Stacy Belf - Former Federal Prosecutor Turned Corporate Executive
From working in telecom to acting as a volunteer firefighter to being a federal prosecutor to becoming a corporate executive, Stacy Belf has always put service to others above anything else. She didn’t even have the experience for some of those jobs, but she put in the effort. She did her research and talked to people in the business. Her passion for helping people is what drove her to accomplish all these great things. Join J.R. Lowry as he talks to Stacy about the many different career paths she has taken in her life. Right now, Stacy is the Head of Consultant Relations for State Street. But before that, she worked in telecom and as a firefighter. Then she went to law school to become a federal prosecutor. Discover how she has used all the skills that she has learned to further excel in her various jobs. Start mastering all your skills today!
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Stacy Belf - Former Federal Prosecutor Turned Corporate Executive
On Having A Focus on Service to Others Throughout Her Many-Faceted Career Journey
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My guest is Stacy Belf, who I met when I was working at State Street. She is the Head of Consultant Relations for State Street, a role she has held for the past years. She started her career doing contracting work in the telecom industry and as a volunteer firefighter. She then went to law school, after which she worked for two law firms and clerked in a US District Court before becoming a federal prosecutor.
She tried cases relating to violent crime, white collar crime, and cybercrime before joining State Street in 2015, where she's held a variety of roles since then. Stacy earned her Undergraduate degree in Psychology from Auburn University and her Law degree from the University of Virginia. She is an active fundraiser for causes that help victims of sex trafficking, dating to some of the cases that she tried as a federal prosecutor. She and her family live in the Boston area.
Stacy, welcome. It's great to have you on the show.
Thanks. It's truly a pleasure to get to talk to you.
Let's start at the beginning. Where did you grow up, and what was your first paid job?
I grew up in a little suburb of DC called Sterling, which at the time had one traffic light in it. It's right next to Dulles Airport. My first paid job was at the local movie theater, scooping popcorn in the concession stands. It was very unassuming. I started working when I was fourteen. I've been working for many decades now.
When you look back at that first work experience, is there anything that you took away that you still hold with you now?
Very much so. Through a set of events, the manager of this movie theater was fired and they brought in new management. They looked at the records and realized that I wasn't yet sixteen. That was against company policy, even though it was legal, and I got fired. I cried for days. I look back on it now. I think about it all the time like that defined my value, which is silly. At that age, it made sense. The thing I still hold is that intrinsic value is not defined by where you stand with your employer. Sometimes it's important to remember that.
I mowed lawns as a kid. Other than that, I went to work for a department store during Christmas of my freshman year of college. In the days leading up to Christmas, the guy who was working in the department with me showed me how to process sales on the register, but I was using his ID. He was getting sales commission, even though I was, in this case, helping him. I didn't know that that was how he was getting paid.
The day after Christmas, the manager pieced it all together, came down, fired him on the spot, and left me in the department alone. I ended up spending a day processing returns. It was the day after Christmas. On my first day, I had negative $3,000 in sales. She came down. I almost got fired because she said, “You're not register-trained.” I was like, “What did you want me to do? You left me here by myself.” Sometimes common sense doesn't always prevail in situations like that. You do what you have to do.
Especially when you're young, you don't know the way that it works.
How did you end up at Auburn and why Psychology?Your intrinsic value should not be defined by where you currently stand with your employer. Click To Tweet
I was on my own nickel. I was paying for myself through school. Right before I'd finished high school, my father moved down to Huntsville, Alabama, so I could get in-state tuition. Auburn was a whopping $1,500 for a full year's tuition in-state. That was the right number for me. I also had been looking to go pretty far away from home because of my adventuring spirit. That will probably be a theme throughout.
On Psychology, I have always wanted to have a point of service. That's something very important to me. In high school, I volunteered with the abused women's shelter for a couple of years. I used to take care of the kids while they had their group meetings and I wanted to help people in that way. I thought I would be a practicing psychologist. That's what I went to school for. To look back and laugh, I was an Engineering major for a whole three days until my father left campus. I had the aptitude, but I did love the people aspects [of Psychology].
You were just waiting until you had some distance from him to go back in [and change majors].
I got to pick whatever I wanted, but I let him weigh in. He was convinced that his daughter would starve to death as a Psych major, but I made it. I'm okay.
What things did you do in the summers between years of school? Anything interesting?
I was on my own nickel, so I had 2 or 3 jobs. I tried to save up enough over the summer to pay for a lot of the next year. There isn't a job I don't think I've had: retirement homes, waiting tables, lumberyards, every job. It was a great mix of all different kinds of people. While I was going to school, I worked in the catering department. I still remember seeing all the time cards for all of the cafeteria staff and how many had an X signature because they didn't know how to sign their own names.
Seeing these things as I was growing up on the value of education was important. I got an internship when Sprint was a big company. It did a joint venture called Global One with France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom. I got a summer job there, helping what they called RIMEA, Russia, India, Middle East, and Africa region. I was supporting that. That was interesting, especially [as it was] something I didn't have any experience in, which will also be a theme, but figuring out how to make things happen regardless.
Tell our audience how it is that you became a firefighter after you left school.
When I finished at Auburn, I joined the Peace Corps. I went to Chad and I did enjoy it, but it was a lot of gray areas. “Am I helping, or am I causing more welfare dependency?” They had been through a civil war for many years. Therefore, there was a lot of sense of entitlement. I had people all the time coming to me, “You give me your stuff because you're here to serve me.” When I came back, I still wanted a point of service, but I wanted something more black and white.
When your house is on fire, there is no question as to whether you're helping and how to help. I saw some of that when I was at Auburn. I had some friends who were in it and I said, “A fireman has got that opportunity.” I was working during the day. I returned back to Global One, but on my nights and weekends, there was no paid staff at the fire department. We were it. I ran with a crew every six days. If it landed on a weekday, 12 hours. If it lay on the weekend, 24 hours. It was about still wanting to serve and finding different ways to serve. I did enjoy it.
I would imagine back then that there weren't a whole lot of women with you in the firehouse.
When I joined, there were 2 in a company of over 100. Ultimately, there were three of us, but I stuck with it the longest at that time. I'm sure there are other women who have done it since and longer, but you did always feel like you had to do better to be considered equal. I was the rookie of the year in my first year. I beat out all the guys, which must have caused them a lot of consternation.
There was something called a two-minute trail. Can you go from civilian clothes to fully done, ready to go in two minutes? My standing time was 1:08. It was like, “How fast can you get it done?” On the one hand, there were not a lot of women, but my crew, for example, was me and three middle-aged guys. This is what they did when their families were at home. It was like having your dad run with you. They were fantastic. There was never a question of how I got treated.
I remember one time somebody brought their kids into the firehouse and I was holding this guy's baby. He was like, “I never thought of you as a girl.” I didn't know what that meant. He had seen me in one linear way and didn't understand that I could be multi-dimensional. I didn't fit the box for him. I don't regret it. The whole company was supportive and I felt connected to the different crews I ran throughout.
When did you decide to go to law school?
There was a tough call that I ran one night. The long and short of it was a six-month-old baby had been beaten to death. I didn't know that at the time. We were all sleeping in the bunk house and the woman just showed up and said, “He's not breathing,” and handed him to me. We could have an entire show telling the story of Devon and what happened. I testified at the criminal trial for that murder. Ultimately, the father was convicted of manslaughter for it.
I had debated it all through high school, but I thought lawyers were unethical people. Seeing this play out in real-time and that you could serve and be an advocate for victims, I said, “I'm going to law school. That's what I want to do.” I testified in the spring. I applied in the fall and went the following year. I had three years at Global One after the Peace Corps. In my third year, I applied and got into law school and went with the purpose of becoming a prosecutor.
I would imagine you were the only former firefighter in your law school class.As a woman in the fire department, you did always feel like you had to do better to be considered equal. Click To Tweet
It changed me in many ways. There have been times, not just in law school but throughout, when I've been under high stress Two things stand out. First is tremendous perspective. That even happened when I was working at the same time. I would go to work, and everybody's hair would be on fire, “Was this T1 going to get installed on time? Where are we going to set up the ISP?” I remembered the night before as I was carrying a dog out of the house while it was on fire. It was a tremendously helpful perspective.
The other thing that it helped me with in law school and beyond was there were moments I could draw on something internal to me. There's one fire I remember in particular where I got burned and it was because it was blazing hot. It burned me through my Nomex. Unfortunately, my officer left me in the fire. It doesn't matter if it's an officer, but you should always be two on a line. He went back down the line.
I was left alone in the fire. I was running the line myself. I can't even talk about the intensity and the focus that it brought. There are moments when I draw upon that strength, focus, and knowledge [to remind myself] that I have the constitution to handle whatever it is. I was the only firefighter in law school. There were people with interesting backgrounds, and they helped me there and beyond.
Did you have a sense when you were in school of what kind of law you wanted to practice when you finished?
It was because of why I went. I knew I wanted to become a prosecutor. It was an interesting tie-together. I had worked for three years in international business. I did feel that conflict between the two, especially since I was in law school when 9/11 happened. During my entire third year, I spent [time] studying treaties on terrorism and how terrorism could be prosecuted. I wanted to prosecute and be on more of the public service side of the law.
I even applied to the National Criminal Court, which was getting formed even though the US was not a signatory. I ended up taking a different path, continuing to be focused on federal prosecution in particular as a result. I did both [international law and criminal law]. In my first year summer, my internship was with the FBI. In my third year, I did a clinic in one of the local Commonwealth [of Virginia] attorney's offices.
Did you give thought to joining the FBI or was that just a summer experience?
I loved my time at the FBI, and for me, it was the decision between agent versus prosecutor. An agent has to work on a lot of cases that will never turn out. For me, I felt much more that I wanted to take the case and be able to see it through to the end. I don't know whether it was because of my [high school] debate [experience] or Model United Nations that I felt like I had oral advocacy skills. It would be left on the table if I only ever did agency work. I wasn't opposed to it, but the prosecution, the intellectual rigor, and the work that you have to do around that appealed to me more than what I thought I would bring possibly if I had gone the Special Agent route.
You went to Cleary Gottlieb. What kind of law did you end up practicing while you were there?
Cleary was my attempt to marry the two of international and criminal, which was difficult. Cleary does a lot of antitrust law, which is one of the areas where there's a criminal and international intersection. I loved it. I was in the DC office of Cleary, which was a New York-based firm. I liked that. I did that again in a later iteration because I found that you've got the practice of a big global firm, but being in a smaller office, you've got responsibilities as if you were further along. If I had gone to a big main office, I would have done a lot of document reviews. I wasn't interested in that, but I enjoyed it. I still had fun. It’s an intellectually dedicated firm. I saw a lot from the people there.
How did you end up then doing the clerking that you did for the US District Court in Maryland?
I had a clerkship before I joined Cleary. When I was in law school, I applied two years out. It has changed many times over since. When I was beginning my third year, I had decided by then that I wanted to do a clerkship, mainly because I had become focused on federal prosecution. That's one of the things that they want to see. I wanted to see the other side as well and see what it was like in chambers. I applied my third year, but then I went to Cleary. They knew I was leaving at the end of the year to go and fulfill my clerkship.
I intentionally sought out a district court judge who let you work on criminal cases because not all of them do. Most of them give their law clerks the civil docket. I knew that this judge did everything and he also was on the International Judiciary Committee. He used to travel overseas and speak on the rule of law. It was still very much speaking to my love of both criminal and international. I was still trying to put one foot on the dock and one foot in the boat.
You went back to a different firm. You went to Ropes & Gray.
At that point, I had decided that I didn't want to limit myself to antitrust. It was time to give up the ghost of international and know I would find another way to feed that hunger. My husband is from Boston, and we wanted to get here. It made sense to go to a Boston-based firm, even though I was still in DC, because they had a robust government enforcement practice. I would get to do a lot of things. I worked on an Enron case and pharmaceutical litigation that was happening. There was a lot of timely litigation that was happening in the government enforcement space that I got to be a part of and conduct depositions as well.
In terms of culture, were the two firms similar or different?
They were different. Cleary was intellectual. Certainly, Ropes was intellectual as well, but it was known as an old, storied Boston firm. You saw that, but they had a lot of very local ties into their local governments as well. In addition to their international presence, they had law offices overseas as well. I found the culture of Ropes to be a little more personable. Cleary was much more intellectual, but they were both fantastic places. There was no downside to either one. I feel grateful for both.
You became a federal prosecutor.Most prosecutors will not put a teacher or a scientist on a jury because of their different views. Click To Tweet
It's interesting how I did it because it's a difficult job to get. I knew this from my work late when I was inside. You have hundreds of applications for 1 or 2 slots. Before I ever submitted my application, I had worked in a clerkship. I had been a judge back in law school. I had talked to anybody who would speak to me about working as an AUSA [Assistant US Attorney]. I would take them to lunch, dinner, or whatever else and learn everything that they knew, who else they may be connected to, and everything else.
By the time I interviewed for it, I went to my first interview and it was atypical. This sitting US Attorney decided he was going to do the first round of interviews, which is unusual, but he figured, “I'm not wasting my prosecutors' time doing interviews if I don't think the person is viable.” The sitting US Attorney was Rod Rosenstein.
While I was still clerking, through an introduction by my judge, I called him when he was the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division. Even then, he had talked about wanting to be a prosecutor and how to get there. I made it through that round of interviews. In the next round of the five people who interviewed me, I had already talked to three of them about becoming a prosecutor someday. I had done so much pre-work. There wasn't a single interview where I had not talked to anybody and shown my long-standing interest in it. Some of them had seen my work as a clerk or through this. It's a hard job to get, but I targeted it in a holistic way because it was important to me.
That comes through. We've both interviewed people. You have somebody come in who's prepared, thoughtful, and committed. You're going to think harder about them, even if they maybe don't have the best something on paper because there's that intangible that you know you're going to get to experience every day.
It's hard in interviews to necessarily convey the full job that somebody is applying for as well as to know all the capabilities that are needed for that job. Whether it be through all of my intentional networking and discussions about my commitment to the job or because they had seen me as a clerk knowing that I was sitting through their trials and cases, they knew that I knew exactly what I was getting into. Also, from my prior experience doing the clinic in law school, I found a way to show the whole of me as a candidate independent of just the job interview. The job interview, almost to some extent, felt like a formality. One of them was even like, “How do we get you to the next round?” It was a life's goal to get there, and I had done the work.
How did your prior law firm work and your work as a clerk prepare you for being an Assistant US Attorney, and what was just completely new?
In some ways, it did and in some ways, it didn't. It did in the sense of, in a law firm, you almost have unlimited time in terms of billable hours. You're going to run everything to the ground. You're going to do the work to be done. You get to the US Attorney's office and you're given a slice of time. You have to know what's important, but because you've done the work when you had unlimited time, you can say, “This is the triage. This is what matters. This is what I'm going to focus on.”
At the US Attorney's office, you're sometimes flying. Getting enough time to do a briefing can be difficult. I swear there isn't an appellate brief I ever wrote during business hours because they are hard to do in the day-to-day. Having had all of the training on how to write persuasively and succinctly, it's difficult to get that in the way that the US Attorney's office was structured. The things that it didn't help was stuff like picking a jury. I had been 3 years in law school and had 3 years of legal experience, but nobody had ever once talked about how you pick a jury. It is more art than science.
People have very different philosophies on it. It was a known thing, and this is a side story, but most prosecutors will not put a teacher or a scientist on a jury. Teachers have trouble judging people. Scientists want things to a measure of exactitude that doesn't exist in the legal world or in any other world other than science. It's interesting how you have to figure those things as you go.
You tried some pretty tough cases. What was that like?
It was intentional on my part. I’ll take a step back. I was in two US Attorney's offices, first down in Maryland and then in Boston. In the US Attorney's office in Maryland, I was in Greenbelt, which sits right on the Beltway. Everyone does everything. I had wire fraud and mail fraud, but I also had guns, drugs, and thugs. It was good because you got that white-collar practice that could be a multi-year case, but you also got cases that kept you in court [more regularly].
When I moved to Boston, I was in major crime. You can get a real amalgam of cases. Intentionally through it all, a couple of years into the US Attorney's office, I raised my hand and became the Project Save Childhood Coordinator. I took on about a quarter of my docket with child exploitation cases. That was very intentional. You may go all the way back to when I interned for the Abused Women's Shelter. I had a dedicated purpose for trying to help child victims.
When they offered it to me or when they asked to take the role, they said it's soul-crushing work but very redeeming. It was exactly an apt description. I tell people, “To some extent, it's like giving blood. I can give blood. It doesn't bother me.” For some people, giving blood is a hard thing to do. I can't say it didn't bother me. There were tough days in those cases. You set up parameters to try to make it work.
By the time I took it, I'd had my first child. I had not yet had my second. You tried to find ways not to take it with you. There's triage to how you deal with the evidence. One of the things was Victim Free Friday. You tried not to watch disturbing, horrific content on Fridays because it affect your whole weekend.
When you are dealing with evidence, videos, and photos, there are go-down levels. We started with descriptions, but that didn't last very long. You then looked at the photos. If you had to, you would watch the videos with the sound off and dead last was sound on because the screaming was something you'd never get rid of. You find a lot of ways to mentally operate to still be the best you could be, even though you were carrying a lot, but there was a lot of talk there of secondary and tertiary victims, where you'd be carrying things that are tough. That was my choice.
As much as it was difficult to work, I loved feeling like I was making a difference. I still look back on that. The best victims I ever had are the ones that I never had, the cases where I knew I dealt with real predators where it wasn't a question of if they would harm again. It was when and how much. For those people, who I still know by name and I will not repeat them all, they will sit in jail for the rest of their lives. I know that a lot of kids have been saved as a result. I still am very proud of that.
To be clear, I trialed twelve cases, and very few were in child exploitation. Most of those cases plea. I did a little bit of every type of case. I liked all of that work. I was driven by a sense of justice. It made the tough times a lot easier to know what the end goal was that you were working towards, especially with the child exploitation cases.With real predators, it wasn't a question of whether they would harm again or not; it was when and how much. Click To Tweet
You did that for eight years.
Five down right outside in Maryland and then three up in Boston.
You made the decision to leave active law practice, which I can understand. Was it the toughness of the work or something else?
You might be surprised [by the ultimate reason]. I went to law school to do it and I thought I would do it for the rest of my life. It was the move. I had loved being outside of DC - the work and the dockets - and then I got to Boston. Frankly, it was a vestige of Whitey Bulger. There were many levels of approval, reviews, and so much bureaucracy. You start to lose your personal contribution. By the end, it was like I was a cog in a wheel, but I wasn't able to make the same meaningful difference.
In DC, I might turn 50 defendants a year. In Boston, you can't do more than ten because it's so much bureaucracy to move a case. That was back then. I think it's changed. I looked at it and I said, “I'm the sole breadwinner for my family. My husband stays home with our kids.” I was willing to [work the long hours and deal with the tough cases] only as long as I felt like I was making a meaningful contribution.
When I felt that the work that I was doing and my personal contribution was diminished, I was going to wonder about making that impact. I thought it better to step away, go back into the corporate life that I had enjoyed, and find other ways to fill my point of service. It's important to me that I always do have one, but I could fill it in other ways. I won't lie, at least part of it was probably a kindness to my kids to not be a full-time litigator or always carrying victims’ cases. It probably made things a little easier for them.
How did you end up at State Street of all places when you were leaving the law?
I went on a journey. I thought I was going to do the US Attorney's office for the rest of my life. I said, “We're going to make another pivot.” At this point, I had already gone from telecom to law and I said, “I want to look at this and decide what I want to do next.” I spent months talking to anybody and everybody about their careers, what they did, and what the opportunities were. I had lunches, dinners, drinks, and coffees all over Boston as I was figuring out what I wanted to do.
I ended up with two different paths emerging before me. One was a forensics firm. If you’re Target or a major company and you get a cyber hack, this is the company you call in who immediately locks everything down, does a full investigation, and tracks everything down. That was developing as one path. The other was State Street. I talked to everybody under the sun. Four different people, totally unconnected to each other, 1 in DC, 1 in North Carolina, and 2 in Boston all said I should talk to this woman, Alyssa.
When I was at Ropes & Gray in DC, Alyssa was the lawyer in the office next to me. How random was it that we both moved to Boston? She happened to be at State Street. I had already been looking at State Street. If I was going into corporate life in Boston, I wanted a company big enough that I felt that it would have the global presence that I wanted and that I could attain a level of responsibility and impact with the corporation that I wanted.
I was assessing the two options. I met with Alyssa. She was ready to hire me in compliance with SSGA, which is the investment management arm of State Street. She said, “With your resume, I should let my boss talk to you, who was the Chief Compliance Officer.” He interviewed me as well for a different role. He said to Alyssa, “I want to hire her. You can’t have her.” She said, “No. Let Stacy decide.” They told me the two different opportunities to hear what was more appealing to me.
Meanwhile, I was looking still at this forensic firm. I had not yet shut it down. What I came to discover is the two leads were diametrically opposed as to what the role should do. I could sense very quickly that this was going to be a source of tension, if not a breakpoint, between the two of them. I settled on State Street because I also was engaged in going back to corporate life, where we're all on a common purpose.
Frankly, after eight years in the government, I loved the idea of a premium on efficiency and results, as opposed to continuing to wait for the wheels to turn. I looked at the two [State Street] offers that were before me and chose the [one with the] Chief Compliance Officer. It was a global role in an area that was getting off the ground because the Volcker Rule had just been passed and no one knew it. It was where I thought I had the best ability to leverage my skillset.
I was all along this way able to better articulate what I could bring to the position because it certainly wasn't expertise in the financial industry or compliance. It was about my ability to execute. By then, I'd come to know that it [Volcker implementation] was like a trial date. It was going to happen. I didn't know all the things that were going to happen before I got there, but it was going to happen. That was appealing to me. That's what I took. I did know from the get-go that it was likely an entree back into corporate life. Compliance was a good way in the door. I didn't expect I would stay in compliance, but it was a very intentional choice.
I chose not to go in-house counsel or go back to a law firm. I'd had great experiences, but the business of law didn't interest me. If you're going to corporate law, you're managing external counsel. To me, it was like taking the worst parts of being a lawyer, and that would be your day-to-day, civil discovery, or other things. You would manage outside counsel, but you wouldn't be doing the [most interesting] work. That didn't appeal to me.
You've done a lot of different things over the years. Do you feel like, at this point, you know who you are and what you want to do, that you've found a home, or are there future chapters out there for you?
I'm going to answer that in the micro and then answer it in the macro. In the micro, my role is the global head of consultant relations. It's another iteration of something that I got hired into where I didn't have any experience with consultants or sales, which is what the role is. I bring that up because the interview process for this was the best of any job I've had. I was much clearer on my value proposition.
I don't know that I want this title, [but I became known as] the executioner. Whenever something needs to be done and executed, I can do it. When I went through the interview process, because each of my jobs at State Street - for the Chief Compliance Officer, in alternatives [State Street's hedge fund / private equity / real estate administration business], and working under the Chief Operating Officer in Charles River Development and Alpha - each of these jobs took articulable skills, but a lot of them were just made up of things that needed to be assessed, designed, rebuilt, and turned into BAU [business as usual].Learn how to have patience for the conversation to flow naturally. That way, you can be much more impactful. Click To Tweet
In this most recent job, I got the very standard question, “You have no experience in this area. What makes you think you can do it?” I said, “If you think experience with consultants is what's needed for this job, you fundamentally don't understand where you are and what needs to happen.” It was a risk to come at it with that level of bravado, but I did believe it. It's a prosecutorial edge, which you can imagine [can be helpful] in executive leadership. It was a dicey road to walk.
I know what it takes when there is nothing there, and you have to build from the ground up. I even returned to [an approach of bravado] later in the interview when there was the standard, “Do you have any questions?” I said, "I do. I've come to learn that for me to execute, I need management support and engagement. I'm looking at this role that you've taken four months to hire, [and that] you downgraded and leveled. I'm concerned that you're not invested in this enough.” Not only did I stand up for myself, but I also turned it back around. I share that only because you asked specifically, whether I feel like I know more of who I am and what I'm looking for.
This last change over was a real opportunity that I embraced. I am not going to be somebody who shows twenty years of subject matter expertise in a specific area. I'm a change agent and you bring me in because you want execution. I can show that through every single job I've had all the way back to Global One when we installed internet systems in Africa and the Middle East. It was about getting the job done. That was the micro question, if you can believe it.
The macro question is the look back versus look forward, Do I think that I'm in a job I'll do for the rest of my career? No. I think that there are more opportunities. I'll need new challenges. I'm sure there's a retirement career in there somewhere. I have continued to have a point of service and I have served on a board for an organization that helps children recover from human trafficking to reclaim their lives and come back to owning their own lives. I could see myself in a retirement career running a nonprofit or something along those lines. I could dedicate more time to that.
In the interim, I think that there will be many more iterations. I like to have a seat at the table. I want to be a part of the conversation that's driving both the strategy and the execution of that strategy. I'll be transparent that part of my way of getting to make sure that I'm in those conversations right now is that I'm looking at various board opportunities.
I've been starting to apply to different board opportunities to bring a unique set of experience to that conversation, a Swiss army knife of law, sales, business, and a little bit of everything. Looking forward, I think that there will be more iterations. I will probably end up staying in corporate life. I do like it. I find that I have talents there , but there will be a retirement career, too.
You've talked a lot about both strengths that you've leveraged along the way and passions that have fueled your decisions. What have you worked on developing in yourself along the way and how have you gone about that?
Patience, the ability to wait things out and let them develop. I've gotten much better at that and being comfortable with that. There is patience in the micro, like [being silent] in a conversation and letting the conversation develop because the litigator in me wants to jump in and object before you're done with the sentence. Learning how to have patience for the conversation to naturally flow, so that I can be more impactful. That's one area.
Executive presence. I have a lot of joy, exuberance, and passion. People can misread that and think that I'm not intellectually dedicated or that I am flighty. Having to modulate that for the audiences because people are not used to high energy levels [going with being] intellectually inclined, logically inclined, and thoughtful in strategy and outcomes. People think the two don't go together. I've had to be intentional about that. Those are the first two I can think of.
You've managed teams along the way. What kind of leader do you try to be for your teams?
I think of it in two ways. First of all, for them as individuals and then as employees. Individually, I have a strong belief that if you work for me, you have given me a portion of your career. I owe you things for that. I owe you development, a career path, and [help on] where you're going. I've embraced a more recent mindset, which is understanding that when you have good people and talented employees, they're going to move. You accept that you have them for a finite period of time and you develop them as much as you can. You help them to create as much impact as they can in that time. You embrace that they're not going to stay forever. I don't think anybody could put up with me for decades, save maybe my husband or my kids.
As employees, I try to be a manager and focus on their development at work, I have been told that I have a strong leadership style. I share a vision and I'm consistently showing where I'm going. It's easier for my team to navigate their respective areas of responsibility. I don't ever want to micromanage. I find that that is an incredible waste of my and employees' time.
I would much rather give you end goals and then help you to get there, whether it be guidance, support, or backup. My leadership style is outcome-oriented but not strictly, “Have you gotten results?” We are driving the outcome we're trying to get to, with me enabling and empowering you to get there and making sure that you have the support and otherwise to do it.
When you're hiring, what do you look for in the people that you want to bring into the organization?
Leadership. That is demonstrative of somebody's ability to drive forward, even when there is an obstacle or confusion, a lack of clarity, etc. and showing that leadership. Even if you don't have a team, it’s showing that you can decide on what the next steps are and understand that they may not be right, but you're going to keep moving forward. That is something that I look for. In every job description that I have ever posted, a required criteria is a good sense of humor. That is not fluff. Nothing ever always goes according to plan. If you don't have a good sense of humor about it, it's going to be a detriment to you. That is one of my hiring criteria, and I do stick to it.
It does matter. You've got to like the people you work with and have fun together.
I spend more time with them than I do with my own mother. We all should enjoy each other.
What do you do to recharge your battery and keep yourself energized?Nothing ever goes according to plan, so if you don't have a good sense of humor about it, it's going to be a detriment to you. Click To Tweet
I run and now, I've mixed that up a little bit, adding bike and swim. I picked that up when I was prosecuting cases, constantly litigating, especially [while doing] victims’ work. It was about being able to go out, hit the pavement, and run it out. It was a big asset to me and what I think helped me most to overcome tough cases. I can't sit still. I knit because I can't even sit to watch a movie. It allows me to do that, which is a good thing. It's a point of service for me as well, as what I do is knit baby hats and give them to the local maternity ward. I'm up to over 100+ now.
The third is the point of service. I do give a lot of time to the organization My Life, My Choice, where I'm on the board. I'm co-heading their fundraising. Every year we step up to try to hit our target goal. It's a lot of time but worthwhile, especially in the time that I spend with the kids watching them come back to their own life through some incredibly difficult circumstances.
All of that is missing the number one main thing, which is my kids. I have two wonderful children. My children are the best children ever. I'm not biased even a little bit. I’m spending as much time with the kids and have taken on coaching my daughter's soccer team, which is a lot given the time that I have, but the first time I went out and saw her play a game and there wasn't a single female coach, I said, “This can happen.” I had to find a way to make it work.
I don't think you're the first mom that's had that observation and dived in as a result.
I have nothing but tremendous respect for the dads that do it. It's that I did play soccer from when I was very young and I wanted to have that role model available to the kids. I don't know that anybody thinks that I'm a good chaperone, but now we see another woman out on the field.
What would you do differently if you had to do something over again?
That's tough. I say that because I am very conscious of doing something different. It means I may not get the same outcome. Am I willing to risk another outcome? I don't know that I would. That's not to say I didn't make mistakes. I made mistakes. Even the mistakes are educational. I don't know that I would do something differently.
That's where I've come to as well. You've had the life journey you've had, the good, bad, and ugly. It puts you where you are, and you have no idea if you made a decision differently way back when, how it would have affected the good things, not just maybe the bad and the ugly.
I struggle to think that I would risk it. That's not in any way vain. I'm not saying life is perfect, but I feel honest about where I am. That's a function of the choices that I made. I feel grateful for that.
What are the top career lessons that you would want our audience to take away?
Find your value proposition and own it. Know what is it you bring to the table. Be confident in that, be able to articulate that, and don't let it be reduced to a byline. As I go up against people with a lot longer experience either in the different subject matter areas or in the career field that they're in, it has been essential for me to know what I bring to the proposition. If they choose not to take it, they choose not to take it. You know what you're bringing to it. That way, there's a lot less emotion about the process because the selection process for whatever that person feels is what's needed for the role.
This has been great. One of the things that amazes me about this process of doing discussions like this is that you and I worked together for several years. I knew the broad strokes of your career, but I learned a lot in this conversation that I didn't know before. It's funny how you take up with people that you work with, and in a lot of cases, you never get down into the details of how they got there.
It was nice because you and I, beyond work, also became friends. It's nice to share with you some of the colors that we haven't always gotten to talk about at work.
I appreciate it. Thanks for doing this.
It truly was a pleasure. I love what you're doing in this space. Maybe that's the one wish, that I had something like this back then to help explore all the options available. Thank you for doing it.
It was great having Stacy on the show, giving her a chance to share her winding career journey and learnings along the way. If you're ready to take control of your career, visit PathWise.io, where you can find access to a range of career content, coaching, community, and courses. If you'd like more regular career insights, become a PathWise member. It's free. You can also sign up on the website for the PathWise newsletter and follow PathWise on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Thanks and have a great day.
About Stacy Belf
Stacy Belf is the Head of Consultant Relations for State Street, a role she has held for the past 18 months.
Stacy started her career working for the Peace Corps in Africa. She then did contracting work in an international joint venture for Sprint while moonlighting as a volunteer firefighter. A few years later, she went to law school, after which she worked for two law firms and clerked in a US District Court before becoming a federal prosecutor for 8 years. She tried cases relating to violent crime, white collar crime, and cybercrime before joining State Street in 2015, where she has held a variety of roles since then.
Stacy earned her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Auburn University and her law degree from the University of Virginia. She is an active fundraiser for causes that help victims of sex trafficking, dating to some of the cases she tried as a federal prosecutor. She and her family live in the Boston area.