The Women to Watch: No. 10, HSBC's Jennifer Strybel

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Chief Operating Officer, HSBC Bank USA

Early in her career, Jennifer Strybel took a leap of faith when she followed her mentor's guidance and moved into a risk role that she wasn't entirely sure meshed with her operations background.

"I am not a risk person. This is just not me," she remembers thinking at the time.

Ultimately, her jump paid off, informing much of her career since. Strybel, now the chief operating officer at HSBC Bank USA, credits that job as director of credit policy for corporate credit management with giving her the necessary experience she needed in later roles, including managing a global service center for HSBC in the Philippines.

"It was a calculated risk that gave me greater exposure to the bank and the way that we operate," she said. "If I didn't do that and develop a bit of a curiosity for things a bit outside of my wheelhouse, I might not have ended up in the role that I have today."

That's a lesson she shares with younger bankers she mentors. She now sees it as part of her responsibility to pay it forward, for example, taking part in resource groups for younger employees and mentoring them both formally and informally.

Strybel took another calculated risk more recently, this time while overseeing a major tech overhaul dubbed Project Greenfield. That multiyear effort replaced the bank's entire core banking system and upgraded its out-of-date IT architecture in a single step.

The improvements ultimately reduced the bank's technology footprint by 25%, saving roughly $55 million in IT costs every year, and improved its data quality and governance, according to the bank's estimates. It also laid the foundation for new tech initiatives in its retail bank, and helped the U.S. unit make upgrades in sync with HSBC across the globe.

While the core replacement was initially supposed to go live at the end of 2017, Strybel decided to delay the project by nearly nine months. It wasn't a popular decision. The team was fatigued and many people just wanted to be done with it.

But even though a majority of the coding requirements were completed on time, Strybel felt they needed to do more testing. She had seen other banks try to launch new core banking systems prematurely — to disastrous results — and did not want HSBC to make headlines because frustrated customers were locked out of their accounts.

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She stuck to her guns.

"It was smart of us to wait, do more testing, fix our defects and get in a platform and a system that works for both our customers and our employees," she said.

Her team ultimately ran nine dress rehearsals, or mock conversions, and more than 42,000 test cases to root out kinks in the system. She also created cross functional teams, putting testers side by side with programmers, business line heads and quality control staff to facilitate better communications during the process.

On top of all that, she had to do all this amidst a series of leadership changes, both globally and locally. That meant that Strybel had to keep selling senior executives on the project while pushing for more time to get it right.

It also meant long hours and often working weekends to get the project finished. Her team dealt with the stress and pressure of the situation together, creating a casual environment on the weekends with food, music and joking while they worked, Strybel said.

She added that she and her team often wore t-shirts reading "Keep Calm and Carry On," modeled after World War II-era motivational posters made by the British government, to maintain a small bit of perspective.

"It's a little bit of a reminder that it's not life or death," she said. "When you put it in perspective, we weren't doing brain surgery. We were doing some technology changes and improving business processes. So stay calm."

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