Witad Awards 2020: Trailblazer (lifetime achievement)—Barb O’Malley, Northern Trust

Witad 2020

Barb O’Malley, head of client solutions consulting at Northern Trust in Chicago, wins the trailblazer (lifetime achievement) award at this year’s Women in Technology and Data Awards, joining past winners, Refinitiv’s Debra Walton (2018) and Bank of America’s Cathy Bessant (2019). O’Malley is a bona fide veteran of the capital markets, having spent more than three decades in the industry, initially as a techie before transitioning to more business-focused roles within the firm.

“Back in the mid-1990s, we had an aging online presence with an aged repository sitting behind it,” she recalls. “I’ve spent the last 25 years building out and improving our Passport offering, first on the technology side and now on the business side with product development for the next generation of our digital offering. Our online presence is something I’ve been associated with through various roles for all 36 years of my career here.”

Part of O’Malley’s day-to-day role entails evaluating what she describes as “the next generation of technologies,” of which the firm’s API strategy plays a pivotal role, in addition to developing more intuitive online tools for clients. “We are focusing on what we call ‘human-centered design’ and building applications based on how users want to interact and not on what a technology person thinks is important,” she says.   

According to O’Malley, Northern Trust has a “robust” Women in Leadership development forum—of which she is one of the facilitators—that invites high-potential vice president-level women to participate in a year-long program that takes them through various modules to develop their skills and help them continue on the leadership path. The firm also has a high staff-retention rate, indicating a happy and settled staff. “Part of it is the culture, part of it is the benefits, and it’s also a family-friendly organization.” she says. “I also think it’s about inviting women to the conversation—that’s how you get them to feel valued and empowered.”

O’Malley is fortunate, she says, to have had a number of good role models over the years, chief among whom was her retired manager, Pete Magrini, formerly executive vice president of technology, who constantly challenged her. “I was doing well and I was happy in my role, and he suggested that I rip out and overhaul the aging security module of our Passport suite,” she says. “He said: ‘Hey! You’re going to lead this project. Here are two people to help you. Go figure it out.’ He pushed me a little out of my comfort zone and it worked out really well for my career.”v

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