Citigroup’s Valentina Antill ’94 Urges Incoming Classes: ‘Abandon Your Comfort Zones’

Valentina Antill ’94 recalls learning a quick lesson when she arrived at the Yale School of Management from her native Croatia. While working on a project with students from different countries and with diverse backgrounds, she realized that listening is the essential step in developing successful working relationships. This conviction, she added, was re-affirmed throughout her career.

“There’s a famous Epictetus saying I used to hear from my Brazilian boss,” Antill told Yale SOM students during Orientation on August 16. “‘We have two ears and one mouth for a reason.’ Never approach a business meeting with your mind on the topic at hand already made up.”

Antill, managing director for global markets at Citigroup, said that her time at Yale SOM not only provided her with the technical skills she needed to structure financial derivatives for Citigroup’s multinational clients, but also the ability to work with people from all over the world. She noted that additions made to the SOM curriculum since her time at the school—including increased emphasis on the “raw case” format, the Global Virtual Teams course, and Global Network Weeks—have made the school uniquely suited to shaping leaders who can work across sectoral and national boundaries.

“Business  in real life does come in raw case format,” she said. “It is messy and devoid of templates, guidelines, and textbooks. Being able to embrace this mess and apply academic knowledge in practice  is a challenge, yet also an essential ingredient of successful leadership.” 

“As a leader, you have to project vision, get your team members to bond, and keep them motivated while they’re dispersed across various time zones and may not speak the lingua franca of the company, without even having  face-to-face contact,” she said. “The Global Virtual Teams course is a splendid addition to the SOM curriculum.” 

She told students to “have the courage to abandon the personal comfort zones,” to work alongside as many students from different backgrounds as they can, and to enroll in at least one elective course for which they believe they may lack expertise or talent.

“Even if you firmly decided to pursue a certain career or academic interest, you should seriously consider taking a course or two outside of this realm,” she said. “Say  you’re a quant pursuing a career in finance—take a course at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Say you believe you’re not cut out for finance—take a finance elective; you may be surprised to find out that this is your passion. At the very least, this ‘outside knowledge’ is going to make you stand out amongst colleagues of your ilk.”

Finally, Antill said that one should not lull oneself into thinking that, despite their importance, “soft skills” and teamwork are sufficient for success. She stressed the importance of core curriculum classes: “Great things cannot be created without independent thinkers. Your first relationship should be to reality, and to have a command of it, you need the academic knowledge obtained in the traditional classroom environment.” 

About the Event

Valentina Antill ’94, managing director for global markets at Citigroup, spoke to students about the importance of listening to others’ perspectives during Orientation on August 16.

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