Yanela Frias has a right to feel confident about her new post as vice president of finance for the Individual Life Insurance division of Prudential Financial. After all, her last promotion, in the summer of 2008, was to the post of assistant treasurer for the same division, where her responsibility for capital, liquidity and borrowing placed her right at the epicenter of the financial crisis for her company.
“There was a lot of pressure on myself and my team,” Frias recalls. “Those were very uncertain times. I had to make the right recommendations to senior management to get through the crisis and have the company come out stronger, as we did.”
Frias also had to prepare a June 2009 equity issuance, a secondary offering that raised $1.25 billion to help pay down Prudential’s debt and add to its capital. A little over a year later, she oversaw preparations for a second $2.8-billion offering that help finance the insurance company’s $4.8-billion acquisition of two AIG spinoffs, AIG Star Life Insurance Co. and AIG Edison Life Insurance Co.
The two projects were the most rewarding of her career, she says.
Frias, 39, earned a B.S. in accounting and an M.B.A. in finance from Rutgers University and joined Prudential in 1997 as a member of the company’s external financial reporting group. She says a key to her rapid rise is her willingness to take risks.
What is the importance of risk-taking in a career, and why was this move a risky one for you?
A willingness to take risks—taking on stretch assignments that are outside of your comfort area—is a key to advancing. I’ve had many roles in treasury, but never in finance. Am I anxious about it? No, because as you grow, you become more confident.
How did you get into finance? Was it your career goal back in college?
I started out at Rutgers studying accounting, and then worked as an auditor at Booz Allen Hamilton, but while I was at Booz I began taking finance classes, and earned an M.B.A. in finance. What attracted me to finance was the ability to get involved and have an impact on the future of an enterprise, rather than going over the past as an accountant.
Did you have a mentor?
No, never any specific mentor, but there were a number of people—bosses, peers and senior individuals—who helped me move forward.
Do you mentor people?
Oh yes. I do that very consciously. Sharing your knowledge and experience is an important way to give back, and I learn from the people I mentor as well.
What skills do you want to improve?
I’d like to work on broadening my leadership skills, and on becoming a more inspiring leader and a trusted business adviser to senior management.
What is your biggest challenge going forward?
Personally, it’s trying to be more of a catalyst and having the ability to force change. From the company perspective, we have a changing tax and regulatory and economic environment, so the challenge is, how do we navigate through these continuing challenging times.
Do you have any advice for people who want to get into or get ahead in corporate finance?
It’s not enough to be strong technically. You need that just to get in the door. But focus on the softer skills: leadership, communication, etc. Constantly invest in learning and maintain your intellectual curiosity, including having an external focus, not just an on-the-job focus. You need to know not just what’s going on in your company or your industry, but in the world. You need all that to be able to connect the dots.
For the complete 2011 40 Under 40 list, see Ready to Take Charge.
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