Life is Short and You Have to do What You're Passionate About
Scarlett Sieber | Former Chief Innovation Officer, Head Of Strategic Transformation & Digital, Opus Bank
Scarlett Sieber's savviness for everything digital and her acute awareness of the importance of building an online presence in a compelling way, have made her a sought out leader in Fintech. This transformative leader has redefined innovation at major banking institutions including BBVA and Opus Bank. Her entrepreneurship experience coupled with her keen insights on innovation have led to several awards including her recognition as a "Women in Payments® USA 2016 Rising Star" and a ""Women in Fintech Powerlist 2016" by Innovate Finance. Scarlett reveals in a recent interview with Faalta that "A constant theme in my life revolves around evolution and growth, both personally and professionally". It's these experiences she shed light on, as she discussed the importance of being comfortable with uncomfortableness.
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
I grew up in a small town, Durango, Colorado. My mother is an immigrant from Sweden and that half of my family still lives there.
TELL ME A BIT ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY TO WHERE YOU’VE GOTTEN TO TODAY.
I grew up in a working class family where I always knew the value of a dollar. I was academically inclined and played sports competitively. I was pretty independent by nature from a young age. I always knew I wanted to be in New York. When you grow up in a place as insular as where I grew up, you aren’t exposed to what’s out there but I had a lot of access to other parts of the country and the world through travel.
I attended university in New York City and, upon moving ot the east coast, I didn’t know a single person. It was really hard for me at first. I worked full-time through college to support myself. Between school, work, sports, and other extra cirrulars, there has always been a lot going on. A constant theme in my life revolves around evolution and growth, both personally and professionally. As a student, I went to Beijing without knowing anyone or the language and it was the most incredible experience of my life. I wanted something diametrically opposite to what I knew. This experience helped me realize that life is short and you have to do what you're passionate about.
The job market wasn't the best when I graduated from university. It took me 1.5 years to figure out what I wanted to do. I connected with the management team at a start-up and it was there where a very senior executive saw my potential and took a chance on me. I was there for three years, served as an honorary Co-Founder and COO. I subsequently went to work at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA). I never pictured myself going to a bank but BBVA was different, it was special and had the culture and ambition of a tech company.
I had been building my online profile and network , serving as a contributing writer for a variety of publications. During this process I realized that intelligence is only part of the path to success. Once you have pushed yourself outside of your comfort zone and shown your value and what makes you unqiue, the opportunities are endless. My parents didn’t go to college, I moved to a city where I didn’t know anyone and didn’t start with a network, but you don’t have to have that to be successful. You can go online and show your intelligence in different ways that weren’t possible before technology.
TELL ME ONE WAY EXERCISING LEADERSHIP HAS ALWAYS COME EASY TO YOU, AND ONE WAY IT HAS CHALLENGED YOU.
It's in my nature to always help. It makes me feel good knowing that I can have a positive impact on someone else’s life. That’s always been an easy piece of leadership and pushing people to be the best version of themselves. I give my knowledge and expertise and try to help people find their unique skill set. I do my best to cultivate that. Being a good leader also means surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you who can challenge you.
I’m a very authentic person, genuineness is very important to me. A good leader understands that not everyone is the same and you can’t lead all in the same way. It took me awhile to master that and tailor my leadership to an individual. What you do and how you do it is not applicable to every person. Every person connects differently with their boss and not every person will be your best friend and that is absolutely okay.
NAME ONE OF THE MOST SATISFYING LEADERSHIP ROLES YOU HAVE HAD, AND BRIEFLY TELL ME WHAT MADE IT SO.
Working at the start-up was very satisfying. We didn't have much budget to hire people but there was an opportunity to help people grow as professionals and as people. One of our interns stayed for eighteen months. Another intern stayed one year. Some of our interns were international students. I got to help them build their LinkedIn profile to make it more appealing for job prospects. It was satisfying helping to develop them and seeing them move forward to the next phase in their careers. Almost every single intern wrote me a thank you card which meant a lot. Sometimes you don’t realize your impact until after the fact.
WHAT IS THE BEST AND WORST DECISION YOU'VE EVER MADE?
Pushing myself out of my comfort zone with every major decision. It is easy to get complacent and allow your fear to take over. My biggest growth has happened when I was uncomfortable.
My philosophy in life is to not have regrets. The biggest decision I made that had a long term impact on my life was choosing to go to private university in New York City. At the age of 18 years old, I didn’t fully understand the impact of student loans interest, and mine were ridiculously high. I graduated at twenty-two years old with six figures of debt. It was paralyzing in some ways. That limits your ability to do things. It was a constant struggle and I spent many sleepless nights thinking about it
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT BARRIER TO FEMALE LEADERSHIP?
Being comfortable with uncomfortableness. It's about feeling comfortable with rejection, for example, and knowing that you have to push a little harder and you will get rejected and that’s okay. I have talked with many friends, both women and men, who were in negotiations for jobs. From my experience, men are less afraid to ask for what they want. Women feel they need to prove out everything first. I myself have been victim to this.
WHAT WILL BE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR THE GENERATION OF WOMEN BEHIND YOU?
Most women who are in senior leadership roles had to work very hard to get there. I feel like because there’s this level of guardedness around them, they’re not as open to pushing other women forward. It's an 'I had to work hard to get there so you do too' mentality. All people should expect to put in the work to achieve success but I wish I saw more women pushing each other up.
WHAT WOMAN INSPIRES YOU AND WHY?
Inspiration for me comes in a variety of forms. A woman who has dedicated herself to some change for good, dedicating her life to helping others, or stay at home moms, for example, inspire me. From a professional perspective, Ursula Burns, former CEO at Xerox, inspires me. I have been fortunate enough to encounter people who worked for her. Hearing her perspective about wanting to change the diversity ratios at Xerox and the impact the company could have on the larger business world was powerful.
Beyonce also inspires me. When I was younger, I had a hard time with “cold” networking in situations where I didn’t know anyone. Beyonce, or Sasha Fierce on stage, exudes power and confidence, all the things I aspire to have for myself. If I want to listen to my powerful motivation music, I listen to Beyonce. Her 'I own the world' and 'I got this' aura gives me that drive.