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Community Voices: Florida women powering the finance industry: Lessons in Leadership

Theresa Bursey



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Welcome to the Catalyst’s Community Voices platform. We’ve curated community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to speak on issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details.

Before my career in finance began, I had always aspired to be in a leadership position. As a child, I was a competitive dancer, both as a soloist and part of a team. The experience fostered leadership skills in building confidence, improving performance, and creating a positive team atmosphere. These valuable lessons still apply today. 

Learn your industry’s history

Early on, I realized that I enjoyed helping people build their businesses, and being in a position to do that proactively versus reactively tapped into my leadership abilities. I spent 11 years in asset management learning about portfolio construction and the science of emotional/behavioral investing, often acting as a coach to advisors. I was surrounded by some of the best people in the industry, including my manager, who was a sharp, dynamic woman. She held everyone accountable, and preparation was a must. We were regularly challenged in our weekly team meetings to know and understand key market statistics and how it affected the performance and positioning of our portfolios. She stressed the importance of being a ‘historian’ of the market to stay relevant in our conversations with advisors and clients.

Even if you weren’t in the business to experience major market events, understanding the history and what people experienced, creates an awareness that will allow you to speak with confidence. It is a relevant lesson that applies to any business. 

Never underestimate the power of being a good listener

As the first female branch manager of a multinational investment bank and financial services company’s local office in St. Petersburg, and one of its youngest branch managers, I follow the single most important recommendation from my mentors: to listen. Establishing myself as a trusted resource is more important to me than getting my point across. As a leader, being a thoughtful listener is critical to success.  We make better decisions when we seek to understand as opposed to trying to be understood.

Give back 

Leadership provides the opportunity to support your existing team and to mentor the next generation at the same time. Sharing your experiences and being vulnerable gives people the confidence to take risks which helps us to evolve. I have had several fantastic mentors throughout the years and now it’s my privilege to pay it forward. 

Maintain a positive attitude

At the outset of my career, I quickly established myself as a leader and therefore my actions and attitude set the tone for the group. I was told that my attitude and actions matter, and that people are going to watch and follow my lead. Leading an office virtually through a pandemic was certainly a new challenge, but having a strong network of support at all levels helped me make impactful changes to how we did our work. We realize the importance of keeping the firm’s culture intact, making sure people feel that they are part of something bigger, and that has helped us maintain a positive work environment as we all navigate uncharted territory. 

Stay balanced

Being a working mother is a balancing act, you just need a good support system. It’s also important to realize that your peers understand how you feel and have had similar experiences. Many women would say that they’ve had moments where they felt that they were not living up to their expectations. Being mindful can help you stay balanced through periods of uncertainty. My motto in business and personal life: “Don’t get too high on the highs and don’t get too low on the lows.” Keeping things in perspective can help you avoid that roller-coaster ride. 

Invest in yourself and others

There are going to be peaks and valleys in your career. Focus on your goals and what you are most passionate about. We cannot underestimate the power of recharging and investing in ourselves. It’s important to take time to enjoy family, friends and other vital aspects of your life. My family, faith and friends have helped me get through some of my most challenging times. 

I personally keep a journal of small wins and accomplishments. Looking back on my journal over the past year, I am pleased to have helped support my team, colleagues, and our clients. It reflects my true purpose and joy—investing in other people’s personal and professional growth. 

The future role of women

Women are being promoted into senior leadership roles within corporate America, and we are also seeing a growing number of entrepreneurs and women-owned small businesses. It’s exciting to be a part of this progress, but also important not to lose sight of the fact that we all need each other to continue moving forward. Men and women have a lot to learn from one another and we are all contributors to each other’s success. We all need each other. One of the guiding principles I reflect on daily is, “Leaders speak respectfully about the past, realistically about the present, and optimistically about the future.” The greatest reward is being able to invest in other people. Changing lives and enabling people to do things that they never thought possible is an honor and joy.

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