Serena Smith Show Notes Page
Serena Smith was 31-years old. She was shepherding a huge transition at work and a lot of people were looking to her for comfort and stability in the change. And her superiors were looking for results. That’s when she found a lump on her neck – it was cancer. Listen as she shares how she got over the hump.
Serena was born in Griffin, Georgia, just south of Atlanta with her two younger brothers. Spending most of her youth there, her family moved to Memphis from 5th through 10th grade and then returned back to Georgia.
Her parents had humble beginnings and worked hard to provide. Her dad always said that more money was going out than coming in, but this didn’t stop him from dreaming big. While she didn’t grow up with much excess, she didn’t lack the necessities, either. Her dad was the first to admit he couldn’t give them all that they wanted, but they had all they needed! He would remind her that no one ever said life was fair, so she couldn’t feel sorry for herself. Throughout her career, his advice has stayed with her – to work hard and make a way for herself.
Her first job included working at an afterschool daycare center. Her first career-minded job came after college, when she worked in the back office at NCNB bank. She started out opening mail in the remittance area. While she didn’t set out to look for a bank job, all these years later she’s still involved with banks, credit unions and retailers.
Serena is an award-winning executive with more than two decades of experience in the financial industry. She serves as Head of International Payments and Chief Administrative Officer for the largest division within FIS, Global Retail Payments. She is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the international payments business, as well as risk mitigation, business performance, procurement and vendor management, and B2C marketing integration, strategy and execution for the $2.6 billion division.
When it comes to the legacy she wants to leave behind, she is most proud of her family. She hopes to create plenty of memories with her children and grandchildren. In her career, she is most proud of the impact she has had on FIS with Leukemia & Lymphoma Society LLS and charity work.
For the past 17 years, she has lived in North Dallas, Texas, currently in the Prosper area. Her and her husband Robert have been married for 30 years, with three kids: two girls and a boy. Her daughters are each married and the oldest has given her two granddaughters.
Tweetable Quotes and Mentions
“Building community in the workspace is important.” -Serena Smith Click to Tweet
“If you want something, you have to work for it hard.” -Serena Smith Click to Tweet
“You have to tell people what you want.” -Serena Smith Click to Tweet
“You have to be better than the next person to achieve.” -Serena Smith Click to Tweet
“Women in leadership positions help the bottom line.” -Serena Smith Click to Tweet
“The old boys club has to go away.” -Serena Smith Click to Tweet
“The percentage of women starting companies is a nit compared to everything else.” -Serena Smith Click to Tweet
“Today will be the slowest day of the rest of your life.” -Serena Smith Click to Tweet
“If you don’t swing the bat, you’ll never hit the ball.” -Serena Smith Click to Tweet
“A lot of people are afraid to put their neck out on the line.” -Serena Smith Click to Tweet
“If I don’t take a swing, I’m never going to get to the next level.” -Serena Smith Click to Tweet
“It’s okay to get a no occasionally, it’s all in how you take it.” -Serena Smith Click to Tweet
“Nobody likes change if they don’t understand the change.” -Serena Smith Click to Tweet
“How do I help people get comfortable with where they are in the work environment?” -Serena Smith Click to Tweet
“Stop being so afraid.” -Serena Smith Click to Tweet
“Speak your mind, speak your opinions, share your ideas.” -Serena Smith Click to Tweet
“Have no fear and press forward.” -Serena Smith Click to Tweet
Hump to Get Over
Serena Smith was 31-years old. She was shepherding a huge transition at work and a lot of people were looking to her for comfort and stability in the change. And her superiors were looking for results. That’s when she found a lump on her neck – it was cancer. Listen as she shares how she got over the hump.
Advice for others
Stop being so afraid.
Holding her back from being an even better leader
Insecurities in my own capabilities.
Best Leadership Advice
Never take no for an answer.
Secret to Success
Life’s not fair; that’s the way I approach everything.
Best tools that helps in Business or Life
The people around me and my family.
Contacting Serena Smith
Email: serena.smith [at] fisglobal.com
Resources and Show Mentions
54 Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Competencies List: Emotional Intelligence has proven to be the right kind of intelligence to have if you want to move onward and upward faster. Get your free list today.
Show Transcript:Click to access edited transcript
141: Serena Smith: Life hasn’t necessarily been a cake walk for me
Intro: Welcome to the Fast Leader podcast where we explore convenient yet effective shortcuts that will help you get ahead and move forward faster by becoming a better leader. And now here’s your host customer and employee engagement expert and certified emotional intelligence practitioner, Jim Rembach.
The number one thing that contributes to customer loyalty is emotions. So move onward and upward faster by gaining significantly deeper insight and understanding of your customer journey and personas with emotional intelligence. With your empathy mapping workshop you’ll learn how to evoke and influence the right customer emotions that generate improve customer loyalty and reduce your cost to operate. Get over your emotional hump now by going to empathymapping.com to learn more.
Jim Rembach: Okay, Fast Leader legion, today I’m excited because I have somebody on the show today who can teach us a ton about a global perspective on the power of people and purpose and perseverance. Serena Smith was born in Griffin, Georgia just south of Atlanta with her two younger brothers spending most of her youth there. Her family moved to Memphis from 5th to 10th grade and then returned back to Georgia. Her parents had humble beginnings and worked hard to provide. Her dad always said that more money was going out than coming in but this didn’t stop him from dreaming big. While she didn’t grow up with much success she didn’t lack for the necessities either. Her dad was the first to admit he couldn’t give them all that they wanted but they had everything that they needed. He would remind her that no one ever said life was fair so she couldn’t feel sorry for herself.
Throughout her career his advice has stayed with her to work hard and to make a way for herself. Her first job included working at an after-school daycare center. Her first career minded job came after college when she worked in the back office at NCNB bank. She started opening mail in the remittance area while she didn’t set out to look for a bank job all these years later she’s still involved with banks, credit unions, and retailers. Serena Smith is an award-winning executive with more than two decades of experience in the financial industry. She serves as the head of international payments and Chief Administration Officer for the largest division within FIS global retail payments. She is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the international payments business as well as risk mitigation, business performance, procurement and vendor management and B2C marketing integration, strategy and execution for the 2.6 billion dollar division. When it comes to the legacy she wants to leave behind she is most proud of her family. She hopes to create plenty of memories for her grandchildren and children. In her career she is most proud of the impact that she has had on FIS with Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and charity work. For the past 17 years she’s lived in North Dallas, Texas currently in the prosper area. She and her husband Robert have been married for 30 years with three kids, two girls and a boy. Her daughters are each married and the oldest has given her two granddaughters. Serena Smith are you ready to help us get over the hump?
Serena Smith: I’m ready, thanks for having me here today.
Jim Rembach: I’m glad you’re here. We’ve had some great discussions off-mic and I hope we can actually bring it to the show. I’ve given our listeners a little bit about you but can you tell us what your current passion is so that we can get to know you even better?
Serena Smith: Absolutely. I have many passions so I’ll start with my career. When you look at what’s happening in the payment space today there’s so much change that’s happening around the world and I am passionate about understanding that change and how it impacts the people. What that means for people that are in India and what that means for people that are in Africa and in London and around the world. As we look at Financial Inclusion and the advancements of technology and it’s all about putting that in the hands of the people to make their lives better. So when I think about the impact that we can have just on people’s lives and through my interaction with payments that’s exciting for me, so that’s one—when I think about my career that’s what I think about most.
And then personally you touched on it whatever you said it’s all about my family, it’s all about spending time with my granddaughter’s it’s about making an impact and building a legacy with them. And then it’s also work with the charity work that I do. So the Leukemia Lymphoma Society is special to my heart because I wouldn’t be here today without the impacts that they’ve made in research and in treatments that they have and so I am very much focused on helping to give back to LLS because I’m here today because of them and the work that they’ve done.
Jim Rembach: And that’s one of the things that initially had drew me to you because my sister-in-law is also a cancer survivor and she does work with team and training with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. It’s just amazing to me how that particular organization as well as I’m sure others do the same thing, create such a bond and a family within all of their different groups and associations and really it’s amazing how all of these people from different walks of life coming together and have the opportunity to make an impact. And we kind of see the same thing within organizations and we kind of talked about that off mic saying how people globally that we have a really great opportunity if we see it that way but there’s some challenges.
Serena Smith: Yeah, when you talk about LLS and team and training you’re right there’s all walks of life of people that come together for a common goal. And their goal is to really find a cure for cancer and that’s what the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is really focused on. It’s utilizing that money that they raise for life-saving treatments. And we see that and we’re seeing the progression that that we are having in just life spans. When I was diagnosed I was a stage four cancer patient and my prognosis if it had been even 10 years before that would not have been as good as what it was when I was going through my treatment so they were able to progress that. When you look at some of the things they’re doing today it’s massive.
When you look at—and things like cancer and how it touches people it doesn’t discriminate it’s everybody, everybody can be touched by that impact. And so when we come together as a group we’re celebrating, we’re celebrating the advancements, we’re celebrating what’s happening and what LLS is doing for us. When you look in the workplace—I am most proud of what we’ve been able to do from an FIS perspective of bringing our community of employees together around the world as we have looked at not only LLS but different charity work that we do in our different campuses that we have . It’s important for me and important for all of us I think is as we look at our businesses and we look at our impacts that we’re having on people and how we’re bringing them into the fold is to make sure that we’re finding those common purposes. So, yet we go in and we do our job every single day but people have a life outside of the job. And so we’ve got to make sure that we’re caring and feeding for that as well. Charity work is a part of that and then I think building communities within the work space is important as well.
Jim Rembach: We talked off mic about this whole community building aspects and the fact is that there’s a lot of implicit biases. Implicit biases are just something that we all have and it basically comes down to that when anybody is different from us there’s a bias sometimes it’s positive sometimes it’s not. And so when you start thinking about the position that you are in such a large organization within the financial services industry, first of all being of course female and then you know being a cancer survivor, when you start thinking about the potential bias by the majority of men who are in the financial services industry, how have you had the opportunity to continue to push forward and really obtain greater levels of responsibility and have such a positive impact?
Serena Smith: I think everybody that knows me will say that I don’t know how to take the answer of no so I push my way through that. if you take a step back whenever I was first going through my cancer treatments and I was coming out of that I didn’t talk about it for a very long time and I didn’t talk about it because I was really afraid of the, just as you said those unconscious biases that happen in the workplace and how I would be viewed I’m already a woman so in a male-dominated field so financial services whether we like to admit it or not is primarily driven by men, so when you look at that I was a little bit afraid to talk about that because I already had some, being a woman in this space, already had, I don’t want to call it a negative but I had some challenges to overcome and then I didn’t want to pile onto that the fact that I was a cancer survivor and have people look at me a little bit differently so I didn’t talk about it. It took a long time I think maturity and just maturing and getting comfortable in my own skin as I started to excel throughout the organization got me more comfortable with being myself and that’s when I started talking about being a survivor. But it took some time for me to get to that place because if you look at females in the financial space a lot of, because it is a male-dominated space a lot of men don’t understand the challenges that we have and they don’t recognize those. I can’t say that I can fault everybody for that because it happens just naturally the way that we look at people.
Part of what I’ve done over the last couple of years is really focused on understanding what’s happening in this space and how we as women can continue to excel. And so what we’re finding is there’s an Oliver Wyman study that’s out that talks about women and financial services and in that study what it clearly shows us is that women whenever we get to the middle to senior management ranks within financial services realm are leaving. We’re leaving because you get to a certain point and you start to question what is it that I’m really here for? What’s the purpose? You start to ask yourself those questions. Not that it’s any different from a man but as a woman we’re just treated a little bit different. I’ll give you a great example, I was sitting in a meeting not too long ago only woman sitting at the table which is typically normal for me which is okay I’m comfortable with that. And operationally, because I’m an Operations gal at heart, so operationally I give an answer to a question and one of the senior leaders looks to my male counterpart to validate that what I said was correct. Well, he would have never done that if he would have answered the question, he would have never looked at me to say is that correct but he was validating my response and so as women those are the types of things that happen just unconsciously all the time.
Part of what I do is I try to understand what those challenges are. Coming up my dad always told me, if you want something you have to work for it hard, so I’ve always worked hard, you also have to tell people what you want, so I’ve always been very vocal about telling people what I want, and then you always have to go after and be better than the next person if you want to achieve what you want to achieve. And so what I’m trying to do is help women to see what their roles can be in this space because statistics also show that women in leadership positions will actually help the bottom line. If you’ve got a woman that’s a CEO of a company you’re going to find that that company will be more profitable. And so I’m also trying to help the men in our organization to understand that piece as well because there’s a lot of value that we can bring the table the old boys club has to go away. At the end of the day that’s really where we are.
Jim Rembach: Thanks for sharing that story because that gets into—as you were talking I started thinking about so many different things and a lot of it for me came down to choice. You’re talking about a lot of those women leaving the financial services industry. Their choice is that they didn’t want to put up with it anymore and I don’t want to say quit but they’d had enough. The choice for you was that you’re not going to let that affect you and you’re going to continue to push on and persevere. There’s a couple of things to that are really interesting when you started talking about that impact of females and the bottom line piece is that there’s also research that shows that creative thinking is higher so that means that’s the foundation of innovation so that you can have greater innovation when you have that female perspective that whole boys club thing has to go away for a lot of different reasons. First of all because society is just not going to accept it. And the second is that when you start talking about the competitive aspects of the marketplace is that if you’re not having creative thinking and you’re not having innovation and you’re not being able to accept different perspectives you will fail.
Serena Smith: Right. There’s a couple people that I’ve heard and read articles lately Jack Ma who is the CEO of Alibaba who you are in financial he recently published an article that talked about how he would prefer to have women in leadership roles because they can multitask their bottom lines are going to be better they have that creative thinking that you’re talking about. The short ** guy, I forget his name I watched a speech that he did recently where he talked about how this women ran companies perform much better than the companies that are ran by men. And then he also talked about how if he could have more women in those leadership positions he’d have a woman running all of us all of his companies. The challenge that we have though is that a lot of startups today—so if you’re in the financial space you’re hearing about all the startups you’re hearing about all these companies that are trying to find their niche in this new world as we are in this transition phase in regards to financial services.
When you look at the startups that are there the percentage of women that are starting companies is a niche compared to everything else, you just can’t find them. Even with our own accelerator program that we’ve put together I think we’ve had one woman that’s come through that’s actually made it through the finalist’s phase, what does that tell us? You can interpret that into a thousand different things and it can tell you know lots of things. One of the things that I talk to a lot of women about that I think that attributes to is that kind of like myself, young in my career I was very unsure I always wanted to make sure that I could check every box before I would ask for the next promotion or even apply for the next thing and women today haven’t changed. So, if you’ve got a male and a female with exactly the same skills and the apply or there’s a job opening if a woman doesn’t meet every single criteria of that particular job opening she won’t apply because she thinks that she can’t get that job whereas the male he will look at the job qualifications and if he meets 40 % of those he’ll apply and he’ll probably get the job because he’ll figure it out but a woman just won’t they just won’t do that.
Jim Rembach: One of the things when I mentor a lot of women what I talk about is you got to feel comfortable in your own skin you can figure it out you’re smart you just got to take that leap of faith and so we’ve got to have more women to do that.
Serena Smith: That is true. You talk about that startup issue also when you look at studies associated with funding and VC funding and PE funding and all of that and when you look at who gets funded very, very small percentage are actually females that are getting funded because of the gender bias issue it’s a noted problem. You also look at certain industries like the science and tech sector whole stem type of space more and more women are not excelling and becoming engineers, I mean the rates are dropping, is it any wonder that we’ve had a continued decline in the return on investment of R&D? Is it any wonder that we’ve had stagnant growth in our GDP if we keep forcing women out of these upper level positions and not funding their ideas? There’s somebody who has actually runs the nonprofit called “girls that code” or “women that code” and she says how guys when they code they code games girls when they code they actually code things that are going to impact and better the world, I think we need more of that.
Yeah. I also read an article recently that talked about how we have to start with these kids to get them into those fields those science and technology fields you have to start before elementary school you’ve got to start. And when you look at—my granddaughter, my oldest ones three, and so when you look at with the iPad and the iPhone how she at three years old can go to YouTube and pick the video that she wants to see and go past that if she doesn’t and she can she can go through all of those apps. The boy next her can do the same thing however when they get into school, and our female teachers do this too, when they get into school and our kids start going through math and they start learning that studies show that teachers will spend more time with the boys on math and science than they will with the girls. Why is that? I don’t think that they recognize that they’re doing that I think that’s just what they do that’s just part of that unconsciousness that we have in what we do. Where we need to be encouraging these girls that math and science is something that they need to focus on as well and that’s important to them. Once you get in the middle school those girls, I talk all the time about girls are mean when they get in the middle school. So you’ve got to get them earlier the middle school because once they get in the middle school they’re already mean. They’ve already decided what they’re going to be and what they’re going to go after.
Jim Rembach: That’s a good point. I also find it interesting when I looked at the curriculum going into high school, my kids are going to school my daughter’s my oldest, is that really they don’t even get exposed to any entrepreneurial-ism opportunities or any coding or technology base types of classes until their junior, I’m like, ho! They’re already set, that’s too late.
Serena Smith: You know, when I was in school I remember elementary school Girl Scouts would come in to the school and even within the classroom I remember learning about Junior Achievement and going through some of those things we don’t enforce that enough we don’t have enough of that we’re such a busy society. When you look at the different options that we have those easy things like JA and Girl Scouts and things like that could drive some of that because Junior Achievement that’s what that is. You’re a kid and you’re thinking about how do I grow this business? What does business look like? I remember going through those classes that was fun that was really fun.
Jim Rembach: All of what we’ve been talking about here there’s just a whole lot of passion that’s wrapped around it and one of the things that we look at on the show are quotes. Is there a quote or two that you can share?
Serena Smith: There are two quotes that I hang on to one from a business perspective and then one just a personal one. From a business perspective the one that I liked and loved today is all about change—With the world changing faster every day today will be the slowest day of the rest of your life—so you think about that. How true is that? Because when you think about the technology that’s being introduced and how fast those adoption rates are and how quickly that’s happening it’s faster than any other time in our history. So when you look at an ATM I think we just celebrated the 50th year of the ATM or something like that it took us 20 plus years to get to 50 million users for an ATM. However, when you look at pay PayPal it took I think four years for them to get to 50million users. And when you look at Instagram and you look at Facebook and the time that it took them it’s even shorter.
So when you look at what’s happening the pace of change is happening so fast. I love that quote—The world is changing faster every day today will be the slowest day of the rest of your life—if you really sit down and think about it that’s kind of scary and it’s also very true. And then on a personal note I’m a huge baseball fan so one of my bucket list items is to visit all the major league baseball parks so I’ve gotten about done so I’m on my way. But the one that I I’ve liked for a very long time is—If you don’t swing the bat you’ll never hit the ball so you have to take chances. As I’ve grown in my career one of the things we’ve talked about is I’m a woman who has international responsibilities who’s made an impact on our company from a charitable standpoint I’ve really done that—one, by the help of a lot of people around me and two because I haven’t been afraid to just ask and push forward. I think a lot of people are afraid to do that they’re afraid to put their neck out on the line but I’ve always held on to that if I don’t take a swing I’m never going to get to the next level I’m never going to get to the place I want to be. It’s okay to get a no occasionally and it’s okay to get feedback and all that other kind of stuff it’s all on what you do and how you take it and how you adjust to that. So, that’s one that I really like.
Jim Rembach: Those are two excellent ones. You talk about you know swinging and adjusting and all of that we have to do a lot of that throughout life. We talked about many of the humps that you’ve had to get over but is there a story that you can share?
Serena Smith: Yeah. I will tell you. Life hasn’t necessarily been a cakewalk for me it’s been—lots of challenges throughout my career lots of adjustments that I’ve had to make lots of turns in the road as we’ve gone through this. I think as I think through the time I found out I had cancer or on my 31st birthday. I’m sitting in the office at work I’m find this lump on my neck and I called the doctor and he says, oh, I’ll see you next week. I’m like, no, no, no, you’re going to see me today and so that was a traumatic time in my life. But also during that same time I was going through a huge transition in the office where we were going through a process where we were looking for efficiencies intractable—we were putting in a tracking system for all of the work that we did. So, massive implementation I’m the site manager at this time I’m having to help my people to adjust through this change as I’m going through this life event as well.
And I will tell you that it took a lot of people supporting man around me to help me. I remember as I was going through this I recorded the folks that were in Chicago I’ve got them calling me looking for updates on this project as I’m lying in a hospital bed I’ve got my assistant with my PC beside me as we’re working and I’ve also got a team of people who are looking to me to lead them through this process and helping them to understand change because nobody likes change and nobody likes change if they don’t understand the change and they don’t buy into that change. And so I will tell you as we went through that transition that was probably the best thing that happened to me as I was going through cancer treatment because I’m going to tell you it took my mind off of what I was going through. But it was also the hardest thing as I’m trying to help shepherd people through a massive organizational change on the way that we are confronting our work on a day to day basis and how we’re changing that comfort level that they have and how they process that work into something different. It was definitely a team effort it was a process by which we had to communicate more so than what we ever had before.
It was a process where we had to ensure we didn’t have the luxury of podcast and we didn’t have the luxury of video conferencing like we do today those were the exception base those were only for the executive offices at that time. I will tell you as we went through that process I learned and matured more than you could ever imagine. Because as you’re going through a personal event and then you’re going through a massive work event and I think it was a blessing for me that it all happened the way that it did but I think it matured me as I went through that because I had to think of more folks other than myself. And I think I kept that as I move forward because it wasn’t just about me and it wasn’t just about what we were going through but it was about how do I help people to get comfortable with where they are in the work environment and that was important for me as we went through that transition.
Jim Rembach: The Fast Leader Legion wishes you the rest of your days to be cancer free.
Serena Smith: Thank you.
Jim Rembach: Now before we move on let’s get a quick word from our sponsor.
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Jim Rembach: Alright here we go Fast Leader legion it’s time for the hump day hoedown. Okay, Serena the hump day hoedown is the part of our show where you give us good insights fast. So I’m going to ask you several questions and your job is to give us a robust yet rapid responses that are going to help us move onward and upward faster. Serena Smith are you ready to hoedown?
Serena Smith: I’m ready.
Jim Rembach: Alright. What do you think is holding you back from being an even better leader today?
Serena Smith: Myself. Insecurities in my own capabilities.
Jim Rembach: What is the best leadership advice you have ever received?
Serena Smith: Never take no for an answer.
Jim Rembach: What is one of your secrets that you believe contributes to your success?
Serena Smith: My dad always told me that life’s not fair and so that’s the way I approach everything.
Jim Rembach: What do you feel is one of your best tools that helps you lead in business or life?
Serena Smith: The people around me and my family.
Jim Rembach: What would be one book, and it could be from any genre, that you’d recommend to our listeners?
Serena Smith: I actually have two, The Little Big Things by Tom Peters and the Oz Principle.
Jim Rembach: Okay, Fast Leader listeners, you can find links to that and other bonus information from today’s show by going too fastleader.net/Serena Smith. Okay, Serena, this is my last hump day hoedown question: Imagine you were given the opportunity to go back to the age of 25 and you’ve been given the opportunity to take the knowledge and skills that you have now back with you but you can’t take everything back you can only choose one. So what skill or piece of knowledge would you take back with you and why?
Serena Smith: Stop being so afraid. When I was young I was so afraid to just speak my mind, speak my opinions, share my ideas I was very hesitant in that I think now that I’m matured I’ve grown more comfortable with that. I would say have no fear and press forward.
Jim Rembach: Serena it was an honor to spend time with you today can you please share with the Fast Leader Legion how they can connect with?
Serena Smith: Sure. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org or you can connect with me on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.
Jim Rembach: Serena Smith thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom the Fast Leader legion honors you and thanks you for helping us get over the hump. Woot! Woot!
Thank you for joining me on the Fast Leader show today. For recaps, links from every show, special offers and access to download and subscribe, if you haven’t already, head on over fastleader.net so we can help you move onward and upward faster.
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