Saturday, April 20, 2024

Tips from the Top of the Career Ladder

April 3, 2010  
Filed under The Workplace

One-on-one with Esther Koh, former Senior VP of GE Financial.



So what do you do? I’m a financial advisor at Wealthnet Financial. I also conduct educational seminars to corporations and community organizations about retirement and estate planning.

Current Position: Senior vice president

Hometown: Irvine, California

Education: BA in Economics and in Psychology

Your news source: Wall Street Journal and Yahoo Finance

Last Book you read: “The Ascent of Money” by Niall Ferguson

Guilty Pleasure: Strolling around the park on a sunny afternoon with my dog, Bobby

Passion: Striving for excellence in all my endeavors

Resume Journey: Prior to Wealthnet Financial, I was the Senior Vice President of GE Financial Advisors for GE Financial Assurance (aka Genworth Financial) from 2000 to 2005. I managed the business in 14 Western States, west of Mississippi. Prior to joining Genworth Financial, I was the Western Region Executive Vice President at AXA Advisors. I was one of only three woman EVPs at AXA Advisors and was featured as one of 11 national media PR spokespersons for the company, featured on TV and in numerous newspaper articles. My career in the financial services industry started at First Interstate Bank, aka Wells Fargo, as a financial services manager for 4 ½ years from 1987 to 1992 and continued at AXA Advisors for 9 years (1992-2000) where I held various advisory and management positions.

CM: As an Asian female who was working in a high corporate position in the U.S., what were some of the challenges or stereotypes you’ve had to face, if any? And how did you overcome them?

EK: I was faced with many challenges as an Asian female working with male colleagues in their late 40s-50s. In general, many were expecting either a quiet and submissive style of management or a loud and blunt style of management from me. I was neither and many did not know how to deal with me. I was extremely flexible, adaptable to any situations and able to overcome challenges. The key to overcoming any challenges in a competitive working environment was by consistently delivering strong results to the bottom line. When I was managing around 600 people at one point in my career, I focused all my efforts to build and motivate the management team of my organization in order to deliver the results. I was firm, decisive and straightforward when making financial decisions, but caring and understanding when dealing with people issues.

CM: As a financial planner, what is the most surprising or interesting thing you’ve experienced or encountered about how people manage their money?

EK: The wealthy individuals as well as those who strive to be wealthy have one thing in common. Regardless of how much or how little wealth they possess, they want just a little bit more than what they have currently. In order to achieve “just a little bit more”, people try to find ways, sometimes take short cuts to get it. And once they achieve the level of wealth they wanted, they go through the cycle again to get to the next level. And they repeat this cycle over and over.

Another interesting encounter about how people manage their money is that many do not have a plan for their financial future. People tend to live from pay check to pay check. Even those who save and invest money do not have a clear path to their financial freedom.

CM: What do you think are some of the characteristics that brought you this far in your career?

EK: I thoroughly enjoy my work and I have always enjoyed the work I did. I tried to have a positive attitude in all circumstances, using every opportunity as a learning opportunity. I considered challenges as an opportunity to build my leadership skills to become a business leader. I have a lot of energy which helps me be persistent to see matters to an end.

CM: What does a typical day at work look like?

EK: I would start the day around 8 in the morning, checking and following up on emails/phone calls. I attend either a staff meeting or a training meeting every morning. Then I spend rest of the morning reviewing account service requests and investment results with clients and make any adjustments until 1PM. Then I would be out rest of the day on client meetings. I return back to the office to do the remaining paperwork and done for the day around 8PM.

CM: What are the best traits in an employee? The worst?

EK: Best traits: good listening skills, follow instructions well, go the extra mile whenever help is needed, positive attitude, always on time, detail-oriented.
Worst traits: Late to meetings, forgetful, always watching the clock, does not admit mistakes and makes excuses for mistakes.

CM: When you hire, what do you look for the most in an employee?

EK: The person should have a strong first impression by showing up on time, answer interview questions with confidence, ask a lot of questions, and show passion about profession/work.

CM: Any financial tips for the working professional?

EK: Develop a financial plan, keep a budget, live within your means, pay off debt and save for retirement. More importantly, seek financial counsel to help you be accountable to your financial goals. Surround yourself with professionals—CPA, Attorney, Financial Advisor and the like. This will be the best investment you will be making in your life to achieve financial freedom.

CM: What word of advice do you have for the aspiring entrepreneur and aspiring financial planner? How can they move up from their current position?

EK: There is no short cut to move up in positions in the financial services industry but to put in the hours. You need to make the commitment to see yourself successful no matter how long it may take. Persevere and never give up even if you do not see the immediate results and money. I highly recommend aspiring financial planners to take courses to earn a certified planner certificate and the certified financial planner (CFP) designation.

CM: What do you like best about your job?

EK: There is no limit to how much I can earn from doing my job. My compensation is directly correlated to the time and effort I invest into it. I meet different people from all walks of life and I learn tremendously from their life experiences.

CM: Who or what inspires you?

EK: My mother is my inspiration. She was also a Financial Advisor at AXA Advisors for over 34 years. She is currently retired from the company but still manages her clientele by keeping contact with them and making financial recommendations when requested. She was a highly successful woman financial advisor in the company and was recognized for her performance nationally every year until she retired several years ago. Despite barriers she experienced as a first generation Korean American due to language barriers and being an Asian woman in a competitive organization, she thrived. She performed at a top level consistently all the time. Her strong work ethic and strong mental readiness toughened every part of her body to overcome challenges. She is my mother, but she is also a colleague, mentor, cheerleader and a role-model.


3 Responses to “Tips from the Top of the Career Ladder”
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  2. Jules Bobko says:

    Great stuff as usual…

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