus, Ohio, where she stayed for a decade. Then she met Robert Kapito, BlackRock’s president, who encouraged her to take her career to the next level. She recalled, “He took me out to dinner a couple times and said, ‘Christine, you need to get out of Ohio. You need to move east.’ I knew he was right.”
Kapito’s mentorship gave Hurtsellers the confidence she needed to take a risk. “I had the courage to go after the big leagues and move to the east coast,” she said. “It was a transformational opportunity.”
For Hurtsellers, mentors played an enormous role in her career decisions. Today, she is a dedicated mentor to others. “A large part of why mentoring others is such a priority for me is because my mentors made such a tremendous impact upon my career trajectory. I know the difference a good mentor can make.”
Girls Inc. Investment Challenge
Along with serving as a mentor, Hurtsellers is passionate about attracting more women into asset management.
She is proud that her team participates in ING-Girl’s Inc. Investment Challenge, an Atlanta-based program where ING employees help educate girls and young women about personal finance. She explained, “Working with their mentors, program participants build a shadow portfolio and develop an investment strategy. Upon completing the program, all the money they have grown in their shadow portfolio becomes real money that goes towards their college scholarship. It’s a fantastic program.”
She continued, “During my own time in high school, I took part in a similar Junior Achievement program, which was instrumental in my decision to select a career in finance. I’m really grateful to be working for ING because it does such a great job in supporting its community.”
Keep Calm, Carry On
Along with organizing programs like the Investment Challenge, ING is known for being the title sponsor of the New York City Marathon. “ING believes strongly in both fiscal and physical fitness, which is why we sponsor several marathons across the county,” she explained.
Hurtsellers shares ING’s commitment to physical fitness and views exercise as her secret weapon for dealing with the stress of her job and the busy pace of life. “Between the constant travel and the stress of tracking the markets, my job can be incredibly demanding. Daily exercise is my sanity,” said Hurtsellers.
Keeping calm amongst all the stresses is important for Hurtsellers and for the team of people she leads. “I’m a big believer in leading by example. I work hard, stay focused, and try to have a balanced attitude. The people I manage watch me like hawks. If I’m stressed out and upset about something, they can become stressed out.”
Keeping calm was essential when Hurtsellers was tasked with running Fixed Income after the 2008 financial crisis. “When I took over there was a great deal of turmoil and a lot of turnover. The team was incredibly demoralized.” Through constant communication, leading by example, and establishing credibility, Hurtsellers was able to turn things around.
“If people believe in you and what you’re doing, they’ll stay with you, even when the going gets extremely tough.”
For Hurtsellers, rebuilding the Fixed Income business and strengthening its investment results are two of her greatest accomplishments. “My experience with my team has been a wonderful highlight in my career.”
The Power of Women’s Intuition
Hurtsellers credits her ability to stay cool and collected amongst chaos as something she learned from being a mother of five boys. “In crises I have a very calm demeanor. Having the boys, and juggling my home and work responsibilities keeps me very calm and helps me put things in perspective.”
She believes that women working in the industry should recognize that their women’s intuition is an asset, not a liability, which is desperately needed in today’s corporate landscape. “There have been numerous studies that show how different perspectives within corporate leadership make the company stronger and better. Women are wired in a way that can make them great investors, and wonderful leaders. Women need to embrace the strengths they bring to the table.”
What is exciting about Hurtsellers is how she is continually turning what could be perceived as a liability into an invaluable asset that has transformed her into the leader she is today. The chaos of raising five boys has taught her how to be calm in challenging situations. The stress of her job has transformed her into an endurance athlete. And being a woman gives her a unique voice, perspective, and intuition that benefit her team, her company, and her industry. Now, that’s a superpower we can all learn from.