Poets & Quants for Executives

Knowledge Quest Leads To MIT Sloan

by Neal Darcy and David Bogoslaw on

Kristen Robinson is getting her EMBA from MIT Sloan

Kristen Robinson has never been afraid of hard work.  Watching her mother juggle three jobs while growing up provided an inspirational model for her own goal-oriented life.  As Senior Vice President of Representative Digital Solutions at Fidelity Investments, she is responsible for providing the digital tools that Fidelity’s sales and customer service reps use in customer support.

There have been seismic-scale changes in the ways in which people and companies communicate in the five years that Robinson has been with Fidelity. “We need to be in front of it,” she says.  While trends and customer expectations have helped drive innovation at Fidelity, “the real focus is on delivering the best experience to our customers,” she says.  Robinson is responsible for harnessing available technology, from mobile phones and iPads to the Internet, to create best-in-class experience for Fidelity customers.

Smart Money’s 2012 annual broker survey ranked Fidelity’s as the leading trading tools and in July 2011, Kiplinger’s included Fidelity as having one of the top seven free investing apps for 2011.

As a student of the second Executive MBA class at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Robinson has enjoyed learning about her own leadership style and applying classroom teachings to her work.

Her Story:  

My father was a Marine officer serving his second tour of duty in Vietnam when I was born, so we never met until I was a year old. As a military family we moved around quite a bit during my early years until my parents divorced when I was nine. At that point we moved with my mother into my grandparents’ home back in Massachusetts.

Falling from a stable middle-class American family to a struggling one in which my mother worked three jobs to make ends meet was not easy. My grandparents provided us with a support structure, so my grandmother became like a second mother to me. But it was my mother’s determination and refusal to let her family fail that inspired me at an early age not to shy away from hard work. Although I never fully understood it until I was an adult, I still knew at that age that she was making sacrifices for us. Hard work has always come natural to me and having my mom as a role model is where I believe I got a lot of my drive and has also helped me become so goal oriented.

Beginning at the age of eleven I worked a paper route and went on to baby-sit.  Throughout high school I worked mornings in a bakery and many evening as a waitress. My mom made sure my focus was not just on work and school by encouraging me to play sports and get involved in student government. I did both and was president of my senior class.

I learned what I did not want to do the semester between my sophomore and junior years at Bentley College when I had to take time off after my financial aid changed and I took a job as a secretary. Upon returning to school I accelerated my course-load and graduated on time.

My first job was a less than glamorous sales position selling long distance to businesses by making 50 cold calls a day in person.  It was a great way to better understand the challenges of a small business while developing a thick skin.

Eventually after a lot of small successes, courtesy of that hard work my mom had taught me, I found myself in the position of Vice President of Customer Services of North America at Global Crossing.

It was a time before Customer Relations Management (CRM) had become a buzz word in the business world. It was also something the company desperately needed. My team put together our customer profiles and started to visit them. We had well over 50,000 customers nationwide, with 85 client service reps to serve them. We used tabs in binders to help us track who the decision makers and influencers were within the customer’s organization. Through that system we learned what was important to our customers and reduced client attrition significantly.

The system wasn’t computerized at all and was clunky at best but that “get your hands dirty” analytical approach gave me a unique perspective and very tangible insight into the business/customer relationship strategy which I have carried with me since.

It was around this time that I met the CEO of Evident Software while flying to New York.  He sat next to me and ironically he would become my next boss.

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