I believe that mentorship is an under-utilized activity. One that is super easy to implement and that also creates an incomparable legacy. When a mentor shares with a mentee, or protege information about their own career path, as well as provides guidance, motivation, emotional support, and role modeling, anything becomes possible. When we, as women, give the gift of mentoring to other young women, legacy and possibility are passed on generationally.
And that is exactly why I interviewed the incredible Kate MacKinnon, former Vice President of J.P. Morgan Chase and Expert Feng Shui practitioner. If you have any desire to mentor young women, all you have to do is start. Or you can look into your local Boys and Girls Club.
Tricia: Kate, you were at J.P. Morgan Chase and a VP for over 30 years. How did you get into that career?
Kate: My very, very first job was the Barnard College Admissions office, and they had just brought in a word processor, with a little screen, big body, and I was made the backup operator on it.
I was the receptionist. And I did their first-ever automation of the Admissions process with merging text and files and preparing letters and all that stuff. And from there, I freelanced as a graphic artist. And I freelanced as a word processor operator, and I got a job with a company that hired me before Chase, called Schlumberger.
Carole Finamore was a great mentor to me when I got there. She taught me everything.
She knew I was smart so she just kept giving me opportunities. She would say to me, "Here. Go learn how to be our tech person to fix computers. Go be our tech person to train other people". I worked in a law department and trained all the lawyers on how to use technology.
Tricia: You have this woman mentor, who gave you respect. She gave you the responsibility. Kate, how did that frame you? How did that make you feel, and how did that guide you in terms of who you would become?
Kate: Carol was a very, very important person in my life. I worked for her for seven years. She hired me as a temp and very quickly saw that I was capable of doing a lot of other things, and she believed that there wasn't anything I couldn't do.
Tricia: This is to my point, believing in someone is so powerful and doesn't cost a thing.
Kate: And every time she gave me a new opportunity, there was no expectation that I knew anything. She would just say, "Do you know how to do a feasibility study?" And I'd say, "No," and she'd go, "Good. You'll learn. Do you know how to do this? Good. You'll learn."
Tricia: So she also pushed you outside of your comfort zone and taught you how to take risks. Again, this was a simple act on her part, but certainly gave you the gift of confidence in not having to know everything to be successful. I love her.
Kate: Yes, and I had all this room. She said to me later, "I knew you were smart, and I knew you would figure it out, and I just kept giving you things" to the point where, after working with her for six years, I had this great review, and after it she said, "There's no place else for you to go here."
Tricia: She fired you because she wanted you to exceed your potential. WTF? YES.
Kate: “There's no place else for you to go." But I had no idea what to call what I did outside of working with her. She gave me the name for it. "You're a Business Systems Analyst, and banks hire people like you." So she basically said, "I love you. But you need to move on," and so I started looking around.
Tricia: She could have hung onto you forever. She was getting everything she needed from you. She knew you were an amazing woman and an amazing employee, and an amazing Business Systems Analyst. But she selflessly knew that you had more to accomplish. And she set you free. Talk about a real mentor.
Kate: During that year of looking for a new job, I met the right recruiter from Chase. They had the perfect spot, and within a week, they not only interviewed me. They then hired me, and I started working there.
And I went from a clerical position to an officer position. I mean it was really phenomenal. I started working in 1979 at Barnard. In 1980, a year and a half later, '81, I was working for Schlumberger. I started as a temp. They hired me as a full-time employee around '82, and I was in that position from '82 until 1988. So seven years.
Tricia: And so from 1982 to '88, you were considered a clerical position even though you were a Business Systems Analyst. And then you became an officer. With a snap of a finger, all because your mentor gave you a push.
Kate: Yes. And I went right into a liaison position because I was really good at learning a business and then was really good at understanding how to apply the technology. When they hired me at Chase, they hired me as a Business Systems Analyst, and I was working in a banking business called Cash Management. I didn't know anything about banking, by the way, but that wasn't what was important.
I was really good at learning a business, listening to people and then applying the technology. My functional role never changed, regardless of whether I worked on the business side or the technology side, even though I grew. I got promoted. I got more work. I was a Project Manager. I was a Product Manager. I was many things while I was there. But underneath it all, I was always a Business Systems Analyst! Technology as we know it didn't exist, and I always say I'm the age of Steven Jobs and Bill Gates - so my career really followed their path in terms of technology. And for whatever reason, people kept just giving me the next wave, the next wave, the next wave. My entire career was really about service. I've won an award for my customer service.
Tricia: Of course you did.
Kate: I worked on a Sales Client Tracking product in a software called Lotus Notes at the time and the product received the 1994 Smithsonian/Computer World Technology Award, and I received the Customer Satisfaction & Excellent Customer Service Award for the product. I found it very creative, and people always ask how I went from corporate to now.
We're never given everything. We make the best decisions with what we have. So at the time, I got that systems was a way to go. It was considered operations at the time, and more for nerds, the technology, but I somehow knew that there was a whole career there, and I just went with it. I just made that choice. And I'm really glad I did. It was a very exciting career. I worked with very high-level people. I had lots of opportunities. And that led me to become a consultant. I went from Technology into Training and Development for Customer Service of Cash Management, and when they eliminated the Training department, I decided that I was going to be a consultant.
Tricia: This was your introduction into being an entrepreneur.
Kate: Yes, and I was a consultant for 12 years, and Chase just kept hiring me back. It was really interesting. Chase hired me back, first to do the job that they eliminated, and I worked directly for my client instead of being in Training and Development.
Kate: In becoming an entrepreneur, I discovered that I was really good at it, and I loved it. And I was really, really successful at it. I had very good relationships. I always say I had 10 people on my A-list to call for work, and I never went beyond the 10 people.
Tricia: You worked full-time, and then at what point did you were interested in Feng Shui?
Kate: Feng Shui came to me in 1999. I always say Feng Shui found me. I was not looking for it. I had always had a full-time job, but there was the artist in me and the entrepreneur in me that was always exploring other avenues. And that's really where my art lay -- in fabric and design. I thought I might do fashion, I might design fabric for fashion. I love scarves. I used to wear scarves all the time.
And so I thought, "Maybe I'll design scarves." So I started at the Fashion Institute of Technology in their textile program, and I discovered I had an aptitude in color and texture and this is really important in terms of my Feng Shui. I had a teacher there, who had perfect color matching, like recognition, and she said I have almost perfect color matching.
Tricia: So that's like having perfect pitch?
Kate: Right. It's like having perfect pitch. I also took a weaving course and discovered weaving is like graphic design, weaving, computer design ... they're all the same mindset for me. They're all like three-dimension development. I see things in 3D. I'm an elliptical thinker. I see things in relationships. But I also understand math and am really good at that.
1999, if you remember, was Y2K. The world was going to come to an end, right? It was also a time of dot-com, were things going to be brick-and-mortar, or not, right? And I remember always thinking, "Brick-and-mortar's not going to go away, and there's always going to be electronics as well." We kind of saw the early internet experience, sitting in a group of four cubicles with four people and exchanging emails between the four of us, before there was LAN (local area network) or WAN (wide area network). I mean, my whole career was built on that by the way.
My client at the time, who was also a woman, and I, developed an event, that was going to be in New York, Texas -- which we always called the fourth region, a country onto itself ... New York, Texas, London, and Hong Kong, and the whole idea was to have a symposium for high-level managers to really talk about how technology was here, how they needed to embrace it, they actually needed to incorporate it.
So they had to learn how to do their own typing, their own emails. I mean, it was really a crazy time, but part of that was also doing a display of all the technology that was currently at the bank, and for the Hong Kong event, we did a whole computer expo, like a trade show, and part of the event was a dinner. I sat at the head of the table with all the Asian country heads for what is now J.P. Morgan Chase.
As a guest of honor, they gave me the eye of the fish. And the guy sitting next to me looked at me, and says, "You don't have to eat that if you don't want to" because he could just see by my face. "I'll eat it, but accept it as an honor," he said.
Tricia: That's awesome, Kate. What was next for you in terms of your career trajectory, since you were really at the top being offered fish eyes and all.
Kate: I've worked with coaches a lot in my lifetime. They really have kind of helped me get to the next level.
I was working with an executive coach, and we did this exercise out of The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron. She asked me the question, "So when you were seven years old, and you were thinking ... before you went to sleep, what did you think about?" And I said immediately, "I thought about re-arranging people's homes and re-arranging my best friend's dollhouse and thinking about buying furniture for a dollhouse," and she was the one who said, "Have you ever heard of Feng Shui?" Another woman played a key role in my life.
I had not heard of Feng Shui. She said to me, "Well you're going to Hong Kong on a business trip. While you're there, go on a bus trip." She said, "Maybe there's even a Feng Shui bus trip."
And there was a bus trip with a little bit of Feng Shui. We went around Hong Kong, and we went around the island of Kowloon, and they talked about Feng Shui. I'm getting chills just telling you this story.
At that point, I just knew there was something there, and I came home, and I thought, "How do I find out about this? How do I study it?" It wasn't in the US more than 10 years at that time, and I found a program on Long Island. I lived in Brooklyn and starting my training in 2000, and I got certified as a Feng Shui consultant in 2001. It was a great new millennium story. We came back from Hong Kong, I applied and was accepted into this program to become certified.
Tricia: I love it. And I want to also point out that that executive coach, who planted the seed for you, was also a woman. You've had these women mentors in your life, who have given you the permission to explore possibility.
Kate: Yes. That's absolutely true.
Tricia: And that's something that I believe to be so important is that when you've got a female, a woman mentor, it could be a male mentor, but these women in your life specifically gave you permission to explore possibility, and that's why you are here today. And why you are successful, risk-taking and always in service.
Kate: Yes, yes, yes. It's absolutely true. Absolutely. And they kept handing it to me. You know, I was open to it all.
Tricia: And so, you were so open to it that you studied, you became certified, and you then phased yourself out of J.P. Morgan Chase, and this year, you are coming out!
Kate: I am. In all my glory.
Tricia: As Kate MacKinnon, Feng Shui expert.
Tricia: How does that feel, being your own CEO?
Kate: It feels so great. It's been a long time coming. The flip side is the universe ... right, so I had all these openings, and I was trying to get to the top at Chase, and at a certain point I did hit ... and I felt like I kept hitting this ceiling, you know, my clients loved me, let me go try this opportunity. I thought maybe it's an ageism, I'm getting older. I now believe it was the universe saying, "Kate, you are so done with this." And I just didn't know when to let go because it meant ... it was a big letting go of a part of my life, and even though I really wanted to do it, I was terrified. I was really terrified.
And there was a part hidden or so I thought, meanwhile, people who knew me well always knew I was an artist. When I finally said, "I'm ready to leave," people said, "Oh, we knew all along!" People knew all along. They said, "Oh, you looked so buttoned up, but we always knew you were a hippie in disguise."
Pam Lipp, who I knew from my earlier days, we were pups together, and is now head of talent management and diversity, said, "You are an artist. You are gifted." By the way, I had a boss when I left Training and became a consultant, who said the same thing. She said, "Don't get sucked into the money being a consultant….You're good at your job. You're gifted as an artist," so I had these messages a long time ago. When I left, and Pam and I celebrated, she said, "I am so happy for you taking this next step in your journey." Thank God you're leaving." But it took me ... I mean that was a big letting go.
Tricia: Do you have any advice or something that you can share, for women out there specifically who are balancing this world of working for someone else and loving it, but also wanting to explore something more, and potentially becoming an entrepreneur? How could you share what that looks like?
Kate: I would say two things: one, and part of the reason why I could do it as long as I did it ... one of the best career advice I got while I was at Chase is they really wanted people to be their own bosses, so in many ways, I was very entrepreneurial. When I worked for Chase as an employee, I was also very entrepreneurial. I always operated as if I was a consultant. I was always thinking, "How can I help you? How can I be of service here? How can I add value? What can I bring to the table?" And I think that's really important. I am a member of a team. I don't have to be the be-all and the end-all, but I bring certain gifts, and to know what they are. And I think it's part of what made me so successful at what I did because I was always aware of that.
"Sh*t!" my daughter exclaimed as she dropped her iPad to the floor. A little bit of context; my daughter Victoria absolutely loves her iPad. And as I watched her bemoan the possible destruction of her favorite device, I thought to myself, "If I were in her position, I'd probably say the exact same thing."
In the Rastegar family, a word is only a bad word if used improperly. This is a concept that has almost become a family motto. Because in our household, we do things a little differently. To put it frankly, our practices are a little unconventional. Completely safe, one hundred percent responsible- but sure, a little unconventional.
And that's because my husband Ari and I have always felt akin in one major life philosophy; we want to live our lives our way. We have dedicated ourselves to a lifetime of questioning the world around us. And it's that philosophy that has led us to some unbelievable discoveries, especially when it comes to parenting.
Ari was an English major. And if there's one thing that can be said about English majors, it's that they can be big-time sticklers for the rules. But Ari also thinks outside of the box. And here's where these two characteristics meet. Ari was always allowed to curse as a child, but only if the word fit an appropriate and relevant context. This idea came from Ari's father (his mother would have never taken to this concept), and I think this strange practice really molded him into the person he is today.
But it wasn't long after we met that I discovered this fun piece of Ari Rastegar history, and I got to drop a pretty awesome truth bomb on Ari. My parents let me do the same exact thing…
Not only was I allowed to curse as a child, but I was also given a fair amount of freedom to do as I wanted. And the results of this may surprise you. You see, despite the lack of heavy regulating and disciplining from my parents, I was the model child. Straight A's, always came home for curfew, really never got into any significant trouble- that was me. Not trying to toot my own horn here, but it's important for the argument. And don't get the wrong impression, it's not like I walked around cursing like a sailor.
Perhaps I was allowed to curse whenever I wanted, but that didn't mean I did.
And this is where we get to the amazing power of this parenting philosophy. In my experience, by allowing my own children to curse, I have found that their ability to self-regulate has developed in an outstanding fashion. Over the past few years, Victoria and Kingston have built an unbelievable amount of discipline. And that's because our decision to allow them to curse does not come without significant ground rules. Cursing must occur under a precise and suitable context, it must be done around appropriate company, and the privilege cannot be overused. By following these guidelines, Victoria and Kingston are cultivating an understanding of moderation, and at a very early age are building a social awareness about when and where certain types of language are appropriate. And ultimately, Victoria and Kingston are displaying the same phenomenon present during my childhood. Their actual instances of cursing are extremely low.
And beneath this parenting strategy is a deeper philosophy. Ari and I first and foremost look at parenting as educators. It is not our job to dictate who our children will be, how they shall behave, and what their future should look like.
We are not dictators; we are not imposing our will on them. They are autonomous beings. Their future is in their hands, and theirs alone.
Rather, we view it as our mission to show our children what the many possibilities of the world are and prepare them for the litany of experiences and challenges they will face as they develop into adulthood. Now, when Victoria and Kingston come across any roadblocks, they have not only the tools but the confidence to handle these tensions with pride, independence, and knowledge.
And we have found that cursing is an amazing place to begin this relationship as educators. By allowing our children to curse, and gently guiding them towards the appropriate use of this privilege, we are setting a groundwork of communication that will eventually pay dividends as our children grow curious of less benign temptations; sex, drugs, alcohol. There is no fear, no need to slink behind our backs, but rather an open door where any and all communication is rewarded with gentle attention and helpful wisdom.
The home is a sacred place, and honesty and communication must be its foundation. Children often lack an ability to communicate their exact feelings. Whether out of discomfort, fear, or the emotional messiness of adolescence, children can often be less than transparent. Building a place of refuge where our children feel safe enough to disclose their innermost feelings and troubles is, therefore, an utmost priority in shepherding their future. Ari and I have come across instances where our children may have been less than truthful with a teacher, or authority figure simply because they did not feel comfortable disclosing what was really going on. But with us, they know that honesty is not only appreciated but rewarded and incentivized. This allows us to protect them at every turn, guard them against destructive situations, and help guide and problem solve, fully equipped with the facts of their situation.
And as crazy as it all sounds- I really believe in my heart that the catalogue of positive outcomes described above truly does stem from our decision to allow Victoria and Kingston to curse freely.
I know this won't sit well with every parent out there. And like so many things in life, I don't advocate this approach for all situations. In our context, this decision has more than paid itself off. In another, it may exacerbate pre-existing challenges and prove to be only a detriment to your own family's goals.
As the leader of your household, this is something that you and you alone must decide upon with intentionality and wisdom.
Ultimately, Ari and I want to be the kind of people our children genuinely want to be around. Were we not their parents, I would hope that Victoria and Kingston would organically find us interesting, warm, kind, funny, all the things we aspire to be for them each and every day.
We've let our children fly free, and fly they have. They are amazing people. One day, when they leave the confines of our home, they will become amazing adults. And hopefully, some of the little life lessons and eccentric parenting practices we imparted upon them will serve as a support for their future happiness and success.