Vault Q&A: Federico Sercovich, Citigroup
Vault: Tell me a little bit about your pre-business school background.
Sercovich: I'm originally from Argentina. I spent four years doing marketing in Chile, in a variety of industries and functions within marketing. First I worked with the country's largest global advertising firm, BBDO, then at L'Oreal in brand management, then with B2B marketing for a smaller regional telecom.
Vault: Did you want to do a career change from marketing when you went to get your MBA?
Sercovich: Overall the idea of doing the MBA was the opportunity to expand my skill set and move on to a more general management-oriented career path. The Management Associate program at Citigroup allowed me -- in a rather "safe environment" -- to gain more experience in different business functions. While marketing is still my passion, I've expanded my skill base to achieve my long-term aspirations.
Vault: What do you mean by a "safe environment?"
Sercovich: You know it's a 1-year term job, and so you get to learn a lot and to add value at the same time. However it's not something you will be doing for more than 12 months, it has a defined term, which allows you to go beyond your professional comfort zone
For example, during my current rotation which I'm finishing up this week, I'm in a CFO role supporting a new product -function clearly outside my comfort zone. I was encouraged to take the risk and I've seen other people doing it and succeeding at it. The program gives you the opportunity to go ahead and do these kinds of things.
Vault: So tell me a little bit about the program and the rotations that you've done.
Sercovich: It's a two-year program, with two one-year rotations in different areas. My first rotation was in a marketing/strategy role in our merchant acquiring business. With that group -- the customer is not the cardholder unlike the rest of the North America Cards, it's merchants who want to take credit cards as payment instruments. During said rotation, I had the opportunity to leverage my B2B skills, and it provided me with a broad view of the payment landscape and the consumer's behavior at the point of sale.
Vault: Did you know that you were going to that type of position when you joined the Management Associates program?
Sercovich: I was actually first a summer associate during the summer between my first and second years of business school. I was in the E-business department, working with the strategic alliances team with various partners on different cross-sell initiatives.
At the end of the summer, at the end of my performance evaluation I was offered a position in the MA Program, which I happily accepted. The way it works -- you know you have a job, but you initially don't know in which business you're going to be working. When it's closer to the point of joining, you start an interview process. You meet with different managers and network. I think it's pretty cool because you are completely in charge of your career choices -- you get to decide for which opportunities you want to interview.
Vault: So what about your second rotation, your current role.
Sercovich: It's a CFO role in an area called cross-sell. Iprovide Financial Planning & Analysis support for a new set of products under the umbrella of the alternate lending franchise. The products are unsecured personal loans.
These are new products, and this is a function I haven't been exposed to in my past. In this role, I do financial forecasting and profitability analyses, I have been solely in charge of the development of the 2006 financial plan for these products.
Vault: As a role outside of your "comfort zone" how have you found this experience?
Sercovich: Well, it's definitely stressful, but very exciting. The numbers I report roll up all the way to the CEO of Citi Cards and that's a big responsibility. The value I contribute to the business is clear and tangible.
Vault: So what are you drawing on to do your job, given that your background is in marketing?
Sercovich: It's part business school theory, part on-the-job training, and a lot of common sense. It's not rocket science -- the math is fairly straightforward -- but it was definitely a good challenge. I was able to put together from scratch the forecasting models for the business, which are now used every month.
Vault: Is there a formal mentorship program component to the program?
Sercovich: Last year, we joined the overall Citi Cards mentorship program, through which the MAs are paired up with a mentor who has been in the company for a while. But I think there is a huge component that is totally informal. As an MA, many doors are open, many times you can just call up a senior member of the organization and ask them for some time in their calendar. They are open to help you, and they give you wise career advice. It's sort of weird sometimes to be talking with these senior leaders who are dedicating part of their valuable time to giving career advice to a Management Associate.
Vault: So what will you be doing once you finish this rotation?
Sercovich: I have accepted a role in Citigroup International Cards, I will be working on strategic initiatives with different regions -- global competitor analysis, different practices and products, taking a look at what's been successful in North America which could be rolled out elsewhere.