Focusing on Fundamentals Pays Off– Carol Geremia’s Journey at MFS

Vince Lombardi once said, “Excellence is achieved by the mastery of the fundamentals.” While she may not be a Green Bay Packer fan, few have embodied this sentiment more than Carol Geremia. Carol’s journey, rising to the ranks of President of MFS Investment Management and Head of Global Distribution would be incredible on its own merit, but equally impressive is that she’s spent her entire 34-year career at the same firm. Unlike the mystique surrounding many sports legends, Carol’s career was neither magical nor mysterious. She succeeded because she focused on the fundamentals –a steadfast belief in doing the right thing for clients, and the unwavering support of her organization.

Starting at MFS in 1984, Carol said her journey was less about her and more about the organization. She explained that MFS provided a great platform for her to learn and grow as a leader and that it often felt as if she was getting paid to go to business school. Hearing Carol speak of the nurturing and supportive environment at MFS, it is not surprising that she exudes an intense, heart-felt connection and loyalty to the firm. Carol shared “In my early roles at MFS, MFS leaders pushed me to take personal ownership of the success of the company because, regardless of your role, every effort can make a difference.” Carol genuinely appreciates the guidance and mentorship she received from every one of her leaders. The support they provided, which she describes as “massive”, helped build her confidence.

For those of you who may be thinking, “What if I haven’t gotten that level of support from my firm?”  Carol offers a couple suggestions.  First, focus on building trust and relationships. This will be key in gaining their support from leaders.  Approach them with a “what is in it for them” mindset to gain their perspective and develop your game plan from there.  Second, the more you can focus on what you can control, the greater your opportunity to formulate a plan of action.  While this approach will take time, Carol shared that one of the most significant lessons she learned is that “good things take time.”   None of us can develop perfectly overnight.  Weave in several key guiding principles into your daily role –  be disciplined, protect your client’s assets, and never deviate from doing right by the customer.

In fact, this is a common theme throughout Carol’s journey.  On several occasions, she pointed out “If it is about you, you are doing the wrong thing.”  Whether talking about her roles in the retirement and institutional sides of the business or about how she succeeded as a woman in a male-dominated industry, Carol firmly believes that “if you are passionate, enthusiastic, and authentic, nothing should hold you back.”   This core belief has allowed her to recognize and seize opportunities rather than lamenting over real or perceived obstacles.   Ultimately, this enabled Carol to make an impact, which helped to propel her career forward.

To be fair, Carol’s journey wasn’t always easy.  Challenges included being on the sales side, which can be highly competitive, and the struggle to maintain a work/home life balance.  True to her no-nonsense attitude, when faced with big career ambition, from her male counterparts about titles and office status, she simply stated, “I told myself that where you sit and what your title is, doesn’t matter. I am just going to sell more than them…and it worked.”   As for her work/home life balance, Carol understood early on that she wasn’t going to be able to do it all, and she felt like she didn’t have to pretend that she could.  “Managing a family and a career makes it harder, absolutely, but you have to make trade-offs to make it work and have a lot of support from home.”   Sometimes that meant travelling to Hong Kong for only 48 hours in order to be at a family event, but making those tough decisions certainly helped her maintain balance.

Carol wanted to impart several pieces of valuable advice for WiPN members:

  • Never make the stakes too high
  • You can be nervous, but don’t be afraid
  • Don’t be afraid to take risks

Considering few professionals have achieved her level of success, Carol has maintained a sense of humility that she acquired from staying at a great firm for 34 years. It should give all of us hope that patience and persistence does not mean you will finish last.  She may not have a national championship trophy named after her, but Carol Geremia is truly a champion.