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W.L. Mellon Speaker: Don Heberle wants you to find your passion

Don HeberleWhen searching for talent to populate his BNY Mellon Wealth Management team, CEO Don Heberle, MSIA ’94, looks for candidates who haven’t necessarily followed a prescribed path to success.

“I’m more interested, frankly, in careers that aren’t in a straight line,” says Heberle, who likes to hear how people wound up sitting in his office for what generally is the last in a long line of interviews. By that point, he’s assumed that previous interviewers have vetted candidates’ competency and skill sets. Heberle uses his time to learn about the more esoteric, yet equally important, factors: What are their passions? What motivates them? And how do they approach working with other teams and clients?

“My role in this is to make sure in my mind and in yours, that you’re a good fit for our organization, because culture matters a lot,” Heberle told an audience of Tepper School students during his W.L. Mellon Speaker Series address.

“There’s a fair amount of expectation ... that you need to have a plan, and sort of work against the plan from day one,” Heberle told the audience, but he recommends being open to opportunity along the way.

Heberle’s own career path was far from direct. He worked full time in the credit department of PNC Bank while attending graduate school and then became a consultant after graduation. “I knew financial services, broadly speaking, was the career path for me,” he says. “I didn’t have a plan exactly where that would lead.”

The four years he spent consulting turned out to be the best experience he could have hoped for. Projects with clients as diverse as the World Bank, investment firms and insurance companies helped him hone his skills and figure out his long-term career goals.

“You could go really deep on a particular issue in a relatively short period of time,” he says. While he worked on each particular business problem, he gained exposure to senior managers, allowing him to sample a diversity of opportunities. Ultimately, he settled on investment, joining BNY Mellon Wealth Management in 1997 as an associate portfolio manager.

By any reckoning, it was a step backward — he had less seniority and responsibility. The strategic decision represented something more important: the opportunity to delve entirely into a single field.

“I had decided I wanted to go deep in something; I wanted to know something well, I wanted to be an expert,” he says. Being open to new opportunities and taking risks paid off; he quickly moved through the ranks to lead the Family Office business, developing and implementing the company’s tax-managed equity investment process. Later, he served as director of investment strategy for Mellon’s Private Wealth Management Group, managing the analysis and development of investment ideas, strategic asset allocation and investment product research. In 2015, he was appointed CEO of BNY Mellon Wealth Management, overseeing 2,000 employees.

In addition to taking the road less traveled, Heberle also advised students to practice listening skills as they advance in their careers. Better listening, he reasons, leads to better information-gathering, which leads in turn to better decision-making.

“There’s a tendency sometimes — particularly among leaders, I think — to feel like you have to be the loudest voice the room, to feel like you have to know the answer.” Instead, he suggests listening to all points of view, and ensuring that all voices are heard before coming to a conclusion.

“In any management team, there are bigger personalities than others. There are louder voices than others,” he says. “The risk in those is the louder voices and bigger personalities carry the day, and they’re not always the best ideas.”

See photos from Heberle’s presentation