In an era when workplace loyalty is the exception rather than the rule, it is rare to find someone such as Martha King who has spent her entire career with one firm. King was fresh out of college when she began working for The Vanguard Group in 1985 as an accountant. As the company grew, so did King’s career.
“I’ve been given one interesting and challenging opportunity after another,” she told me when we met. “I’ve never been bored a day in my life at Vanguard. That’s an amazing thing to be able to say in a 28 year run.”
Today, King is Managing Director of Vanguard’s Financial Advisor Services division and Head of U.S. Financial Intermediaries, where she is responsible for over $680 billion in assets that more than 1,000 financial advisor firms invest with Vanguard.
A Love of Finance
Once King took her first finance course in college, she was hooked. “I had an ‘a-ha’ moment when I realized that better business decisions were made by solving problems using financial tools. For me, that revelation was a game-changer.” Upon graduating, King’s brother-in-law suggested she apply for a job at Vanguard. She was thrilled to be offered a position at the firm where she felt her love of finance had the potential to flourish.
And flourish it did. King spent her first ten years at Vanguard working tirelessly while moving up the corporate ladder, gaining more and more responsibility along the way. “I truly love work. I was in at 6:30 in the morning and would stay until 7:30 at night,” King said. “I was getting such a sense of achievement that I would often go home, have a bite to eat, and then start working some more.”
When King had her daughter at the age of 32, she knew those long hours at the office were no longer feasible. King said, “I could no longer tie my contribution to the company with the number of hours I was physically clocking in the office.”
Though King spent less time in the office, her work didn’t suffer. “I did more work at odd hours,” she explained. “I figured out how to work differently, and, of course, to get by on less sleep.”
Trust is Key
Becoming a working mom didn’t negatively impact King’s career trajectory. “I continued to get one great opportunity presented to me after another,” she said.
King’s mentors, who include Jack Brennan, Vanguard’s former Chairman and CEO, and Bill McNabb, the current Chairman and CEO, have pushed her to tackle assignments that she perceived as a stretch. Their confidence in her abilities bolstered her own confidence in herself.
King told me, “When my mentors asked me to do something, I trusted their belief in me that I could do it. So, I set about the business of getting it done. It was as simple as that; they gave me that push forward.”
For King, that trust is the key ingredient to developing a beneficial relationship with a mentor. “Trust allows you to build rapport, which translates into a willingness to confide in your mentor,” she explained.
King counts herself lucky to have had McNabb as a mentor for the last twenty years. “Bill knows me incredibly well, and I have so much trust and faith in him. He will tell me what the deal is, whether it is hard to hear or great to hear.”
King credits Jack Brennan with teaching her the importance of standing up for her opinions, even in the face of opposition from people in more senior positions. Brennan told her, “You need to be prepared to defend your position. You’ve done your homework. If you believe in what you’re speaking about, stand up for what you believe in and push back.”
Helping Women Build the Careers they Want
In the early years at Vanguard there was a dearth of women in senior leadership positions, but today the company is working diligently to attract, retain, and develop more women leaders.
The division of Vanguard that King heads up has a well-developed, professional sales force of over 200, which is still very male-dominated. King said, “Finding talented women to fill the sales roles has been quite challenging.” However, King and Vanguard, not daunted by the challenge, recruit women with a two-pronged approach: attracting external talent, while also identifying promising women internally at Vanguard and training them.
“I’m delighted with the program because we’ve been able to pull people from less obvious areas, invest three to six months training and developing their skill set, and then launching them into those sales roles.” King continued, “By combining experienced external sales talent with home-grown talent, we end up with what I think is an incredibly strong blended team.”
King is also excited by Vanguard’s Women’s Initiative for Leadership and Success (WILS) program, which was launched in 2009. The program started as a series of focus groups with women in leadership positions at various levels throughout the company. King said, “WILS focuses on helping women maximize the careers they want to have. But the program is not just for women. We invite everyone to participate because we need the male leaders as well as the female leaders to understand the specific challenges facing women.”
King continued, “Growing up with Vanguard, literally and figuratively, I never felt my gender was in any way a detractor for me. I trusted that if I worked hard and worked smart, and kept what was important for Vanguard at the top of my priority list, that good things would happen.”
And, she was right. Good things have happened, for both King and Vanguard. “I chose Vanguard coming out of college, and am grateful every day for that decision,” King said. “I guess I owe my brother-in-law a huge debt of gratitude for telling me, ‘Hey, you should apply to Vanguard.’”