Meet Lisa Carnoy, Chief Financial Officer
Mountains beyond mountains: How taking risks has defined Lisa Carnoy’s career
AlixPartners Chief Financial Officer Lisa Carnoy has a knack for finding herself in situations where she’s one of the only people, or one of the first women, to try something new.
Growing up, she was a multi-sport athlete at a time when girls were not encouraged to compete in sports. She ran track at Columbia, where she was a member of one of the first classes at the school that included women. And as a young analyst at Bear Stearns, Lisa was one of only a handful of women on the 120-person investment banking team. The women, five in all, were seated together in a row—an area of the office referred to as the “pink ghetto.”
“I was interested in business, and I thought as a woman being in a field where success is quantifiable would be important,” Lisa said. ”But not having many other women colleagues was something that I missed.”
Lisa is fond of the Haitian proverb, “Mountains beyond mountains.” The expression is an apt encapsulation of how she approached challenges throughout her career, rising from the banking floor of Bear Stearns, where the partner’s bathroom was a men’s room, to one of the most powerful people on Wall Street before joining AlixPartners in 2018.
“Even as there are challenges, I do have this great faith that ultimately it's going to work out,” she said. “That fortifies me and gives me the confidence and energy to see things through.”
Throughout her career, Lisa has advocated for herself and her ideas in ways big and small, from speaking up in a meeting as a junior employee to pushing for more compensation or promotions for members of her team.
She recalls a “lightbulb moment,” when as a young, number-crunching analyst, she defended a critical thought about the performance of a company for the first time.
“I don’t know if I was taking a risk, but from that point on, I made sure that I had the conviction to speak my mind,” she said.
In 2001, in a career-defining decision, Lisa asked to move from the equity capital markets syndicate desk to an origination role at Merrill Lynch, where she would pitch IPOs and other capital markets deals directly to companies and management teams. She asked for the role even though she was not sure, at the time, that she was an ideal fit.
“I never thought of myself as a salesperson, but I soon realized that if I was selling my team, and selling a capability, that’s something I could be very confident in selling,” she said.
Over the next decade, Lisa traveled the world pitching new deals almost every week—she once flew to Singapore for a lunch meeting and went to London twice in one week to pitch new business. She handled the IPOs for Verisk and HCA, the largest for US companies in 2009 and 2011, respectively, and she rose the ranks, becoming the global head of equity capital markets and then the entire capital markets business at Bank of America, the first woman to hold either role.
She also showcased that natural sales ability she thought she lacked when she asked for the role. When she pitched Lululemon to handle their 2007 IPO, she included the favorite yoga positions of her and her team members in the pitchbook, and in a presentation to handle an equity offering for Chubb, she had a copy of her Chubb policy statement sticking out of her book. She won both deals.
With all her successes, she never lost that nervous exhilaration that came when she asked a potential client for their business.
“The idea that you don’t quite know what you’re going to say, or the client’s reaction or questions, but you really care. That’s a healthy feeling,” she said.
Putting herself out there and asking for a piece of business emboldened her. But she felt most empowered when she put herself out there to advocate for other women—by going to bat for someone during the promotion process, or converting a guest bathroom at Bank of America into a breast-feeding room, or founding groups at Columbia focused on increasing representation of women in athletics and in the faculty.
And one of the proudest moments of her career came when, as head of global capital markets, a team of more than 700 people, spanning two dozen countries, three of the top five paid people on her team were women. “I thought, now we’ve made it,” she said.
At AlixPartners, she fills two roles that have defined her career—the role of a strategic, risk-taking business leader and a committed advocate for diversity.
She was drawn to AlixPartners because it is a growing firm entering a transformative phase and because of the firm’s culture. In addition to the core finance and operational roles of a CFO, Lisa relishes the opportunity to advise on how to best perpetuate the firm and to make the firm more inclusive.
“As leaders, if we see something and think we can do an even better job at living our firm values and achieving our goals, it’s important to have the courage to say, ‘Come on, let's raise the bar here, we can do even more.’”
In recognition of Women’s History Month, AlixPartners is sharing stories of how the women of AlixPartners have championed their colleagues and challenged the status quo throughout their careers.
Click here for more information about our D&I initiatives, WE Matters, and our other ERGs.