Before she was a Wall Street executive or the CEO of an investment company for women, Sallie Krawcheck was a little kid, listening to her parents fight about money.
"You just knew, once a month, they were gonna have a big fight and somebody was gonna storm out of the house," she told me. "It was a really stressful and tense topic for us, because we didn't have any."
That taught Sallie that she never wanted to be in that position. She says she started working in the third grade, filing papers at her dad's law office. By high school, Sallie was lending her parents money to fix the furnace when it gave out. "I wanted to make my own money. I did not want to have those fights with a spouse, or be put in a position where I would be financially vulnerable," she said.
Sallie learned that lesson again after she began her career in finance, and she found out her first husband was having an affair. She had graduated from business school, but at the time of their divorce, she wasn't in charge of their finances. "I knew vaguely how much we had, but it was an eye-opener," she says. "When you're reeling from a break to a relationship, that's a really bad time to try and figure out how to manage your money."
Sallie remarried, and while she and her husband raised their two kids, Sallie's career continued to advance. She became the CEO of Smith Barney, and then, a top executive at Citigroup. She was there when the financial crisis hit in 2008, and Sallie was fired amid corporate infighting about how to handle some of the bank's major losses. "We told the kids that we were okay. You know, that mom got fired, mom got re-orged out and that we were okay as a family," she says. "I think the conversations were that straightforward."
This year, Sallie started Ellevest, a financial planning firm specifically focused on women. When I asked whether her Wall Street past ever makes it awkward to have money conversations with women who earn much less, it got a little heated. "I have made money in my life. Isn't it interesting I had to come back and tell you that I also lost a lot of money in my life, as if I'm apologizing for it. It's funny. You've made me feel quite defensive," she told me.
"It is interesting how awkward it is to talk about it," Sallie added, "even though I talk about it in the abstract everyday."