Twenty-seven years after graduating from Fordham College at Rose Hill, Tom Humphrey came back to one of its classrooms to share the leadership lessons he’d gained in his decades of work in global finance.
His advice: Know what you’re good at. Always look for mentors. Hire experts, rather than trying to be an expert on everything. And always l
isten to the rank and file.
“Leaders are fired from below, not above,” he said. “You lose the ability to lead by not being connected with the people who report to you.”
Those were just some of the points he made on Oct. 20 during the appearance before 42 College of Business Administration students.
Humphrey (FCRH ’82), head of fixed income distribution for the Americas at Barclays Capital, came to campus as part of an initiative by the Fordham University President’s Council Executive Committee, of which he is a member.
The council is a group of distinguished alumni who contribute their time and talent in support of the University’s mission. Council members speak in classrooms to share their life experiences with the next generation of leaders.
Humphrey warned the students about the feeling of entitlement that can come from working for years to get to the top, saying it can make managers unwilling to listen to those below them. “My door is always open” can mean that managers are open to hearing about problems, but not about how to do things better, he said.
He added that “all great leaders know what they’re good at,” rather than trying to be the expert on everything. They also hire good people and restrain themselves from meddling in their work, he said.
Several times he drove home the importance of finding good mentors.
“All great leaders need a mentor,” he said. “Nobody figures it out on the job.” He gave an example of how one mentor helped him—when he took on a demanding new job in 2003, the mentor offered to move into a subordinate position to help him get up to speed.
“I reported to this guy for a decade,” Humphrey said. “He called me to tell me that he was going to take the job that I was leaving, to report to me, and I paid him his bonus for the last four years of his career.”
Great leadership at Barclays smoothed the transition when Lehman Brothers was acquired by Barclays last year, he said.
“The reason why I go to work every day is I’m surrounded by some of the best people you could possibly imagine,” he said.
He took several questions from students. In response to one, he clarified that a manager needs to know when get involved in subordinates’ work.
“There’s a fine line,” he said. “Some managers are masterful at knowing exactly when to stick their nose in, and those are the really great ones.”