Kristen Kimmell is one of those fortunate people who discovered at an early age what her chosen career would be. In fact, her path to becoming the chief of staff at RBC Wealth Management – U.S. had a very clear and memorable start: “My older sister brought home an assignment for her high school accounting class. I can still see the big portfolio, and the green ledger paper. I just thought it was the coolest thing ever.”
Kristen was so fascinated by the project — which included recording debits and credits in a ledger, and producing handwritten income statements — that she ended up doing most of her sister’s homework, even though she was several years younger. Her passion for accounting never faded, and she went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting and Business Administration from Jamestown University, landing her first job as an accountant in 1993.
Kristen’s career in financial services continued to flourish, although the path wasn’t exactly linear. She joined her current firm in 1995 (which became part of RBC in 2000), and has held numerous positions including staff accountant, accounting supervisor, fixed income accounting manager, director of financial reporting and administration, and director of strategic finance. While some of her title changes represented a natural progression, she has admittedly “taken some leaps sideways and in different directions.” The promotion to chief of staff came in 2010, a position that she describes in its simplest terms as “a combined chief administrative officer and chief operating officer role.”
The longer explanation she offers more accurately captures the broad scope of her work: “I tie everything together — from the business perspective back to the execution — with all the functional groups,” Kristen says. “I’m connecting the dots, making sure we have the right priorities and are executing appropriately, and keeping everything running behind the scenes.”
She credits RBC’s culture of development for enabling her to climb through the company’s ranks. “They really provided some incredible growth opportunities. It’s just a culture where we are always looking to cultivate talent,” she says. From leadership training to formal mentorship programs, Kristen has taken advantage of the many initiatives designed to help high potentials succeed. She also hasn’t been shy about creating her own channels for learning.
“I’ve had a lot of people that didn’t even know they were my mentor,” she says with a laugh. “I just looked at people who I admired, and when I had an opportunity to be in meetings with them, I used those as an informal guide on how they handled things. What did I see that they did well that worked? What was something that they were frustrated by? And I would always find opportunities to migrate to work with those individuals.”
As Kristen progressed in her career, she herself became an integral part of the development culture. At her peak, she’s had seventeen simultaneous mentees, coming from a combination of formal programs, outreach by managers, and personal requests. She has an innate desire to share her experiences with others to help them find their own solutions, and knowing how much courage it can take to ask someone to be a mentor, she rarely says no.
In addition to her work with individuals, Kristen is having an impact on a broad scale in the area of women’s advancement. She was named Co-Executive Sponsor of the Women’s Association of Financial Advisors (WAFA) in September 2012. In the role, she provides input and leadership to WAFA on their goals of recruiting and retaining female branch directors and financial advisors, and increasing the productivity of financial advisors. Kristen is also on the board of RBC Wealth Management’s Women of Wealth (WoW) global women’s network. Developed within RBC, WoW brings together women representing different business units from across the globe, with the aim of getting a unified approach on activities related to helping women advance in the workplace.
One of the initiatives she strongly supports is providing women with access to visible role models, who can speak authentically about their successes — and struggles. “As women, we tend to think that our issues and our challenges are unique to us, so we don’t reach out, or think that anybody else would understand them. We hold ourselves to this unrealistic standard, thinking that everybody else has achieved it,” says Kristen. “I want to help spread the message that women who are successful have the same faces as the women who are working their way up. I’ve come to work with different colored shoes on, and I think people just appreciate knowing things like that.”
This belief that women often carry — that everyone around the table has the answers but us — can lead to a fear of asking what we don’t know about. Kristen sees this combining with our natural tendency to overbook ourselves, and leading to another issue for women, outside of the workplace: relying on our partners to do the finances. “We divide it up like it’s a household chore. Not because we’re not interested or capable, but because it’s one more thing on the plate and it’s an easy one to pass on,” she says. “It may seem like another chore, but it’s a life skill.”
Alleviating a packed calendar can help, but she also feels we need to have a more honest conversation on the subject of work/life balance. “A balance indicates to me that once you get the weight setting on each side, then it’s done and you can walk away from it, forever balanced. But you can’t think of work/life balance as an end state. It’s an evolution,” Kristen explains. “Sometimes you’re going to get heavy on one side or the other, and having the ability to recognize that and being able to adjust it when you’re out of balance, is the best possible thing.”
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