News Column

Finance in the Blood: Citi's Maria G. Hackley Is Woman of the Year

April 24, 2012

Rebecca Villaneda, Staff Writer

Following in the footsteps of her family in Cuba led Maria G. Hackley into the field of banking. Her mother's family owned a private bank on the island, which sparked Ms. Hackley to study financial analysis at Georgetown University. Numbers were her thing.

Now Ms. Hackley advises billion-dollar clients on their optimal capital structure and strategic financings for Citibank, a company she joined in 1983.

Citi has approximately 200 million customer accounts and does business in more than 160 countries and jurisdictions. Citigroup ranked No. 14 on the Fortune 500 list and in 2011 had revenues of $78.4 million. Ms. Hackley is a managing director in Citi's Financial Institution Group in global banking. She is responsible for originating a broad range of corporate financial transactions against a portfolio of global managed care, life insurance and specialty finance clients.

"I thought the combination of the financial competency as well as the family background in banking made it ideal for me to join a large international bank, which really attracted me because I am fluent in Spanish and Portuguese," Ms. Hackley said. "Citi, being the most global financial chain in the world ... was a fit for me."

She deals with CEOs, CFOs, treasurers and chief investment officers on a daily basis. One of her major clients is among the largest industrial companies in the world and one of the top five accounts of the firm. Out of privacy concerns for her client, however, she declined to state who it is.

Some of her career highlights are advising UnitedHealth Group in its $9 billion acquisition and permanent financing of PacifiCare, as well as permanent financing of Sierra Health and Fiserv. She also advised Aetna on its capital structure and related recapitalization after the sale of its life and asset management company to ING for $5 billion.

Ms. Hackley's first role at Citbank was as a management associate in the Latin American Financial Institutions Group, covering and selling banking services to the U.S. subsidiaries of banks in Central America.

Ms. Hackley climbed the ranks and gained a variety of experience in covering savings and loans, middle market insurance and care companies before she went on to handle larger market cap insurance and care clients, according to her company bio.

"Because of my background ... they thought that I would work well with senior management teams of this large industrial company and be able to cross sell and deliver the firm globally, given that this company is also in 60 markets around the world," she said. "Today, I have a portfolio of a large industrial company and large market cap, life and property casualty companies."

Client First

Clients are Ms. Hackley's No. 1 priority. Her day begins with preparing to meet with them and address their needs.

"I wake up in the morning and there is a significant amount of requests from our global offices and from the clients," Ms. Hackley said. "I'm the senior client person against my portfolio, but I work very closely with our product specialist, and that would be in our debt capital market, in our equity capital markets and our global loans, in our derivative, foreign exchange, securitization and transaction banking groups.

"I work in the institutional client groups of the firm in the financial institutions division, and it is a demanding position because we cover the most sophisticated clients around the world," she added.

"In this business, it's all about commitment to clients," said Peter Babej, co-head global financial institutions at Citi. "A great banker needs to anticipate clients' needs, work with them to develop effective solutions, and then leverage the global network of the bank to implement those solutions. On all counts, Maria Hackley scores off the charts."

Ms. Hackley said her tool kit is fully loaded and extensive. She is able to talk with clients about everything related to the balance sheet, lending, capital raising, hedging, "because of our merger and our global footprint," she said, referring to the Citi and Travelers Group merger of 1998.

"What I need to do is to filter a lot of this information not only from a product perspective, but also what's going on in the economy and globally and how it impacts the client, and then prioritize how you then best use your client's time when you're speaking to them," she said. "When you're in any business that is being challenged, I think the best thing to do is to stay focused on your clients, and deliver the best solutions and content that you can to make them more successful in their respected fields."

"Nobody is more dedicated to clients and colleagues than Maria and nobody is more creative and persistent about pursuing commercial opportunities for the companies she serves," said David Head, co-head global financial institutions at Citi.

Mentoring Full Circle

Early in her career, Ms. Hackley learned risk analytics and to raise her profile, which led her to engage senior management and global product heads on "strategic client pitches to maximize impact with the client," she said.

"Raising one's profile is key when being considered for greater leadership opportunities," she said. "Your track record with your current position is the most important element, but also being actively engaged with the firm's strategic initiatives is critical."

She focused on recruiting and diversity, she added. "Being involved in both recruiting and diversity helped me meet many other professionals outside of my immediate franchise and enabled me to gain visibility with senior management."

Ms. Hackley said she had three significant mentors in her career. Now it's her turn to lend advice. She is on the steering committee of the global banking diversity committee, co-head of the woman's initiative and team captain of Citi's recruiting efforts for her alma mater, Georgetown University.

"We look for students with high grade-point averages (who) have shown commitment to their studies, which demonstrates discipline and aptitude," she said. "Get involved in extracurricular activities at school and take a leadership position over time to show your ability to manage and lead."

Lastly, Ms. Hackley said the banking and financial industry is on strong footing from both a capital and liquidity perspective.

"Notwithstanding what is going on in Europe ... I think the banks that have the strongest balance sheets and liquidity will be the winners," she said. "And Citi, certainly, given its global footprint and being the best capitalized bank among the large banks in the world, will continue to gain market share and succeed in the future."

Source: (c) 2012. All rights reserved.

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