Yeng Butler, Senior Managing Director, Global Head of Cash Business at State Street Global Advisors, believes in the power of self-reflection. She spends time considering not just her successes, but also her failures. The objective of this is to drive continuous self-development to ensure she can meet her next career aim. Yeng summarises this with a simple, yet powerful motto: “Pause, reflect and onwards and upwards.”
Senior Managing Director, Global Head of Cash Business
Yeng Butler is a Senior Managing Director, Global Head of Cash Business at State Street Global Advisors, and a member of the Senior Leadership Team. Joining the firm in 2010 as Head of US Cash, Yeng shaped the vision for the business and delivered expanded market share, despite the challenging market environment. She built a global sales team, ensuring a seamless and highly differentiated client experience to State Street Global Advisors’ institutional and multinational corporate cash clients. Her career started at Merrill Lynch, joining State Street from State Farm Insurance. Yeng earned her BA from Dartmouth College and an MA in Public Administration from Harvard University. She is a member of the Investment Company Institute’s Money Market Funds Advisory Committee. She serves on the Board of Trustees of Esperanza Academy in Lawrence, MA, a tuition-free independent middle school where girls of modest means are welcomed into an empowering learning community. Yeng also holds FINRA Series 6, 7 and 63 licenses.
What is the best piece of advice that you have been given in your career so far?
To make sure that you proactively manage your career. This means mapping your goals – not necessarily for the course of your entire career, but over a few years – and taking proactive steps to meet them. The goals you set don’t always have to be based around changing your role or the company you work for; they can be about learning a new skill or gaining knowledge about a different industry. The key is to make sure you are always moving forward in a methodical and purposeful way.
How much opportunity is there for career progression in the financial industry?
There are many opportunities. However, they don’t always come to you directly; you must be open to identifying opportunities in the least likely places. This may sometimes mean taking a lateral step. It is important for women to understand that a career is a journey and not necessarily an upward trajectory all the time.
What has helped me is taking the time to sit down and map out my skills to see where they are applicable. This task also helps you understand your weaknesses and what you must do to get that promotion. You must be courageous in your decisions and willing to take a risk every now and again.
It is also crucial to find advocates throughout your career. I have been fortunate to have strong managers who have mentored me and sponsored my path towards running a team of my own. These people can help your career progress that much smoother. My advice to anyone with managers that aren’t championing your career progression is to look for other ways to gain new skills or exposure to other teams and consider using mentorship programmes.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
To act with humility. In a professional context, this includes being open to learning from other people’s points of view that differ from your own. Everyone has different experiences, understanding these allow us to arrive at the best solution. It also means admitting when you are wrong and coming up with a plan to fix it.
I believe in this so much; humility is a crucial attribute I look for when I am hiring for my team. I ask candidates what their biggest mistake or biggest challenge has been. It is a big red flag if they cannot provide an honest answer. It’s important for me to see that they can self-reflect as that attribute allows the broader team to perform at its best.
I must stress that being humble doesn’t mean not advocating for yourself. It means showing that you are human and able to self-reflect.
What advice would you give to women in finance in terms of establishing and developing a career?
Women tend to be held to a higher standard in industries where we are outnumbered by men. Because of this it is crucial for women to clearly articulate their ideas. My advice, therefore, is to take a public speaking course as this will help you clearly and coherently express the good ideas that you have. People often think that impressive public speakers have an innate gift. They don’t. It takes practice and is a skill that must be nurtured.
“Being humble doesn’t mean not advocating for yourself. It means showing that you are human and able to self-reflect.”
Personal development has been a strong theme throughout Yeng’s career, which began at Merrill Lynch. Yeng confesses that as a political science graduate she knew little about the industry at the time and joined the bank’s professional development programme to “learn something new”. It turned out to be a good choice, as Yeng has become a successful leader in her industry.
After spending two years rotating through the bank, Yeng settled in the institutional asset management business, focusing on short-term fixed income. Her career took an interesting detour when she decided to move to work in micro-finance in Western Samoa, providing small loans to women to help them start their own businesses. Reflecting upon this decision, Yeng notes that she felt, and still feels, passionately about women being given a chance to succeed. “My mother was an entrepreneur and it is a tough business,” she says. “I took this role to act on that passion and help give these fantastic women a chance to flourish.”
Today, Yeng leads State Street Global Advisors’ cash business, after spending the last eight years leading its strategic expansion. She explains that the past eight years have been immensely satisfying on many fronts, but what stands out is the team that she has built and the way in which it works together. “To see the team working to their full potential and utilising the skills they have is very gratifying,” she says. “I believe this is one of the main reasons that last year we were one of a few top institutional cash managers to gain market share, something I am very proud of.”
Setting an example
As a highly respected female leader in finance, Yeng believes that she has a responsibility to help shape a better workplace. Most importantly, she wants to create a frictionless pathway for women to meet their career ambitions.
Yeng believes there’s already been progress in this regard. “I remember early in my career when a female colleague received a promotion and a gentleman next to me quipped that she only received the promotion because she was a woman,” says Yeng. “Comments like these were commonplace back then. Today, this doesn’t happen as much, if at all, and there are plenty of strong female leaders blazing a trail, which is a sign of how far we have come.”
That being said, some legacy issues remain. For example, Yeng says that women sometimes find it difficult to strike the optimal work-life balance. This is something Yeng admits falling foul of once or twice in her career. “I remember when I was on maternity leave and decided that I would check in with work for a few hours every week,” she says. “I didn’t need to do this; I had a newborn to focus on and it was very hard to zoom in and out of work at the same time. It was unfair on my child and on me.”
Most importantly, Yeng felt like this didn’t set a good example for other women in her team, something she is keen to do. “I remember feeling uneasy about it at the time because I didn’t want to be perceived as a ‘supermum’ that could do everything at once because that is unrealistic,” she says. “I was just trying to keep in touch with what was happening in the office.”
Indeed, setting an example and elevating the level of conversation around diversity in the workplace is a major objective for Yeng in the years ahead. “Through our work internally at State Street Global Advisors, and with Treasury Today’s Women in Treasury initiative, we are trying to do something impactful and play our part in creating a better world,” she concludes. “I am deeply passionate about this, and determined to make a difference.”