Photo Courtesy of Moody's Corporation
How does a finance executive with an active family life show up and perform at a high level? For Kendra Smith, Business Resource Groups (BRGs) play a big role in keeping her career and her family on track. Smith is the Managing Director responsible for several teams in Moody's Corporation’s Public Finance Group within Moody’s Investors Service, the credit rating agency. She’s been with the company for 20 years and she’s a mom to twin boys. She says, “My role as a parent makes me a much better employee, manager of managers, global citizen and co-worker, and supporter of actively embracing the need for BRGs.”
The global integrated risk assessment firm has more than 11,000 employees in more than 40 countries, and is deeply committed to developing and supporting a diverse workforce, in part through its extensive network of BRG’s. Smith recently shared with Fairygodboss how she came to co-found the company’s Women’s Business Resource Group, and how the BRG and its members have helped her succeed in her career. Smith also serves on Moody’s Corporation’s Diversity Council and is the senior advisor to the company’s Black Inclusion Group.
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
For the past seven years, I’ve served as the Managing Director in Public Finance responsible for the Global Higher Education, Nonprofits, Healthcare and US Housing rating teams. My span of responsibility was just widened in January 2021 to also include the Municipal Supported Products team.
The majority of my professional experience has been in Corporate Finance. During my 20 years at Moody's Investors Service, I’ve served as a VP/Senior Analyst; Senior Credit Officer, Senior Vice President and Managing Director primarily responsible for multi-sector High Yield Global Corporate Finance. Prior to transferring to the Public Finance Group, where I am a manager of managers, I served as the Managing Director/Team Leader of the High Yield team. That assignment was foundational because I helped build the team and define its portfolio during the 2008 financial crisis.
After a few years there, I was the Managing Director/Team leader of the Retail/Apparel/Restaurants/Lodging and Cruise Ships portfolio. For two years on this team in Corporate Finance, I managed ratings across the spectrum from investment grade to High Yield.
What’s the first and last thing you do at work every day?
The first thing I do at work is breathe deeply and be mindful, opening my spirit and mind to whatever I may face while working.
At the end of every day, I typically check emails, review my forward calendar, ensure my work mobile is on, and exhale. The latter is in recognition of the grace I received, and afforded to others, during the day leading people and processes, enhancing the rigor of our credit analytics, addressing personnel, Business Resource Group-related work, and special projects at the request of Moody’s Executive Leadership Team.
Why do you think Moody’s is a particularly great place to be a working mom?
Moody’s is a fantastic place to work and that sentiment is emboldened as a working parent. Remote work is the reality and norm now because of coronavirus, yet Moody’s supported the initiative many years ago. As a Managing Director of several teams, I try to model the importance of accessibility and not working at all hours…well, more effort is needed on the latter!
How has your role as a mom made you a better employee?
I am blessed to be the mother of healthy and adorable twin boys – now tweens. These are my only children, so managing chaos and executing effective logistics, are core to my being. My love of family has made me a more empathic listener, a clearer communicator, and a strong believer in meeting people where they are emotionally, as well as professionally. As I progress through the stages of parenting, I authentically improve as a leader, sponsor and mentor. I know, and act accordingly, that people are different and those differences should be acknowledged, cultivated and supported.
My role as a parent makes me a much better employee, manager of managers, global citizen, co-worker, and supporter of actively embracing the need for BRGs.
How have the major shifts in work and schooling due to the worldwide pandemic impacted you as a working mom?
The results of the pandemic impact me greatly as a full-time working parent. I am a wife, mother, primary academic resource for the twins, family member, community service worker, friend and Managing Director — concurrently.
Having the children at home gives me conflicted feelings — happy and sad. Happy because I get the pleasure of eating meals with the kids. I enjoy assisting them in practicing musical instruments and I love just knowing we are together and safe. The sadness results from the inability to do any of the aforementioned robustly, nor consistently, given the demands of working full time.
What’s your #1 tip for moms who are navigating the delicate balance of working and mothering?
In my opinion, the needs of the family are most pressing. The balance of working and parenting depends on “the quality of your village,” those trusted people in your life who can stand in for you at a basketball game, or band concert, etc. My village is truly the only thing that allows me to work at a consistently high level as a highly visible senior executive.
Working for a thought leading, dynamic, inclusive firm like Moody’s is essential. An understanding boss is also key to navigating that balance. I have experienced the entire spectrum of total imbalance, as a new mother, managing the very transactional high yield corporate finance team during the 2008 global financial crisis to close to equilibrium over time as Moody’s enacted policies that overtly supported flexibility and working from home privileges.
I want you to know that I rarely find balance, certainly not on a sustained basis. However, I live an authentic, exciting and loving life. No regrets is my mantra. I was the class mom for years when that was needed, active in community service projects with the kids, and continue to spend quality time working in partnership with my children’s middle school and cherishing quality time with my family.
In my opinion, accepting that there is no true work/life balance was perhaps the most freeing and foundational moment in my 25 year career in finance. Accepting that you are enough for your children/home is integral to sanity and to maintaining high caliber work in professional performance.
How and why did you first get involved in Moody’s women’s network?
I got involved with Moody’s Women’s Network (now, after explosive global growth, it’s the Women’s Business Resource Group) because I felt isolated in Corporate Finance where there were not many women nor people of color. Having moments to share experiences that many would understand was initially what drew me to the group of women. We had meetings on our own at lunch time, sharing stories like the outfit I am wearing is the second one worn today because one of the children got oatmeal or something on the first one!
In time, our numbers grew and our professional development-focused seminars and activities were well attended. We evolved into sharing work stories, resources, skill gap analyses and remediation sources, etc. We wanted to keep the informality of being a woman’s gathering while focusing on our career advancement and development.
After a year, or so, the organization was founded. We were eagerly welcomed by the Executive Leadership Team as they clearly saw the business value of getting people out of divisional silos and mingling, networking, sharing experiences, celebrating advancements, etc.
In 2019, Moody’s Black Inclusion Group (B.I.G.) was launched under the umbrella of the firm’s large, and well established, Multicultural BRG. I was asked to serve as the Senior Advisor to the group. At first, I thought this would be a stretch assignment for me because I knew it would be difficult to balance the enthusiasm, innovation and energy of the working group with the constraints of budgets plus many control functions that need to be involved to do just about anything.
Needless to say, I am privileged to serve as the Advisor. This no longer became an assignment, or an access opportunity to Senior Leadership, it became my passion. The work, education and outreach that B.I.G. does globally feeds my soul. Thus, the talented members and out of the box idea generation of the group serve as a leveling agent to my sizable business remit and responsibilities at work.
Tell us about your involvement with Moody’s Diversity Council. How did that come about, and what is your role?
I first joined Moody’s Diversity Council because I was the co-chairperson of the Women’s BRG. At that time, my position at the firm was too junior to be otherwise considered. However being engaged, providing a unique perspective as a Black executive woman, and standing up mentoring programs and actively contributing to sub-committee work (e.g. workplace flexibility, senior women’s breakfasts with high powered women on Wall Street) held my place on the Council. In a very short time, I became a Managing Director and continue to proudly serve on our Diversity Council.
My role on the firm’s Diversity Council is to be vocal and authentic; to serve as a frequent speaker and participant in numerous BRG meetings and events; to encourage global knowledge sharing and to facilitate the expansion of our BRGs globally.
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