It was during her tenure at State Street Bank & Trust Co. that Jennifer Galvagna took a call from a law school acquaintance working with the FBI. He suggested she come to work for the bureau, that the opportunity there was “right up her alley” by virtue of her experience in both legal affairs and financial services.
“I strongly considered the FBI,” she recalls. “At the time, there were a number of field agent positions that needed attorneys with financial backgrounds. One of those areas was in the agency’s white collar crimes unit, and I thought it was the most interesting thing I had ever heard.”
Galvagna even sat with FBI field agents to learn more about the nature of their work. She was about to pursue a post with the agency when Fleet Bank offered her a position.
Looking back, she says, “I had all the right stuff to make for an amazing field agent. I had the right background and credentials, but the opportunity at the bank seemed to be my calling at that point — a chance to build a group from the ground up, the organization’s Wealth Strategies division. But you always wonder about the road not taken.”
Now the head of trust, estates and tax at Bank of America Private Bank, where she and her team specialize in estate and financial planning for high-net-worth individuals, Galvagna has no regrets.
EUREKA COMES TO CLASS
Galvagna is the product of a middle-class upbringing with limited disposable income, though the family usually managed to take an annual vacation to New Hampshire or Cape Cod, Mass. Both parents were hard-driving social workers focused on giving back to their communities.
“I really value that both of them had tough jobs. My parents worked really hard.”
The oldest of three girls, Galvagna lost her middle sister Jill a few years ago. Her youngest sister, Sarah, lives in Vermont working as a Spanish teacher. They speak by phone nearly every day.
“We really didn’t get along growing up because we would fight over the typical girl things. We had one shower in the house, so you can only imagine what that was like in the morning,” she recalls. “I remember when I went away to college and they actually missed me, and that is when we started having a closer relationship.”
That college was the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she studied political science, worked as a dispatcher for the campus police department, and got involved in the student government as a senator. She also interned at the Massachusetts Legislature in downtown Boston.
All of this experience was gathered en route to Suffolk University Law School, where she earned her J.D. She had long wanted to go to law school, thinking in terms of litigation, the only type of law she witnessed on television programs. She became fascinated with the idea of developing and presenting a court case. Writing, research and promulgating an argument before a judge and jury appealed to her.
When she got there, however, she was exposed to far more types of legal activity than courtroom litigation.
“I remember like it was yesterday, there was a class that was mandatory at my school called ‘fiduciary relations.’ I don’t know that I would have chosen to take that class because it didn’t strike me as something all that interesting to me at the time, but I found it fascinating,” she says. “It was all about serving as a fiduciary, serving as a trustee, reading about case law that was connected to families and had different types of situations that families found themselves up against when somebody passed away or when somebody was putting together a planning strategy. I had a great relationship with the professor who taught the class and actually wound up being his research assistant on a book he coauthored, and I did the footnoting.”
Her work on the book led to an internship at State Street Bank and Trust. That was followed by stints at a couple of large Boston law firms as a trust and estates associate.
“It’s a specialized area,” she says. “I was proud to have those positions because they are few and far between. It was my passion, I worked really hard, and I absolutely enjoyed it.”
A TWIST OF FATE
After a number of years in private practice, and a tenure in the legal department at State Street, Galvagna joined Fleet Bank, which would become a career turning point. As previously mentioned, she helped create and worked in the Wealth Strategies division, doing estate and financial planning for about five years, when a leadership position in the trust division opened. The person Galvagna considered her mentor at the time advised her to consider the position.
“I remember looking at her and thinking, ‘I don’t have the experience in trust administration.’”
Her mentor disagreed, pointing out to Galvagna that she would still be able to work directly with clients — an aspect to her professional activities she always cherished — and that managing a team is something she did “exceptionally well.”
“So, I took the leap, and it was a big deal because it was something different than I ever saw myself doing,” says Galvagna. “I didn’t even see it coming.”
Having benefited from her mentor’s vigilance, Galvagna now keeps herself keen to opportunities that might be opportune but overlooked by her team members.
“You can’t assume somebody just starting their career would even realize where they might excel or what the role might be like. I will never forget somebody doing that for me.”
Galvagna also has a formal mentor at BofA Private Bank, a senior leader in another line of business at the organization, who she connected with during one of the bank’s leadership training programs.
IN THE SHORT AND LONG RUN
Galvagna was born the eldest of three sisters, each two years apart, and grew up in Westfield, Mass., about two hours west of Boston. Her aunts, uncles and cousins all lived in the area and were members of a large close-knit Italian family — the Fazzi clan.
Athletic from a early age, she joined the gymnastics team, though she dropped the sport after hitting a growth spurt during the ninth grade, growing five inches during a single summer. That’s when she put her legs to work for the track team, competing in the mile and two-mile races, and the cross-country team by running the 5K (3.1 miles).
These days Galvagna spends her time cycling, up and peddling at 5 a.m. on a stationary bicycle, her workout time doubling as the start of her workday, responding to emails, reading, preparing speeches, and so on.
“I’m in the gym anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour on the bike,” she specifies. “I can really focus. I am not getting phone calls and people aren’t walking by and knocking on my door. It’s where I have my space. It’s an incredibly productive hour for me.”
MONEY ON THE MOVE
Jennifer Galvagna became a member of Bank of America Private Bank in 2004 when BofA acquired Fleet Bank. Among her points of focus at the private bank is the estimated $84 trillion of generational wealth being transferred from the aging baby boomers to subsequent generations over the next two decades.
“Baby boomers are retiring, and they are planning their estates,” she says. “They are actively transitioning their wealth.”
That is creating new target markets (namely generation Z and millennials, recipients of the tidal transfer of wealth), a critical level of business for an executive such as Galvagna, whose team applies its expertise in trusts, estates and taxes.
Though long in financial services, Galvagna’s legal experience continues to serve her well.
“I have a legal eye all the time. You don’t lose that; it is part of who you are,” she says, while stressing that she doesn’t provide legal advice in her role at the bank.
In addition to leading a team within the private bank, Galvagna has spent her career teaching certification courses at the university level, the most recent nine years at Boston University, and the previous 11 years at Northeastern University — in both cases teaching subjects ranging from tax, trusts, estates, and estate administration. She also teaches certification programs for the American Bankers Association.
“You don’t hear very often that somebody majored in trust administration in college. In fact, I think there is only one college in the country that actually offers that, so people are learning on the job in many cases,” says Galvagna.
Her work life started at age 13 when she, along with many kids in her town, found employment at a western Massachusetts tobacco farm for a few consecutive summers, where she and coworkers prepared large tobacco leaves to be used as cigar wrappers. Galvagna would sew the leaves onto strings that were hung from barn rafters to dry.
“I have never not worked,” the industrious Galvagna asserts.
Burger King employed her at 15, and by age 16 Galvagna scored a retail job at The Limited at the Holyoke Mall in Holyoke, Mass., where she worked through high school graduation. It was at The Limited she discovered her sales skills, while also enjoying her employee discount. She also spent six of her college and law school years employed by the Marriott Hotel at Copley Place in downtown Boston. She was a bellhop, carrying guests’ luggage during nights and weekends to help pay her tuition costs. She also drove the limo for the hotel.
It was Galvagna’s father who instilled a powerful work ethic in his daughter, an attribute one never loses, she says, and she isn’t shy about identifying her devotion to hard work as an indispensable characteristic that fueled her career progress.
“I have an incredible work ethic,” she says, as if to make sure the point has not been missed. “I will outwork anyone, and I absolutely love what I do. I’m constantly thinking what I could be doing next to drive something forward. It’s really a part of who I am. I am tenacious.”
Galvagna has now been applying her work ethic at Bank of America Private Bank for 21 years, all of those years in Boston, and many of her years before that. For 13 of those years she lived on Boston’s north end, the city’s Italian district, filled with old apartment buildings and amazing restaurants. She lived for several years in a walk-up apartment (no elevators), eventually buying a small condominium in a section of the north end that allowed her to walk everywhere.
“Boston is a very walkable city.”
When her children were getting ready to start school, Galvagna and her husband Anthony started thinking in terms of quality school districts, which prompted them to move to Winchester, where they still live today, about seven miles north of Boston. Though no longer technically in Boston, Winchester offers the couple a short commute to their Boston offices and easy access to the city’s cultural attractions.
THE INDUSTRIOUS, THE CHARISMATIC
Besides a granite work ethic, the other chief characteristic Galvagna looks for when hiring team members is charisma, someone with whom you can sit and have an enjoyable conversation, she says, a person who exudes confidence and personality — people who come across as intellectually curious, who ask a lot of questions, and are generally engaging.
“I love charisma.”
It’s an attribute Galvagna emanates as well.
She stresses that being charismatic and the ability to carry a conversation is critical in the age of video meetings, where the subtleties of facial and body language are difficult to read. Those with strong and engaging personalities are the people skilled at driving the ubiquitous video meetings. Short of that, people are likely to feel disconnected from the proceedings.
It’s a new reality Galvagna knows well.
“I am on video conferences all day,” she says. “Very rarely do I have something in person. I really look for people who have that level of engagement, who have energy and personality.”
That is not a lament. Galvagna looks forward to her time in the office, facing down a video screen, mentoring others, passing coworkers in the corridors and shooting the breeze.
“I am very lucky that every day I look forward to reporting to work,” she says. “I have absolutely hit the lottery.”
Mike Consol (email@example.com) is senior editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter (@mikeconsol) and LinkedIn (linkedIn.com/in/mikeconsol) to read his latest postings.