Inspirational Woman: Racheal Ankrah-Fosu | Oxford Saïd Business School

Racheal Ankrah-FosuFor 16 years, Racheal Ankrah-Fosu has specialized in financial services information technology and the exchange trading business, most recently providing her expertise as Global Head of Information Technology at Intercontinental Exchange’s New York Stock Exchange Group. Specifically she has led a global team that is responsible for measuring, analyzing and optimizing global exchange trading applications within the financial trading sector that has extended its reach to 11+ exchanges across the globe. The advice that Ms. Ankrah-Fosu can give to the younger generation of women entering the workforce is, “Work hard on building cross functional relationships across and outside of your organization. Always do your homework thoroughly this will ensure that when you speak what you say is respected and valued. Do not be shy to speak up if you know the right answer, it will be ultimately appreciated and respected.”

As a woman in today’s world, Ms. Ankrah-Fosu feels that persistence when no one thinks you can accomplish major feats and not taking no for an answer has contributed her success. Small incremental successes build well on each other, and then you look up and it’s something really big. In her field which is a historically a male dominated one; she has worked hard on the building great relationships with both men and women as a key component for success. Formerly, Ms. Ankrah-Fosu was a consultant with Accenture, the management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company. Ms. Ankrah-Fosu took on the role of Managing Director, Information Technology for NYSE Euronext until her promotion to NYSE Euronext’s Global Head – IT Capacity and Performance Management. NYSE Euronext operates global financial markets across commodities, FX, equities, bonds and interest rates. ICE’s NYSE Group stock exchanges represent one-third of traded equities volume worldwide.

Racheal Ankrah-Fosu is a Liberian immigrant who came to the U.S. when she was 14 years old. The back story of Ms. Ankrah-Fosu’s successful immigration to the United States is both harrowing and inspiring. Now free from the many perils associated with a country in the throes of a civil war, Ms. Ankrah-Fosu has succeeded in overcoming the kind of obstacles that the average American only reads about.

Prior to beginning her career with NYSE, Ms. Ankrah-Ankrah-Fosu was a Consultant with Accenture (previously Andersen Consulting).

Racheal is currently enrolled in the Executive MBA Program at Oxford’s Saïd Business School and was awarded one of the Alumni Annual Fund Forté Foundation Fellowships for Women. She was also recently awarded a Top Female Executive designation award by the international Women’s Leadership Association.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

At the onset as a young analyst at Accenture (Andersen Consulting at the time) my goal at that point was to make Partner in the firm. I aimed to become a Consultant and was promoted quicker than the expected timeframe. My next target was Manager. However, an opportunity came along to join the New York Stock and American Stock Exchanges Technology Division. I was so enthralled by the opportunity and decided to take it. I had planned to stay for 2 years and do a Masters’ in the process; instead I ended up staying for going on 17 years. At the NYSE, I was fortunate to have great mentors who started planning my career for me, about midway through I took the reins over and started planning my career myself. The current success that I have attained at the NYSE I could not have planned for in 1996 when I first started working at Accenture. However when I did start planning and targeting larger more strategic roles and opportunities they materialized because I planned, targeted and put myself in the position to access them and deliver on those opportunities. At this stage in my career I have decided to position myself ultimately for C level positions and have chosen to pursue my EMBA because I believe it will equip, enable and provide me with the networks necessary for the next step in my career progression.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

I have faced many, of the professional and personal nature. The biggest professional challenges have arisen around the notions that I am a young woman and often the only woman in the circles within which I operate at work. People sometimes tend to unknowingly second guess me because of both my age and my sex. I don’t let it get to me at all, I just get right on with the work at hand and they end up realizing that I really know my stuff. Colleagues sometimes are first startled when I am convicted about leadership decisions I make and it sometimes takes them a while to understand the wisdom behind these decisions but that does not stop me from making the right decisions and bringing them along if necessary; that comes with the leadership territory. That level of decisiveness is one of the reasons they end up respecting my leadership abilities, so don’t be afraid to be decisive. People know I am fiercely protective of my team and that they are loyal to me, I work very hard to obtain their respect by being extremely knowledgeable about my area of expertise and I push the boundaries to deliver better value all the time. Challenges intrigue me and motivate me to solve them. With that comes some bumps and bruises. I typically address these challenges head-on, discuss them with folks who disagree, communicate my position and stand firm where necessary or compromise where it makes sense. People ultimately respect you for being a straight shooter who will get in the trenches and do what needs to be done to move the company forward. Personally I have had to be a caregiver to my recently deceased husband as he fought through debilitating strokes over the past three years. I have at the same time had to be a supportive mother to my two boys as our life underwent so many changes associated with my husband’s illness and recent death. Clearly work and family balance has been a challenge to overcome. In that instance, priorities are priorities, God first; family next and work comes after. As a general rule I do not harbour resentment, I pray about challenges, deal with them head on, discuss them, work through them and move on.

What advice would you give someone who wishes to move in to a leadership position for the first time?

Demonstrate leadership by showing influence amongst your peers and work to ensure that your work with your superiors is relied upon, accurate, detail oriented and timely. Build social relationships with your peers and management. Do not be shy to ask someone above you to mentor you and tell them what your goals are. Once your goals are known they will give you advice on how to achieve it and feel like a part of your leadership and success process.

When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?

I would look for organizational fit and ability to stretch beyond the role. If I have two equally qualified candidates and one communicates that they are not necessarily interested in change, growth and mobility I would be weary of choosing that candidate. In today’s working world, change IS the only constant and so adaptability is key for me as a hiring manager. The ability to have self-taught or pursued avenues for learning new technical and soft skills are also a good indicator of a trainable future employee. Roles changes, organizations change and demonstrated ability to cope with and stay ahead of change is a big differentiating factor. Lastly, would look for the ability to be successful in unclear, difficult situations. That is a required skill in today’s business environment and those who work for me must be able to handle stress well and wherever possible thrive under pressure.

How do you manage your own boss?

By planning much further ahead than my boss can usually anticipate. When I anticipate that I need my boss to clear the way for me on an issue, I make sure to let him/her know exactly that. When I know that my boss will need to support me because I cannot complete a deliverable or project or I’ve said no to someone who won’t be pleased, I let my boss know immediately and tell them exactly what kind of support I need and in what timeframe. My goal is to make sure the there are no surprises.

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

I am an early riser, I find the early mornings to be my most productive time. I wake up at 5:30 a.m. regularly without an alarm clock. I start my day with prayer, exercise, and my planner. I plan on Sunday or early Monday morning for the week with established goals for the week, a list of ‘must accomplish’ and ‘nice to accomplish’ tasks for the week. I work well with checking off lists of tasks so I use that approach religiously. I re-balance my calendar in the mornings to adjust for unanticipated schedule alterations and always look to find time for spending with my children. Before my children leave for school, we read the Bible together and discuss it in the context of their daily lives. My day ends with me spending time with my sons. After they go to bed, I re-evaluate my goals and tasks, make adjustments and add new ones if need be. I find it easier to sleep when I have thought through and planned my upcoming day/rest of the week than to go to bed with a lot of unsorted pieces on my mind.

What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations?

Target having conversations with Senior Management that are meaningful and relevant to their needs within the organization. For example, offer to take on additional tasks that are high visibility and work hard to deliver accurately on those. Ask for guidance on approach to completing these sort of projects from managers and get their buy-in and feedback before presenting to Management or Senior Management.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

Yes, my very first mentorship was one I sought out. I had just come back from training in Illinois and we had heard horror stories of it being a slow time and that there were a lot of analysts on the bench “without projects”. Everyone was waiting for the next big project to be signed to get an assignment. After meeting with my HR representative I asked what I could do differently. She recommended finding an industry and a project I was interested in and then asking the team if there were any openings coming soon. I did just that, 4 weeks in, as an Analyst (lowest on the totem pole), I reached out to the Partner (highest on the totem pole) by email and phone and told him I was interested in working on his project and wondered if he had any roles available for me. I made sure to ask him to meet with me when he was next in NY we met. A month later I was on a plane flying to my first project in Detroit, that partner’s project. After that all but one of the other projects I was on were all his.

Do you think networking is important and if so, what 3 tips would you give to a newbee networker?

Be confident! It doesn’t matter who you are talking to, be confident, not overconfident or over selling, just confident. Often opportunities that arise from networking will occur from talking to someone more senior than you. What they will remember is your confidence, your ability to engage in intellectually stimulating conversation and your warmth or lack thereof.

Smile warmly! Genuineness is often underrated in our world today but it really matters and most seasoned professionals can sniff out the lack of genuineness in a second.

Purposely aim to meet and network with people you would not normally gravitate towards in your social circles. A warm smile goes a long way and a true desire to learn about others is critical. Networking is an intersection of interest, intention and opportunity or sometimes chance. I chose Oxford over other Schools because of the value of the global network of peers in addition to the academic rigor. As a result, I have already begun to build an unbelievably, influential network in a very short period that will remain with me for life. As I look to pursue new ventures and transition into the next phase of my career progression I have already begun to tap into that network which will be key for ensuring success moving forward. Position yourself, dive in and don’t be afraid to ask for an opportunity if your gut tells you the timing is right. The worst they can say is no.

What does the future hold for you?

As a member of the Saïd School of Business Executive MBA 2017 class, I am devoting myself to re-learning, re-tooling and re-thinking the next phase of my career. I have been very successful by any standard in the business world and am one of the most senior women in technology at the New York Stock Exchange. I am now ready to branch out into legacy building entrepreneurial ventures. Given Saïd’s prowess amongst business schools in this area it seemed a natural fit for pursuing the next phase of my career. The start of several new business ventures that have been on heart are impending for 2016.

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