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Kathryn Swintek: A Value-Added Manager
The global recession has claimed Kenneth D. Lewis, the CEO responsible for building Bank of
America into the nation’s largest bank. He was stripped of his chairman’s title at the April 29 annual shareholder meeting.

Kathryn Swintek probably was not surprised at Mr. Lewis’ fate. A Managing Director and Group Head at BNP Paribas––one of the world’s largest banks––she retired in April 2008, and views bank management as a rewarding challenge. “You need a competitive streak. It’s incredibly tough,” she declares, “You have to want to win.”

Her advice to Mount Saint Vincent students is, “Put yourself on the line and take some risks with your career. Get out of your comfort zone.” She might have added: be prepared to work 16-hour days and enthusiastically accept new responsibilities. When given a desirable Paris assignment, Ms. Swintek didn’t speak a word of French. Working with a tutor for three months, she became fluent enough to succeed in her task.

A 1974 Mount Saint Vincent graduate, she admires the Sisters of Charity who founded the school, and believes they are good role models. She praises the individual attention she received from faculty members. She took advantage of the study abroad program, spending a semester in Vienna. Although an Economics major, she enrolled in courses like art history and advanced literature; even for future Wall Street titans, she views the liberal arts as helpful in terms of gaining perspective and learning self-reliance.

Then, in 1979, she earned an MBA in Finance at New York University. Beginning her career at Irving Trust Company, she benefited from steady promotions. She discovered that she flourished in entrepreneurial situations where she could creatively build a business “from scratch.” Once, she travelled to North Africa––as a single woman in her mid- 20s––to close a deal.

She next received an attractive offer from the Banque Nationale de Paris. Urged not to leave by her Irving Trust managers, her mother reminded her, “As soon as you’ve mastered something you’re ready to move on.”

BNP merged with Paribas in 2000 to create BNP Paribas. Ms. Swintek founded the bank’s Structured Finance Group in the U.S., and also developed and led its Global High Yield Bond Group as well as its Merchant Banking Group. She’s especially proud that she “built that group [bonds] into a top-five position.” Heading this “high profile, high revenue business was a real feather in my cap.”

Hailed as a pioneer for thriving in an industry in which it is difficult for women to succeed, Ms. Swintek is surprised “at how little progress women have made breaking through to the upper echelon…when I was younger, being the only woman in a meeting was OK. But when I retired from banking, I noticed that I was still usually the only woman in most of my meetings, and it was disappointing.”

In explaining her own success, she cites her independence and adds, “I was looking for truth and authenticity. Loving the business helped.” So did her ability to recruit and retain top-performing teams. One employee complimented her by saying, “You make people want to do their best.”  

Also in the mix, she notes is, “How you think about any given business can put you in the winner’s circle and not the loser’s circle….the men who worked for me accepted me as their leader. They knew I loved the business…my business was full of conflict. I like it. I am a risk taker.”

On May 4, the College of Mount Saint Vincent, at its 2009 Scholarship Tribute Dinner, honored Kathryn Swintek for her professional triumphs. Post-retirement, Ms. Swintek is a Board Member of the College, the Mint Theater Company, and the Committee of 200, an organization dedicated to fostering, celebrating, and advancing women’s leadership in business. She also is a director of Trade Settlements, Inc., a financial services firm, and is on the Board of a start-up venture capital firm in medical technology.

Touchdown!

Kathryn Swintek is a well-rounded individual and a sports fan. She admires pro football quarterbacks Joe Namath and Joe Montana. She also thinks that Vince Lombardi was a great coach and rooted for his Green Bay Packer championship teams. Her basketball heroes include Walt “Clyde” Frazier and Willis Reed, two members of the New York Knicks world-champion team. Ms. Swintek also enjoys an occasional round of golf.

She lives in New York with André Dorra, her husband; they have been married for more than 22 years. Mr. Dorra, a retired textile engineer, is quite cosmopolitan. The two met in Paris, and while there, joined the International Wine & Food Society. He is an accomplished home chef. The couple enjoy attending performing arts events.

Ms. Swintek––who speaks English and French––also likes to travel, for business and pleasure has been all over Europe (including Russia), to such Asian capitals as Shanghai and Tokyo, and to Africa. She was based in New York and Paris, and for many years spent alternate weeks in London.