When Milbert Kiggundu-Bentham describes her career path as “rich” — trust us, she’s being modest.
Today a Senior Relationship Manager for the Global Commercial Bank at Bank of America, Kiggundu-Bentham originally got her start on Wall Street, where she spent close to 10 years in capital markets and research roles. Then, the recession occurred and it happened to coincide with a family member’s illness. Choosing to pause her trajectory in finance, Kiggundu-Bentham took a career break that, in reality, doesn’t sound like much of a “break” at all.
“I had two more boys (I already had one son), and I founded a children’s clothing business in Brooklyn,” she said, adding that starting a business is a career move she’s particularly proud of. “As a result, I am much more confident and willing to take risks both personally and professionally.”
Given her own background of taking risks — did we mention she’s also published a mystery novel under a pseudonym? — it’s perhaps fitting that helping clients with risk management is part of her work at Bank of America today. Kiggundu-Bentham came to the bank in 2014 after completing its Returning Talent program, re-embarking on a corporate career that she says is helping her make an impact.
“It has always been very important for me to work for a company that shares my fundamental values,” she said. “Social responsibility has always been very integral to my being, so I love the community service aspect of the bank. We do so much locally in New Jersey, both through employee volunteerism and financially.”
The discounted sports tickets in a household of three boys and a husband, she added, aren’t too shabby either. Recently, Kiggundu-Bentham shared with Fairygodboss what she’s learned from her career pivots, the difference that separates “industry leaders” from the ordinary ones and what makes her role today so fulfilling.
Tell me a bit about your current role. What are your priorities, and what about the role excites you most?
I am a Senior Relationship Manager for the Global Commercial Bank. In my role, I am responsible for maintaining the firm’s banking relationships with middle market companies ($50 million to $2 billion in annual revenue) in Northern New Jersey. The commercial bank provides treasury (cash management) and credit for its clients, as well as foreign exchange, risk management and international banking. In addition, we connect our clients to our investment banking and wealth management platforms.
What’s the first and last thing you do at work every day?
In addition to checking emails for urgent requests, my role is really about relationship management, so I have either in-person meetings or calls with prospects and clients at the very beginning of each day. At the end of each day, I create my to-do list for the next day and organize that list by priority.
Let’s talk about your career path. What sequence of events ultimately brought you to Bank of America?
I have had a very rich career path. I first joined Wall Street in 2000, when I was hired by Bear Stearns out of business school. I spent eight years in Collateralized Debt Obligations in Capital Markets and Research at Bear Stearns before I went onto writing fixed income research and covering Asset managers at Standard and Poor’s. I took a career break in 2009 before joining Bank of America in 2014.
Why did you take a career break, and what ultimately made you come back?
Two things happened. First, in late 2007, I learned that my father’s colon cancer had returned, and then due to the financial crisis of 2008, Standard and Poor’s discontinued its Relationship Coverage of Asset Managers within the Structured Products Team. The credit downturn was financially challenging but also a blessing. It gave me some time to visit my father before he ultimately passed in June 2008. In addition, I had two more boys (I already had one son), and I founded a children’s clothing business in Brooklyn. I returned to the corporate world through Bank of America’s Returning Talent program in 2014 when I realized that my children’s clothing business was not going to scale and that I also did not have enough capital to sustain it.
What’s your favorite aspect of your company’s culture and/or your favorite company perk?
It has always been very important for me to work for a company that shares my fundamental values. Social responsibility has always been very integral to my being, so I love the community service aspect of the bank. We do so much locally in New Jersey, both through employee volunteerism and financially. My favorite perk has got to be the discounted sports tickets. With three boys in my household and my husband, we have enjoyed going to see Yankee, Jets and Nets games.
What’s something you’re especially good at work?
My background in entrepreneurship, relationship management and research helps with prospecting and finding better ways to deepen relationships with clients.
What about outside of work?
At the moment, I am focused on my eldest son who is going into high school next year, but other than that, I have coached each of my son’s basketball teams. I have also published a fiction thriller under a pseudonym.
What’s the one career move you’ve made that you’re most proud of?
Starting a business. As a result, I am much more confident and willing to take risks both personally and professionally.
What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?
Of all the skills of leadership, listening is the most valuable and one of the least understood. Most captains of industry listen only sometimes, and they remain ordinary leaders. But a few — the great ones — never stop listening. That’s how they get word before anyone else of unseen problems and opportunities.
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