Natalie Wolfsen Counsels Aspiring CEOs to Listen, Be Flexible, Take on New Challenges, Industry to Create Welcoming Environment and Monitor Progress
CEOs carry the deepest level of commitment to their organization. As such, it takes a unique person to lead an organization, shouldering greater responsibility than any employee, partner, shareholder or contractor.
We recently connected with WSR Pathfinder Awards – Top Women Leaders in Wealth Management winner Natalie Wolfsen, CEO of AssetMark, the technology-based TAMP and solutions provider that served 8,600 advisors and 209,000 investor households in 2021 with $93 billion in assets on its platform.
With eight years in the C-suite of AssetMark, including the most recent year as CEO, Wolfsen led AssetMark to record results in advisor and investor numbers, the acquisition of financial planning software provider Voyant, expansion into the RIA channel and the introduction of new curated suites of account offerings.
Wolfsen shares her thoughts on the traits of a good CEO, advice for women aiming for top executive positions in wealth management and how the industry can change to more effectively promote women’s professional advancement.
WSR: How is being a CEO different from other C-suite and high executive positions? What kind of person makes a good CEO?
Wolfsen: A CEO’s role is much broader than a specific set of responsibilities that you might have in a role like COO, for example.
A CEO’s job is to set a strategy that translates into shared objectives across the organization in a way that gives employees a clear understanding of how their role fits. A CEO needs to be able to empower a diverse team with the culture, resources, tools and support to succeed.
I think the most important characteristics of a great CEO are the ability to listen and a willingness to be flexible. A CEO who listens deeply to all stakeholders can see how the pieces come together and the trends at play.
Flexibility and openness at the CEO level are critical to an organization’s ability to be responsive and pivot in the ever-changing world we live in.
WSR: What advice would you give to a female student today who wanted to aim her career at top management, especially towards being a chief executive?
Wolfsen: You control your career and you have to be your own advocate. Don’t be afraid to use your voice in a constructive way to change things that aren’t working for you.
Don’t be afraid to take on something new, even if you don’t have the experience. You don’t have to be an expert at everything to be successful. Aim high but be flexible because you never know where the next opportunity might come from.
I started out in marketing and loved it – I thought that was the future of my career. But I had an opportunity to get into product development and it was awesome – I got good at it and then transitioned into a strategy role. Ultimately, I acquired a variety of experiences and knowledge that contribute greatly to the role I am in today.
WSR: What three things can our industry do differently to encourage more women in C-suite and top executive roles?
Wolfsen: The financial services industry is fantastic in many ways – we provide a service that has a meaningful impact on the world, and we have achieved so much growth and innovation. There are many aspects of the industry that are perfect on paper. But there are also many negative perceptions and we need to own them and do the hard work every day to change.
We need to create a more welcoming environment that values diverse perspectives even if they make us uncomfortable. We need to elevate women and people of color and foster an atmosphere where they can speak and be heard.
Targets and corporate objectives are an important part of the progress, but they can’t be siloed initiatives. We need to embed respect and inclusivity into everything we do, and we need to evaluate our progress constantly so we know where we are falling short.
Julius Buchanan, Senior Contributing Editor at Wealth Solutions Report, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org