The old adage, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” seems tailor-made to describe the career of Linda Gibson, Executive Vice President and Head of Global Distribution at Old Mutual Asset Management.
Say “Yes” To Opportunities
“I’ve been extremely fortunate as opportunities seem to present themselves for roles which I never envisaged for myself,” Gibson said when I sat down to talk with her in late May. “If you look at the pattern of my professional life, every time I am at risk of getting a little antsy or feeling too settled in a position, some new opportunity presents itself. Even if I had never contemplated that particular course for myself, I seize it. I like change and challenge as they keep me sharp.”
One example of this combination of readiness and opportunity occurred very early on in Gibson’s career when she was working as a lawyer for Signature Financial Group. “I was talking with the CEO who was looking for a new Head of Global Marketing to market a complicated investment fund structure to C-suite executives. I suggested he look in-house – I was not thinking at all of myself, but of a colleague who was well-traveled and spoke several languages and who I thought would be a good fit for the role.” The CEO surprised Gibson by offering her the job instead. “I responded, ‘Global Marketing? Really?’ I was a lawyer. I’d never been out of the country, I didn’t speak any foreign languages.” He responded, “You understand the structure, and you have presence and intelligence. That is really all you need.” Despite her initial reservations, she took the position, and it ended up being a perfect fit and a fantastic growth opportunity. Gibson spent her late 20s traveling the world, attending global conferences, and working with top executives throughout the industry. “The exposure and experience were amazing and, as they occurred at a very early stage in my career, helped shape who I am today. I did all that travel throughout my two pregnancies, which was interesting on many levels.”
The Balancing Act
Gibson and her husband Kevan have two children, Gray and Reese – now 18 and 16, respectively. When their daughter entered first grade, Gibson and her husband decided together that Kevan should leave his career in education and become a stay-at-home dad. Of her husband, Gibson said, “He’s the perfect stay-at-home father – loving, supportive, intelligent and organized. My career was able to take off once my husband decided to stay at home. Having the ability to take the opportunities presented to me without feeling I was sacrificing my family’s well-being made all the difference in my career trajectory and Kevan has been tremendously supportive.”
Gibson’s present job requires constant travel, which keeps her away from home for days, and sometimes weeks, at a time. “We have 16 affiliated firms scattered across the US and Europe and I’m on the board of directors of each of them, so I travel around the globe to attend board meetings and work with the firms. My work/life balance isn’t ideal. For example, I won’t be home all next week and will miss my daughter’s birthday. But my family and I seem to work it out. In my case it seems quality trumps quantity with respect to our time together. My time with my children is always very good, very connected. When I am with them, I am truly ‘with’ them and am focused on our dialogue, our interactions, and what’s going on in their lives. We’ve been fortunate.”
Never Stop Learning
In March 2009, additional exciting opportunities presented themselves when Gibson, then General Counsel, was named the Chief Operating Officer of Old Mutual Asset Management. Eighteen months into her role as COO, she was named the interim Chief Executive Officer for six months until Peter Bain took over the position in February 2011. Regarding Bain’s appointment, Gibson said, “A lot of people can’t transition from being the CEO back to reporting to someone, but I hadn’t yet finished learning and readily accepted my prior position as COO. I’m excited to have someone of Peter’s caliber from whom I can glean knowledge. I love learning from people and I will continue to absorb what I can from the roles I hold and the people with whom I interact. I’m a huge advocate of change and opportunity.”
A few weeks after our meeting, Gibson was, once again, appointed to a new and challenging position providing her with the change and opportunity that motivates her. On June 27th, Gibson was named Executive Vice President and Global Head of Distribution. In the announcement, Bain cited Gibson’s “intellect, strategic vision, global financial services expertise, and executive management skills” as the key qualities making her the right person to spearhead the company’s global distribution strategy.
As Gibson described the course of her career, it is clear that her so-called “antsy” feeling – the need to explore uncharted territory and grow, develop, and learn from those around her – and her total commitment to meeting the challenges presented to her have been the true secrets to her success.