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Reimagining Post-Corporate Careers: An Executive Conversation Series

Hosted by the International Center for Executive Options (ICEO)
Rebecca Macieira-Kaufmann’s Story

Rebecca Macieira-Kaufmann has demonstrated the power of intentionality throughout her life. Whether it was designing and selling jewelry at 13, deciding to study and work abroad in college, switching from consulting to running P&Ls, forming her own consultancy in her post-corporate career, or writing her book FitCEO, focus and discipline have brought her success as well as personal and professional satisfaction.

 

So it may come as a bit of a surprise that two beliefs that have served her well are the importance of immediate, imperfect action, and that “the unexpected often teaches us the most.” The seeming contradiction between intentionality and those convictions is reconciled by being “positive, high energy, and excited about life.”

 

Those traits have brought her full circle: from being a teenage entrepreneur who imagined she would work for herself, to a corporate career with increasingly challenging leadership roles that ultimately led to various CEO roles and board seats, to finally running her own consultancy, RMK Group, LLC.

 

In addition to showing an entrepreneurial streak at a young age, Macieira-Kaufmann also developed an early interest in international business. In college, she joined an organization called AIESEC that enabled summer internships overseas, which allowed her to work in France and Helsinki after her sophomore and junior years. “That was the beginning of my working internationally and I continued that in business school, working the summer in Hong Kong,” she recalls. After graduating from business school, she went to work in London. “I decided it would be nice to work in English,” she recalls. 

 

Appreciating the Unexpected

 

It would be after her children were more grown up before she worked internationally again – and truly saw the joy of the unexpected. She joined Citigroup in 2008 as President, California and Nevada, and in 2013 was asked to take over as President and CEO of a Citigroup subsidiary called Banamex USA, a cross-border, Mexican-American bank. She effected a turnaround at Banamex USA in her three years in the top job, and then served as Chairman of the Board for four years – while she was also head of Citi’s U.S.-based International Personal Bank.

 

“I didn't think I would become CEO of a Mexican-American cross-border bank – that wasn’t on my intentional plan,” she recalls. “But I got that phone call on a Friday afternoon, and they wanted me to start Monday.” After agreeing to take the job, she had the weekend to recruit a COO and assemble a team. “I didn't know what I was getting into fixing a troubled bank,” she says. “If I had known, I might not have signed up. But it’s probably the best job I ever had.”

 

Upon reflection, there have been other happy surprises along the way. “If you'd asked me when I was younger, I always thought I'd run my own business. But I did very well in the large corporations, and I was kind of surprised by that,” she says. As much as she says she enjoyed the increasing responsibility and challenges, it was still in the back of her mind that someday she would work for herself again.


“Immediate, Imperfect Action”

 

In 2020, Macieira-Kaufmann decided it was time to set up the RMK Group, LLC. “I lived on airplanes, sometimes traveling three weeks a month,” she says. “I've always had an immense passion for people, so I focused on going to where team members or clients were.” Much as she says she loved those trips, “It was just time, and that was the transition to RMK Group, LLC.”

 

She didn’t know exactly what her post-corporate life would look like, but she had an idea of a three-pronged approach: directorships of for-profit companies; advising startup CEOs in the Bay Area; and writing a book. She had started writing FitCEO years ago; it was published in September 2021.

 

One of the ideas she and her co-author explore in the book is immediate, imperfect action. “When we started writing, one of the things that came to us is sometimes we would try things out and had no idea where they would go,” she says. “You have to trust that putting it out there is going to work vs. waiting to have the perfect idea that you know will work.”

 

The book itself was a “great example” of immediate imperfect action, says Macieira-Kaufmann. During her time at Citi and in her previous roles at Wells Fargo, she often spoke to large groups of team members and at conferences. There were always people eager to engage with her afterward. “I would get questions about life balance or managing it all, or how was I able to do both and keep my energy high and stay so positive?” she recalls. “I had a vision of writing a book, and as with everything, you just have to start.”

 

Self-Care

 

One of the sections in the book is about self-care, and Macieira-Kaufmann walked the walk. As she was looking to set up RMK Group, LLC, she thought about what she needed. She wanted to make sure she maintained an ability to travel internationally, and she wanted to expand on her nonprofit board experience by serving on company boards – something she was unable to do while working at both Wells Fargo and Citi.

 

She set aside Mondays and Fridays for writing and devoted the other weekdays to reaching out to people and growing her network. Keeping to a structured schedule was easier, she says, because of COVID, which meant she was doing most of her meetings virtually. “What other people call “networking” I think of as just meeting with people – it never ends,” she says of “the snowball effect” of reaching out.

 

“I called VCs, and they would introduce me to three more VCs, and some would say, ‘You should speak to these attorneys that work with startups,’ and ‘You should speak to these recruiters for boards,’” she recalls. For Macieira-Kaufmann, networking turned out to be a more fruitful path for board seats than recruiters.

 

As part of her self-care process, she decided to work with ICEO. Someone she reached out to as she was planning RMK Group, LLC, suggested she look into ICEO. The name – International Center for Executive Options – spoke to Macieira-Kaufmann. “What a perfect name,” she says. “Working with ICEO was an investment I decided to make in myself.” Among the valuable benefits she found was that her ICEO Advisor could give her perspective and advice – whether about what avenues she could pursue with her executive/leadership background and subject matter expertise, getting her book published, finding board opportunities, or expanding the group of people she could connect with. “Even the options that I didn’t want to pursue were interesting to learn about,” she says.

 

She confesses to having what she calls “wobble days” – such as when all of her meetings would be cancelled, or when she received disappointing news. Her ICEO Advisor was especially helpful on those days, she says, giving her the benefit of their years of experience in working with people like herself. “I learned that it was normal to have things happen” – or not happen, as was sometimes the case.



Mentoring and Coaching

 

One idea that came to her through working with ICEO was mentoring and coaching executives, which she now does through a professional group as well as through working with startups. And she says that one of the big benefits to having published her book is being able to reach more people. A frustration about managing teams with thousands of members was the inability to meet with people individually.

 

“I was doing it through town hall meetings and the culture and the recognition program,” she recalls of how she could best connect with large numbers of people. “But with the book, and the companies that have been buying the book, it’s about mentoring at scale.” A couple of the ideas she shares in the book are her “Alice in Wonderland tip” and “the power of the pause.”

 

“In a really crazy meeting, instead of tearing my hair out, I just think, ‘Who shrank the door? And where did Alice go and where did the rabbit go?’” Those thoughts reduce her stress by allowing her to laugh a little on the inside. She finds another way to reduce stress is to take a pause. “Sometimes just pausing before answering would give me a chance to reflect and gather my thoughts when I was ‘in the hot seat,’” she recalls. “You can get larger-scale about the power of the pause in terms of breaks at work.”

 

Managing Expectations

 

Ever-intentional, Macieira-Kaufmann had already taken some steps toward her future before she started RMK Group, LLC. She was clear on what her value proposition would be – insight, action, and results – based on being able to bring an operator’s mindset to a startup business. She was financially prepared in the event of having no revenue for the first year or two. “I've learned a lot about supporting myself technologically and also being okay that it's imperfect,” she says. “You have to be really kind to yourself, because things happen when you don't have an army of wonderful people supporting you.”

 

Now, she has fun with what she calls “calendar gymnastics” – when everything's in flux. “I've really changed my relationship with cancellations,” she says. “Now when someone cancels, it’s like, ‘Oh, free time! How fun!’’’ For example, she relishes a morning spent reading the entire newspaper with a cup of tea – something she wasn’t able to do in the past.

 

She also has a different view on a client engagement not materializing, or another person being chosen. “That's a gift, not a problem,” she says. “That's being kind to myself vs. saying, ‘What's wrong?’” Finding a fit is more important than just finding a client. “I don't want to work with someone when there's not that chemistry, because it’s so energizing to work with people who want to work with you.”

 

Though Macieira-Kaufmann has her three-pronged plan up and running – she sits on several company boards, works with CEOs of startups, and has published her book – she says she feels like she’s just getting started. “Some of the boards I sit on are for companies evolving from startup to the next phase, including going public. It's really interesting to move through these phases and see what all that means.”

 

Words of wisdom to other people contemplating their next phase? “Be open to a lot of things – there are so many different kinds of work out there that would constitute a portfolio,” she advises. ”You can create a portfolio that is of your best and highest use of the things you want to.”

 

She points out that she has had opportunities come from LinkedIn, from friends, or from asking for a referral and connecting with that new person in a meaningful way. And finally, “Join some organizations that match your interests, because the people you meet will be the fabric of this great quilt that you're creating.”

 

 

Rebecca Macieira-Kaufmann shared her story as part of

Reimagining Post-Corporate Careers: An Executive Conversation Series hosted by

 the International Center for Executive Options (ICEO)