Marla Sofer, VP of Strategic Partnerships at Jemstep
drives growth through obsessive client centricity. With a background in conflict resolution, Marla negotiates solutions to complex problems while setting the stage for the future. She has designed and implemented third-party strategies that resulted in cost savings, automation, and efficiency programs to achieve 25% to 100% profit margin increases in multi-billion dollar organizations.
Deck 7: What drew you towards your profession and to Jemstep? How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Jemstep?
MARLA SOFER: My career path has been more opportunistic than linear, although a common thread has woven through each position. My studies centered on negotiation and mediation and then I began fundraising at a not-for-profit. Shortly afterward, I shifted into private banking, where I worked closely with high-net-worth clients and managed bank operations for branch offices across Latin America. I then serviced institutional investors and grew an account management team at J.P. Morgan. That experience enabled me to transition to BlackRock, where I led our global provider strategy with banks, index licensors, and market data providers.
Near the end of 2015, I sought a transition into the rapidly emerging world of Fintech, leveraging the financial services skills I had developed with both private and institutional investors, negotiating global agreements, and overseeing complex operational relationships valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
At Lending Club, I ran third party oversight and monitoring, preparing the software platform for institutional investment and strict regulatory compliance. I then led business development for Xignite, where I focused on simplifying access and usability of market data with well constructed APIs. In my current role leading strategic partnerships at Jemstep, I call upon experience and lessons from each of my prior roles. I manage relationships that enable digital client experiences through seamless integrations, drive down costs and expand accessibility to the financial markets. The years I spent in banking and asset management allow me to relate to our customers, appreciating the complexity of wealth management operations.
"Good leaders need to be resilient as one of their most important responsibilities is modeling that resiliency when unexpected turns and twists undoubtedly test their vision and create uncertainty within their teams."
D7: If a brand wanted to work with you, what activities would you be most interested in collaborating on?
MS: I am passionate about broadening the access to financial services to underserved communities, and I would love to collaborate with partners who aim to make banking, payments, insurance, and investments more cost effective and simpler to manage. I would also love to collaborate to deliver knowledge about investing, helping people feel more control over their investments and the impact that they have. Finally, I’m always interested in collaborating to improve the percentage of diverse representation in leadership. I welcome all opportunities focused on driving real change, empowering diverse leaders, and encouraging companies to commit to more progressive and transparent policies around diversity and inclusion.
D7: Working globally is integral to your role. How do you maintain and develop remote relationships?
MS: Having worked in global roles for more than 15 years, I find that it is always most effective to get to know people authentically, building relationships that go beyond whatever task sparked the collaboration. When possible, I also feel that travelling to connect with remote partners face to face is extremely valuable. Most importantly, focus on the frequency of touchpoints with remote colleagues, partners, and clients. Share information that might be of interest, question how they feel about the direction of the relationship, and as with all relationships, give of yourself to get the most out of it.
"Women must go beyond their comfort zones, try new things, and invest heavily in building their networks."
D7: What are the most significant characteristics of a good leader? What leadership qualities according to you are overrated?
MS: Good leaders have integrity. This, to me, is the most important characteristic, and it’s very hard to fake. They also have vision and are able to energize teams to execute in alignment with that vision. Good leaders need to be resilient as one of their most important responsibilities is modeling that resiliency when unexpected turns and twists undoubtedly test their vision and create uncertainty within their teams. The best leaders emphasize people management. Not every leader has to be a fantastic manager, but all need to make sure that they have deputies in place to get the most out of their teams, while at the same time empowering individuals with space to offer their own unique and diverse views and plans to impact the direction of the company.
I believe that leadership perceived to come out of top tier schools and companies is overrated. While going to top universities and working at the world’s premier companies can offer excellent exposure and experience, it does not breed leadership. I also believe that the very cerebral thinking and strategic qualities of leaders can sometimes be overrated if they are not paired with clear vision and real-life execution.
D7: What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you? What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions in finance or technology?
MS: The biggest challenges for the next generation of women will probably be very similar to this generation’s biggest challenges. Together, we need to continue challenging societal bias, finding confidence in our voices, and speaking truth to power. I advise women to go beyond their comfort zones, try new things, and invest heavily in building their networks. I also think that women aiming for leadership should begin giving of themselves early - at any career stage. You are always able to give your advice and your time to others who are looking for guidance. Speak with others, volunteer to support causes you care about, create new forums when the ones you need don’t exist. Giving to your community will catapult you into leadership more quickly than you might imagine.
"Not every leader has to be a fantastic manager, but all need to make sure that they have deputies in place to get the most out of their teams."
D7: What does an empowered woman mean to you? In a management position, how have you found it best to promote and nurture women’s careers?
MS: An empowered woman is confident enough to speak her mind and wise enough to listen, adapt, and refine her own self-awareness. She should also be resilient and focused on having an impact. I have found that the most effective way to promote and nurture others is through sharing stories. I have created a few forums for women to practice leadership, ask vulnerable questions, and raise their hands to test their blooming leadership skills in a comfortable and safe environment.
D7: What is your superpower?
MS: I asked my family this question prior to answering and some of their answers are probably not what I would choose to share. I would say that my superpower is energizing people behind a purpose. I love to connect with others, build excitement, and then follow through to execute on a vision where the sum is greater than its parts. In my personal life, I have a superpower to host big dinners with friends in a pinch - my family mentioned this one.