Focus Your Mind On Something; If You Fail, You’ll Learn From It
Lidia McClune | SVP Operations, Citi BANAMEX
Lidia McClune currently serves as the Senior Vice President of Operations at Banamex. She made her way to Los Angeles via Boston. After graduating from Harvard, she traveled westward and never looked back. Her unique perspective and insights on leadership and the political economy are rooted in her upbringing in her native Bulgaria. This is her story.
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
I grew up in Bulgaria. I moved to the United States for college in 1997 and attended Harvard University. I knew I wanted to complete my MBA on the west coast so I began looking into [business] schools on this side of the country. UCLA offered an entrepreneurship program and I thought ‘maybe one day I’ll have my own company’.
TELL us A BIT ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY TO WHERE YOU’VE GOTTEN TO TODAY.
My father was a mechanical engineer. When I was in fifth grade he was sent to Algeria and we lived there for two years. When we moved back to Bulgaria, we drove through Europe. I was fascinated by how much abundance there was. As we drove through, life seemed more colorful. There seemed to be so many opportunities, but at the same time I didn’t understand why there were so many poor people.
When the Berlin wall fell, I started looking abroad for education out of curiosity. I thought that maybe I could learn something about the capitalist world. So I decided I’d try [and apply to schools abroad] and if it happened, it happened. You want to focus your mind on something [and] try and try again. If you fail, you’ll learn from it. Going to study abroad was never a goal of mine. I was [mostly] focused on going to get a good education.
TELL us ONE WAY EXERCISING LEADERSHIP HAS ALWAYS COME EASY TO YOU, AND ONE WAY IT HAS CHALLENGED YOU.
I’m very social so to get a team to discuss and establish [team] priorities comes natural to me. I always know what we need to accomplish. Also, my mentality has always been that if I do not know the answer to something, I will try to find it. I try to set this type of example for my teams.
Challenges have depended on the institution. Some companies are more bureaucratic and things happen slower. Trying to re-organize a team, for example, can be more challenging in a big structure. Also, sometimes we get swamped with so much work that there leaves little time to transfer knowledge or skills I’ve learned. I like to pass on what I know but sometimes I find it hard and need extra hours to do so.
NAME ONE OF THE MOST SATISFYING LEADERSHIP ROLES YOU HAVE HAD, AND BRIEFLY TELL ME WHAT MADE IT SO.
I am part of the Board of Directors for theBulgarian-American Cultural Educational Foundation, a weekend school for kids to learn about Bulgarian culture, language and dance. It’s an unpaid role and I participate during my extra time. It allows me to contribute to the organization and work with other members of the Board. It’s very satisfying.
WHAT IS THE BEST AND WORST DECISION YOU'VE EVER MADE?
The best was moving from the capital markets space to the banking world. It gave me more time and flexibility to spend with my family.
I do always wonder what it would’ve been like if I had become a doctor and not a business executive. There are a lot of doctors in my family. Sometimes I wonder what that may have been like.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT BARRIER TO FEMALE LEADERSHIP?
Men socialize more outside of work than women do. Women often have other responsibilities and they wear many hats (e.g. wife, mother). When I was younger in my career, most of my female bosses were single. I wondered if I would have to sacrifice having a family. I wasn’t ready to give that up. But you work it out and try to do both. It’s not always the smoothest road but you make adjustments.
WHAT WILL BE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR THE GENERATION OF WOMEN BEHIND YOU?
It’s trying to break that corporate mentality and the traditional corporate role within existing companies. At smaller companies, if something needs to get done there are no 10-page proposals and approvals process to go through for example. You go and do it. You do some research and then present the idea and if senior management believes in it, you try it. There are a lot of stigmas in a big company. You might have ideasbut there’s bureaucracy, compliance, legal, which can all lead to the collapse of your idea. The future generation of women will still face this so they’ll need to think outside of the box when they go to big corporations and break this [mentality].
WHAT WOMAN INSPIRES YOU AND WHY?
There are a lot of women that I look up to. Our former President and Chief Executive Officer of Banamex, USA, Rebecca Macieira-Kaufmann, for example, was a great leader with great vision. She looked at things with curiosity and was always questioning. The fact that she’s gotten where she is at a young age and has accomplished so much allows you to see that it’s possible to reach that level [of leadership].