At Versana, our team is comprised of talented industry leaders and innovators who are committed to transforming the syndicated loan market. Our commitment to diversity and making space for all perspectives is always top of mind and one of our greatest strengths driving our growth.
We’re proud to be among the 6% of U.S. fintechs with a female CEO, and we’ve made it part of our mission to use our platform to promote women in STEM. Hear from our founding CEO Cynthia Sachs on her career journey through finance and tech, the role companies should play in promoting women in STEM and more in the below interview.
What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM and eventually become a fintech CEO?
I actually did not seek out a career in STEM – I had pursued a career in finance, where I spent 20 years in a variety of banking, portfolio management and trading positions across major Wall Street firms. I rose through the ranks, ultimately running a global proprietary credit trading desk at Morgan Stanley focused on managing multi-strategy leveraged loan and CLO portfolios with incredible teams in New York and London.
The 2008 financial crisis was a major turning point in my career. Big financial institutions were being rescued to save the global financial system. It was a very scary time — droves of industry professionals were handed one-way tickets out of Wall Street, with no second chances in sight. After a year of living in disbelief, and without even realizing it at the time, I took a huge leap and pivoted to fintech by joining Bloomberg. There I got the opportunity to use my deep finance experience to create financial software with a best-in-class team. While it took quite a bit of time for me to acclimate to a new industry, business model and role, I ultimately spearheaded the creation of a fixed-income pricing business that has become the global leader in its space (BVAL).
From there, I took a second unconventional leap to a start-up specialty finance company founded by Carlyle, eventually becoming its CEO. That role, combined with my years of experience in leveraged finance and fintech, is what ultimately led me to Versana.
Can you describe your role as CEO of Versana and what your daily responsibilities entail?
I oversee Versana’s overall business on a day-to-day basis, working with the rest of the C-suite to align on the company’s vision, mission and product roadmap. I also dedicate significant time to working with our high-profile board and investors, facilitating regular communication on our progress and business needs.
I focus not just on Versana’s internal team, but also on our position in the overall market. I commit significant time to business development, talking and negotiating with relevant market participants to evaluate strategic partnerships and key opportunities. As CEO, it’s also extremely important to stay up to date on market trends, especially within such a complex and highly competitive landscape.
Can you discuss any barriers or biases you have faced as a woman in a male-dominated industry?
Generally speaking, throughout my 20 years in banking, I never felt particularly singled out by my gender. I actually felt more gender bias once I transitioned to fintech – there’s definitely a different culture in tech than traditional finance, and I faced a good deal of pushback. Looking back, it’s clear that some of it was definitely gender-related, though I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time.
As a perfectionist who believes in the power of team chemistry, it’s hard not to take it to heart when someone knocks you off your pedestal. That has always been the hardest part for me: not letting this type of poor behavior affect me emotionally. No matter what, I always viewed myself as an equal and continued to do the best work possible.
What role do you think companies can play in promoting and retaining women in STEM careers?
Firms must make a very conscious and intentional decision to diversify their teams. At the end of the day, everyone is looking for the best talent, regardless of gender – but unfortunately, there are obstacles to achieving gender equity in a male-dominated industry. At Versana, we are currently an 18-person company with 9 female employees. At 50%, that’s a statistic we take great pride in.
It’s important to remember that a person’s resume doesn’t always tell their full story, especially for women who assume family responsibilities. While a given candidate might not look as qualified as others on paper, much of a person’s success boils down to their work ethic, personality, skillset and chemistry with the broader team. Tech companies need to be open-minded and go the extra mile to seek out underrepresented female talent to consciously diversify their teams. Their ultimate success will be that much greater. It’s critical to focus on the long game to create the best and most competitively competent organization.
What advice do you have for young women who are aspiring to leadership positions in STEM?
As a young professional, it’s essential to hone your skillset and become consistently excellent at what you do to build your professional foundation. Throughout your career, you must keep after it, be resilient in the face of challenges and build solid relationships with your colleagues and peers in your industry. Don’t forget to balance that grit and tenacity with a healthy dose of family and friend time to stay grounded and balanced.
Being a leader is not about how smart you are – it’s about using your smarts strategically to bring talented, trustworthy people together to build an A-level team. When it comes to building workplace relationships, surround yourself only with trusted individuals who lift you up and make you better. From there, everything else will follow.
Lastly, people tend to assume that working in STEM means you have to know how to code, or be the best at math. In fact, not everything sits directly within the tech team itself – other great roles include product, sales, marketing, operations, talent and more, so don’t be intimidated. In fintech, as in any other industry, you can find your niche, so don’t assume that it’s all one-dimensional. Be exploratory!
Cynthia was featured alongside other female trailblazers from global financial institutions in Digital Asset’s virtual panel discussion “Agents of Change: Building Connections of Value for Women in STEM”, hosted in honor of the UN’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The roundtable highlighted panelists’ experiences working in these industries, and how we can move toward a more inclusive future for the rising generation of women in STEM. You can view the full panel recording here.