Elaine Rocha got to where she is in her career thanks to hard work and the support of her family and mentors. Elaine Rocha’s parents instilled in her the value of formal education, and it was formal learning coupled with invaluable lessons from mentors throughout her career that enabled her to take her career to the next level.
“Throughout my career, I developed a strong network with key mentor relationships. As a result, many people saw value in me that was integral to building a career,” Rocha says. "My formal education, the 100+ billable hours a week, and my overall scrappy nature were definitely critical. However, mentoring opportunities also played a significant role in my career development.
As the Global Chief Operating Officer of Investments at AIG, Rocha can now pass on lessons from her experience to numerous mentees. She has dedicated herself to finding unique ways to scale informal learning across the AIG business so that others can reach their full potential, knowing how vital relationships were to her own career development.
Rocha has been seeking ways to formalize and scale key informal learning opportunities with the many mentees she's eager to assist within AIG and beyond.
"We have folks come to us saying, 'we recognize there's the education piece, but what else do I need to do to get recognized or to get that next promotion?’ I describe those ‘other things’ as the ‘tangible intangibles,’ which are the softer skills that you need in order to learn and grow. A great mentor can answer questions such as how do you network? How do you get to know the company? What questions should you ask during an interview?"
Today Rocha hosts Office Hours, during which groups of up to 20 can get together to pick her brain. She also established the AIG Investments internship program and encouraged the organization to seek out candidates with diverse backgrounds, educational majors and life experiences.
“There is informal learning, but you can still be intentional. We are acting with intention when we decide to offer a job to an art history major who wants to learn how to be a trader. If they are hungry and hardworking, why not give them a chance?” she says.
Rocha is passionate about giving opportunities to overachievers from all educational backgrounds because she was once an overachiever herself. While Rocha was practicing at a private firm, a good friend encouraged her to consider applying for an in-house legal counsel role within the AIG Legal Department during the darkest hours of the recession. Then while at AIG, a close colleague encouraged her to consider the role of interim Chief of Staff to the General Counsel of AIG. Shortly after landing the high-profile Chief of Staff role, albeit as a temporary job, a mentor and a former client encouraged her to speak with her new boss about a more permanent executive position. Elaine heeded that advice and talked to AIG’s General Counsel about her career progression.
“I told him I added value at the most senior level, and he agreed, but there was nothing in the legal department, so he had another idea—a job in investments. He said, ’the Chief Investment Officer is retiring, and they are hiring a new person to fill his position. This new person will need someone to help navigate the Company. Why don’t you go over to Investments and offboard the current CIO and onboard and work with the new CIO?’” Rocha reflects, “I had no asset management experience, no investment experience, and I had never taken a finance class. However, I decided to take the risk because I knew after years as a litigator, I was good at figuring things out and thinking on my feet.” So, after 18 years of practicing law, in 2015, Rocha decided to take on the new challenge. While she’s always been a hard worker, Rocha says she learned how to be a strong manager and executive from the mentors she worked with over the years.
“Even today at my staff meetings, I have a policy of "checking your title at the door," which I learned from one of my first mentors. “It does not matter where you fit in the pecking order or what your title is, everyone has the same voice in my team meetings, and everyone knows that.”
Today Rocha seeks to intentionally formalize these informal lessons in several ways, including efforts to make the process for career advancement far more transparent. She believes it not only levels the playing field but also ensures team members can get the guidance and understanding they need to advance their careers.
“Our big ask for 2020 is to build out what are those educational moments or training that you need to do, and how do we really foster that,” she says. “When you're a Vice President and want to be a Managing Direct (MD), or an MD wants to become a senior MD, what do those skills and requirements look like?”
Rocha adds that she’s committed to providing more transparency, especially regarding career progression, because there was not much transparency when she was coming up through the legal profession.
“When I was coming up in the legal field, you would think ‘seven-year partner track,’ but then someone made it in 6 years, why?’ Or, ‘someone made it in 9, how come?’” she says. “We want to give some transparency to folks, so they understand what their career ladder is, so we're putting much more formal structure around that.”
All of her efforts are inspired, in at least some small way, by Rocha’s parents, who always encouraged her to treat people with fairness and respect.
“You get the best out of people when you treat people fairly and with kindness,” she says. “That’s something I didn’t learn in school. I learned it from my mother, and it’s been a guiding light my entire career.”
As a global company, AIG has always focused on connecting virtually as well as in person. As many of its employees have switched to work-from-home due to the effects of COVID-19, they have continued to reinforce their connectivity strategy while providing the right tools to do so. They have also placed the utmost stress on the importance of work-life balance.