What makes Ruth Porat Wall Street's Wonder Woman?

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ach week, we present an influential woman whose career and style has inspired the Silkarmour team to aim higher and dress better. This week’s Silkarmour woman is Ruth Porat, CFO of Alphabet and former CFO of Morgan Stanley.

Not many women are on the phone to their clients from their hospital room during the birth of their first child, but Porat has the world’s best work ethic for a reason. Beginning her career off the back of her degree from Stanford University and a Master's from London School of Economics, Porat joined Morgan Stanley in 1987. Rising through the ranks over 28 years, holding roles such as Vice President of Investment Banking in 2003 and Global Head of Financial Institutions Group in 2006, Porat notoriously came out of the 2008 Financial Crisis unscathed, all whilst advising the US Treasury on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as finance giant AIG and The New York Federal Reserve.

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What makes Porat’s approach to work refreshing is her pragmatism: "I find it so tragic when women think they need to put the other part of their life on hold to a later date so they can have accomplished something professionally” she said, talking down the ‘myth’ that she perceives the work-life balance to be. Instead, Porat advocates integration as the work-life balance is a “trap for all of us”. She compared the idea to a kaleidoscope and it's necessity to have a diverse range of colours, stating “I think what you want is a mix in your life that works”. The same goes for her views on gender; not only does she rally for diversity within executive boards but also in transparency, to guarantee progress. "If a woman…is leaning against a door that is nailed shut, no amount of leaning will bust down the door", she said. "We must hold our organizations accountable…by demanding clarity and transparency around succession planning”.

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But Porat’s reputation extended beyond big names in finance. The highest-ranked woman on Wall Street turned down Obama’s potential nomination for Deputy Secretary of the Treasury in 2013, in favour of working towards improving conditions at Morgan Stanley and in a desire to move away from public scrutiny in a time of hostile attitudes towards investment bankers. But this was hardly a blow for Porat’s progress, as she was named Best Financial Institutions CFO by McKinsey & Company in the same year, having been analysed as a prime example of the company’s study of women in leadership, later published as “How Remarkable Women Lead”.

Considering that Porat was the woman who invested in the internet when it was unfashionable, her current role in Silicon Valley is fitting. Leaving Morgan Stanley in 2015, Porat replaced Patrick Pichette as CFO at Google’s parent company Alphabet with a rumoured staggering $70million paycheck for her first two years. As part of a rising trend among Wall Street figures moving into tech-based roles, Porat’s new role reportedly included a $5m signing bonus, $25m worth of Google shares and a further $40m in ‘biennial’ stock awards – just a few perks on top of her disclosed salary of $650,000.  But Porat’s paycheck is well-earned, as she won over investors by increasing the company’s transparency (true to her own requests) and got behind Alphabet’s first ever share buyback, totalling at $5.1bn. That and as Fortune once mentioned, Porat refuses to hide behind corporate jargon, speaking in plain English to her analysts and thus eradicating the cat-and-mouse game that often plagues business dialogue. Clean-cut and easy to understand; a rarity found in the world of finance.

Career Golden Nuggets 

      • Cover every angle - "Whenever you are looking to invest, obviously know the asset, but you have to look at the tone from the top. Look at leadership, make sure you understand culturally where they are going, because that's how you avoid being surprised."

      • Focus on the long-term - "One thing I always told my clients as a banker and certainly always told my CEOs is ignore the stock price and focus on the long run”

      • Publicise your achievements - "One of the biggest problems women have is they work really hard and put their heads down and assume hard work gets noticed, and hard work for the wrong boss does not get noticed," she said. "Hard work for the wrong boss results in one thing — that boss looks terrific, and you get stuck."

      • Build the right team - "Have people who have your back, people who will take a risk for you"

Woman of the Week

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