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CXO Series

Steven Pae, a transformational Operations/Technology Executive, shares his insights and discusses vital elements of financial industry at CXO Series

Steven M. Pae is Senior Vice President and Chief Information and Operations Officer, Business Capital Division.

In this role, Steven leads technology and operations for the capital businesses across CIT. This includes technology and operations strategic direction, service delivery and overall alignment of technology and operations services with business unit goals and objectives. In addition, Steve currently is responsible for digital strategy for the commercial businesses in Technology and Operations.  Steve joined CIT 2013.

Prior to joining CIT, Steve was Executive Directory and Global Head of Product Development for Electronic Trading at Morgan Stanley. Earlier, Steve was Managing Director and Global Head of Electronic Trading at Bank of America. Prior, Steve was Vice President and Head of Trading Technology at a large global financial services firm based in NYC.

Steve received a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University and a Master of Business Administration in Finance from New York University Stern Business School.  Steve is also currently an adjunct professor at NYU’s graduate school.

Sajid Khan: Steven, Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this Interview.  Can you begin by sharing your perspective on the role of SVP and Divisional CIO at the large Global Bank?

Steven:  I would sum it up by saying there are 3 major aspects to the job in terms of helping our businesses to grow and innovate, making sure we protect the firm in terms of technology and operational risk and finally having the right teams and individuals in the right roles to execute against the programs.  I am always amazed every year how much the team has achieved during the year-end review due to the great team and organization support across all the major strategic initiatives.  In this role, I have many stakeholders including our shareholders, our investors, our regulators and our employees.  One needs to always have a perspective from these stakeholders to ensure we are working on the right programs and executing them the right way.

On a skills level, you need to be always building relationships internally and externally, be adept at context switching among different projects and topics, and finally make sure you are growing yourself professionally though activities that support your role.  For me it’s the work with fintechs and innovation labs in NYC.  I really get to see and in some instances work with Fintechs that are changing how we are doing business as a bank.  That last point is very important as it builds genius purpose for what you do besides just doing a job. I truly believe one needs a purpose as part of their own professional growth tied to the roles he/she is fulfilling.

SK: Would you like to share some of your challenging initiatives as a CIO?

Steven: I think the measure by which you are challenged is different during the growth phase and during business contraction cycles.  During growth, the business want to spend money to invest and there is usually good portfolio of work to execute.  Hiring is difficult as we are trying to hire talented people to ensure the success of the programs.  This is where your creativity in structuring statements of work and resourcing can really pay off.  I’ve had success utilizing various companies for specific programs of work both onsite, nearshore and off-shore.  When I was originally hired, we were expanding in various global business locations and looking at opportunities from both purchase (M&A) and partnerships.  Having the right partners with the right skills to work with was critical to success.

During times of contraction a different set of challenges comes with making sure you operate very efficiently, you have the right controls in place to make  few key limited bets on growth programs and you need to make difficult decisions on staffing and business operations.  Our ability to execute on strategic divestures of businesses and locations at the right times flawlessly were critical.

We’ve all gone through times when key business sponsors of projects change and there can be uncertainly of whether the initiate will stop, continue or be changed.  It’s always in everyone’s best interest to not act impatiently and to see how things evolve.  I would say some of the most difficult challenges  have come where I have had involved in significant change on the sponsorship side and it was making sure there was continued interest in supporting the project and even more difficult was to stop the programs, where it made the right business decision to do so.

 SK: What are your thoughts on the impact of fintech on industry evolution?

Steven: I work with fintechs very closely in my role.  Besides looking at them as true partners and not challengers, they have taught us much on how we as a bank need to change and operative.  Fintechs have a great mindset: they do not think of all the ways why we can’t do something.  They see an issue and they get their best minds to figure out how to break down that obstacles and solve the problem.  It’s always about solving the issue at hand. It’s also imperative we operate at the speed of fintechs and be able to iterate and make mistakes. Making mistake quickly and then getting the next version out is critical.  This fundamentally challenges the way banks operate but many firms have come a long way on this front.

Fintechs have also evolved over the last few years and see banks as potential partners to work with and not just the competition to dethrone.  Fintech need the banks’ expertise in working through bad credit cycles and they have the capital and customers.  Banks also have long standing historical data that can help with models and pinpointing unseen opportunities.  It’s in everyone’s interest to work together and take the strengths from both banks and fintechs.  A partnership model between banks and fintechs is what I see the industry moving towards and there are many examples of this already.

 SK: What’s been your biggest achievement in your career thus far?

Steven: I am always happy about the key leaders that I have helped mentor and have grown in the industry.  I feel that it’s imperative that we always spend the time to groom our successors and make sure the newer generation of leaders have the right tools and experience to face the unknowns in the future.   This extends to not just internal but external people I have worked with including partners and competitors.  We can’t have a playbook for what we don’t know will happen in the future but we can provide the skills to understand how to look at a problem and how we can go about solving them.  This is always the first thing that comes to my mind when I receive this question.  Secondly I am very happy to have had the opportunity to give back to the community through mentoring of startups and to be an adjunct professor at NYU. It’s the most important thing I think we can do in terms of using our experience and knowledge to help others. It’s always great to hear from some of these people years later and see how well they have done in the industry.  I enjoy catching up with them when the opportunity presents itself.

SK: Could you please share your leadership Style? Does your leadership style vary with the role?

Steven: My leadership style is consistent in almost all situations.  I feel that way I am always true to who I am and what made me successful in the first place.  I learned most from my first job out of college which was with a large global financial services firm based in NYC, across 12 years and 7 managers.  We tend to learn from our managers and take the best they have to offer to blend it into our own style of leadership.  Sometimes having bad managers also help so you know what not to do.  Teamwork, giving others credit, showing you have a big heart and treating people the way you want to be treated have always been my style.  Leadership can be a confusing  thing in that there are so many books written about them, so many classes and lectures you can attend but for me I feel leadership with heart based on these principles of trust, caring, humility and  understanding of everyone’s’ viewpoints including your own is key.  Building trust and relationships with people will do amazing things. It’s hard to earn so stay the course to build it, but easy to lose so stay true to it. Once lost, it’s so hard to get it back and sometimes you can’t.

SK: What advice would you offer for other information executives who desire to follow you? 

Steven: I can’t stress enough that building your network is essential for your career.  You will find those opportunities to advance in your career, make an entrance into a new field and learn new things professionally all because of your network.  I have found every role that I had in my career due to the amazing people in my network.  Do not hesitate and feel bad to reach out for help or assistance.  There are those that want to help and have your back to make you successful.  Look for opportunities to volunteer and get involved in things that you have not done before whether that’s internally or externally;  you can always learn from the success or failure you will have but you will always meet new people to help build your network.

SK:  Anything else you would like to share with our readers.

Steven: A quote always remember and say to myself when I have a difficult day is, “Today no matter how you feel, remember that life is on your side, walk slowly, breathe, take time to relax, let harmony in the air stir your heart and inspire your thoughts…”

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