Fifteen minutes into a conversation with Lisa Ferris ’92 M.B.A. and you’ll know she loves her work. She peppers the exchange with comments that make it clear she values a good career fit. “I like it when people love what they do.”
Ferris has rocketed from senior financial analyst to executive vice president and chief operating officer of RBC Dain Rauscher in a mere 10 years. Along the way, she has held positions such as manager of corporate planning and analysis, senior vice president of business development and chief financial officer. Ferris credits her success in part to standing out as a high-potential employee early on. Executives such as Irv Weiser, RBC Dain Rauscher chairman, noticed her performance and created opportunities for her as a reward.
Before joining Dain Rauscher, Ferris worked for Carlson Companies. One of her positions there was as the interim controller for Carlson Marketing Group in Japan. When she left Carlson for Dain, she thought she would miss the complexity of the international aspects of her job, but she found the work at Dain to be just as enjoyable and complex.
It was while working for Carlson Marketing Group that Ferris pursued her M.B.A. in finance at St. Thomas. She would travel to Tokyo for one to three weeks every other month, and she would work these trips around her classes. “It was hectic but fun,” Ferris admits.
Ferris chose St. Thomas because of its local reputation, and she liked the idea of taking classes from professors who were frequently practitioners. She picked professors based on recommendations from classmates. The classes she chose were those that generated comments such as, “That was the best class I ever had. The professor was tough but great.” She found her instructors to be engaged and engaging. She glows when she mentions professors such as John Wendt. “I looked forward to class, and it was on Saturday mornings!”
Ferris believes that her education at St. Thomas broadened her perspective. She especially enjoyed attending school with people from different industries. “It’s tempting to think: ‘All businesses must work like financial services,’ but going to class with students from different backgrounds changes that.”
Ferris’ current role at Dain is to be a leader, an advocate for her people, and to establish relationships in Canada with her counterparts. She meets with direct reports every other week and on alternate weeks has staff meetings. There are no silos; she wants IT to know what is going on in finance. In these tough times, she sees a need to refocus on employee engagement and give opportunities, because she believes that a positive culture comes from success. And she loves the diversity of her job, which spans operations, IT, finance and HR.
When she’s not at work, Ferris may be exercising. She works out every morning (“It’s the way I keep my sanity.”), skis and plays golf. She took up golf in her late 20s and regrets that she didn’t start earlier. Several family members golf, including her sisters, mom and both grandmothers. To Ferris, golf is a social sport that builds relationships. “It’s amazing how few women golf. It’s a chance to spend four hours getting to know someone.” Ferris also serves on the Minneapolis Institute of Arts board and participates in a monthly book club.
Ferris advises others to do the research required to find the right career fit, rather than choosing a job based on other criteria, such as pay. In fact, she says her worst career experience was taking a job solely for the money. “I was miserable,” she stated. “I only stayed there for a year.” Her best career experience? Arriving at Dain. “I wouldn’t trade this environment for anything,” she said. Should you rush to Dain’s Web site to look for a job? Not necessarily. “Dain is not right for everyone. Find a company that is a personal fit. Opportunities will present themselves.”