Kristen Robinson Darcy, EMBA '13
Christopher Reichert, MOT '04, sits down with Kristen Robinson Darcy, EMBA '13, who is currently the SVP Service and Marketing at Fidelity Charitable, and discussed taking time to understand the behavior of individuals and what matters to individuals in business.
Christopher Reichert: Welcome to Sloanies Talking with Sloanies, a candid conversation with alumni and faculty about the MIT Sloan experience and how it influences what they're doing today. So what does it mean to be a Sloanie? Over the course of this podcast, you'll hear from guests who are making a difference in their community, including our own very important one here at Sloan.
Christopher Reichert: Hi, I'm Christopher Reichert.
Kristen Robinson Darcy: Hi, I'm Kristen Robinson Darcy.
Christopher Reichert: And welcome to Sloanies Talking with Sloanies. Thanks for joining us for the eighth in our series.
Kristen Robinson Darcy: My pleasure. Great to be here.
Christopher Reichert: Tell us where do you work now and tell us about the last few years and few jobs that you've had.
Kristen Robinson Darcy: I work at Fidelity Charitable. I moved to Raleigh, North Carolina a year ago because the corporate headquarters for Fidelity Charitable is there. Prior to that I worked at Fidelity Investments where I led a lot of their digital strategy, including their new cognitive computing platform.
Christopher Reichert: Wow. That sounds like a handful.
Kristen Robinson Darcy: It was fun.
Christopher Reichert: Now, I've heard that if I start doing a southern drawl that you might join me in that.
Kristen Robinson Darcy: That's entirely possible.
Christopher Reichert: We'll see how that goes.
Christopher Reichert: When did you graduate and with what degree?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: I graduated in 2013 with an EMBA degree. It was the second cohort for the new EMBA program.
Christopher Reichert: How was that experience? Do you think that being the second that they learned a lot from those few early years?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: Yes, absolutely. I'm glad we weren't the first. I'm happy we were the second. Really what was unique about our class is that it was 60 individuals and then after our class they ended up doubling it. So we really had an opportunity to get to know each other really well and really shaped the program that it is today.
Christopher Reichert: That's great. You're involved with Sloan now as the Chair of the MIT Sloan Alumni Board.
Kristen Robinson Darcy: That's correct.
Christopher Reichert: Tell us how did you get pulled into that and into the leadership position?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: Yes, so I have been on the board for three years now, and I've been on several different projects in the past. We broke out into project teams. And a year ago I was in the airport and I got a call and they asked me if I would be interested in taking over the chair position.
Christopher Reichert: And it was probably her British lilt that kind of pulled you in?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: It was. Yes, absolutely. How can you say no to her?
Christopher Reichert: That's right. We'll interview her later.
Kristen Robinson Darcy: I look forward to that. That'd be great.
Christopher Reichert: Tell us what you did before Sloan that led you to Sloan.
Kristen Robinson Darcy: For many, many years I wanted to get my masters. I've been married for 18 years, and every year I would say to my husband, "I need to go get my master's." And he would say, "Why don't you go and do it?" And I would give him all the excuses of why I couldn't. So finally it was actually around the holidays and I said my usual, "I want to go and get my master's." And he said, "Please just do it. Stop talking about it." So I said, "Well, I'm only going to do it if I can go to MIT or if I can go to Harvard." It just so happened that the new EMBA program was starting and I was able to do that and continue working, which was ideal for me.
Christopher Reichert: Prior to Sloan, how did you find your time at Sloan informed what you're doing now?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: Oh my gosh, it's informed me so much. I mean, I think that for me, Sloan's mission as you know, is to make sure that they're delivering innovative leaders who make an impact in the world. And so for me, I probably never would have moved to North Carolina to go into the Fidelity Charitable and the nonprofit space, but when I came out of school, I thought that I really needed to give back more, and so I very strategically paved my career to the nonprofit sector, and I've been there for about a year. I lead service operations and marketing, and I'm learning a lot.
Christopher Reichert: You've been at Fidelity for over 10 years now.
Kristen Robinson Darcy: I have.
Christopher Reichert: So you were at Fidelity prior, but in different areas.
Kristen Robinson Darcy: I was. I was in the personal investing business unit, so the retail side of our business.
Christopher Reichert: Did Sloan get you to change your direction towards a nonprofit and the charitable side?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: Absolutely.
Christopher Reichert: Tell us about that.
Kristen Robinson Darcy: Yes. I initially—
Christopher Reichert: Because that's not a normal path for people to do, right? At Sloan?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: No. It's very unusual, although the more you talk to Sloanies I think the more you do see that actually. At least at a minimum, giving back. I went to Sloan originally because I really did want to change the way that I was thinking. In particular, I really wanted to become a much more data-driven decision maker, so MIT was the obvious choice. But as I was here and really had an opportunity to reflect on my leadership and reflect on what was really important to me, I knew that I ultimately wanted to come out and help people. And in particular, when I applied to Sloan in my essay I wrote about how I want to help veterans. I come from a very big military family. That's why I had a southern drawl. I grew up my first 10 years of my life in North Carolina and then moved to Massachusetts.
Christopher Reichert: Did you travel a lot as a child in the military?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: I did. Yes, primarily in the south.
Christopher Reichert: So an army brat?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: A marine brat.
Kristen Robinson Darcy: I really do think that we as a country need to do more for our veterans, that they really give us their ultimate sacrifice. I've seen it with my own family. My brother actually just retired from the military after 25 years and he's now a Jet Blue pilot, so you'll have to look for him if you're flying out of Boston. I think that that is what really motivated me. As I was at Sloan, it just became clearer and clearer that I needed to somehow get there.
Christopher Reichert: Right. In the marine community ... Well, I guess that's really a question. Was there a community as you shifted around, that you found at Sloan as well? In other words the draw towards creating the community or nurturing a community?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: I think that I was too young at that point in time. I moved back to Massachusetts when I was 10.
Christopher Reichert: When your father retired?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: No, actually my parents got divorced. My father is from North Carolina and my mother is from Massachusetts. You know where I ended up. She raised me ... single mom ... myself and two other children.
Christopher Reichert: So you've essentially gone home right, to North Carolina?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: I have, yes.
Christopher Reichert: Maybe not the same city. How does it feel culturally to have left and then come back?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: North Carolina has always felt like home to me for some reason. I mean Boston does as well and Massachusetts, of course. Every time I would get off the airplane and get that nice big gust of humidity and hardly be able to talk, I felt like that was home for some weird reason. Actually, I love running when it's humid, and it must be because I ran a lot when I was a child or something. Probably from people; I'm not really sure.
Christopher Reichert: What compelled you to stay engaged with Sloan and how useful has the network been for you? It's been six years, right, this year?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: There are a lot of reasons that I'm engaged with Sloan. Being on the board and having that opportunity, I'm truly humbled and honored to be on that. For me, I think that there's just more that I have to give, and more that we as a community need to do.
This is a fairly new board. We're five years in. I think that we've done a lot of really great work, but we're not done. I'm really excited about the future because I think that where we're headed, we're partnering now with the Student Senate, so we're really trying to bridge that gap between our students, MIT Sloan students, as well as our alumni. I think that's something that we need to do, that we need to really help these individuals who are graduating and help them leverage this network. We have a tremendous opportunity to be a much more cohesive network.
Christopher Reichert: Yeah, this year the Alumni Board has changed its format. So tell us a bit about that, the reason for that shift and what do you expect that experiment to—
Kristen Robinson Darcy: Just like any organization you need to build on it. You need to continuously look at your organization and figure out what levers you need to pull and what you want to experiment and try, so we are truly experimenting this year. But what we heard from the board members are a few things. One is that when we're on these projects, we are a working board, so let me just stop and talk about that a little bit. What we do is we're not just sitting and advising, we actually have projects that we work on, and we have specific deliverables and recommendations that we give to the Offices of External Relations. So that's the structure that we have. Typically in the past, we had one project that a team would work on and we had three different teams. And they would work on it really the entire year, and then come back into Cambridge in June and share their findings and plan with OER what we were doing next.
But what we heard, and really the way the world is evolving is that a year is too long. And so we need to make sure that the work that we're doing is not only timely, but it's also relevant and that OER is ready to actually leverage it.
We've been working really closely. And we've tried a lot of great things, and we really have a wonderful foundation to build on, but now we're changing that just a little bit. What we're doing is we're getting the organization to come together and really align to a division. So it could be, let's see, the Executive Education we're partnering with and then the CDO Office and, like I said, the Senate. So what we're doing is we're really trying to change this from being a long process to more short sprints and addressing real problems and being alongside them.
That's part of the structure, that we're becoming advisors to these different units, business units or divisions within MIT Sloan. And then the other thing we're doing are these 90 day sprints. We have a problem that we're trying to solve, and we're going to have teams that really align to those. And then lastly, we have what we call “ad hoc.” These are items that just come up. A lot of times we're tapped on the shoulder, maybe one of us, maybe two of us, maybe it's fundraising. So for all of the Sloanies who are listening, Dean’s Circle is where it's at. But I would just say that it could be a lot of different things.
The other driver of changing the structure is because the individuals on the board really wanted to spend more time with each other. And so we come into Cambridge once a year and with this new format we're able to have these teams, the advisory teams, then we have these sprints and we have this ad hoc work. What it's done and what we believe it will do is really get a more integrated community at the board level.
Christopher Reichert: Like me, you left six years ago, I left, well, this is my 15th year. But I'm local so I'm always on campus, and I'm very much engaged in the local Alumni Association. But thinking back on your time ... it was a year, right? The EMBA program is a year long?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: Two.
Christopher Reichert: Two years.
Kristen Robinson Darcy: They say 20 months, but yeah, round up.
Christopher Reichert: Do you have a favorite Sloan memory, a class, an engagement with students?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: I have a lot of really fond memories. I mean it wasn't that long ago. I guess a few I'll share with you. One is Professor John Van Maanen. He introduced us to MIT Sloan. I remember it very vividly. They bring us for 10 days on campus. That's kind of our immersion when we start. We spent a lot of time with him. I just really took a lot of what he taught us, not only about MIT Sloan but more importantly, or as importantly, about really taking time. He was one of the initiators of ethnography. That's when you take the time to understand and analyze the behavior of people, of individuals. And because I develop a lot of experiences, whether it's digital or whether it's customer experiences or even product, it's really important that we understand our clients and not just on the surface, not just from a survey, but we need to observe them and really understand what matters to them and look at them as human beings.
That's one of the things that I've taken with me in really all facets of my life, to step back sometimes really observe your surroundings, see what's going on around you and make decisions based on a lot of different inputs.
Christopher Reichert: What about if you could have a do over at Sloan, what would it be? Is it a class?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: System Dynamics.
Christopher Reichert: Did you take that class?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: I did. Of course I did.
Christopher Reichert: Which means you wouldn't take it again? Or would you work harder at it?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: No, I actually saw Nelson Repenning. He was here today, as you know. He was speaking with us on leadership. I actually grabbed him afterwards and I said, "I would really like to retake System Dynamics." Two reasons. One is I don't think I probably did as well as I could have done it.
Christopher Reichert: It's a difficult subject.
Kristen Robinson Darcy: It's a really difficult subject. It's like a big puzzle. And also I think that I would do better now. So I told him I would like a “do over” and he told me that would be fine.
Christopher Reichert: Did he bring up his certificate idea?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: No, but he said that with my volunteerism that I may have earned a free class with him.
Christopher Reichert: Right, good. Well I think as you work with a charitable board you can
Kristen Robinson Darcy: Yes, that's right.
Christopher Reichert: What's the difference between the Fidelity Charitable side and the customer needs that they have versus the more, I guess, commercial side?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: With the commercial side, what I was responsible for was building digital experiences. So it was on .com, it was our mobile app. It was developing smart chat bots and things like that. And so we were looking to deliver guidance to all of our clients, but knew that we needed to do it in a scalable way.
Christopher Reichert: Right, so that's on the personal investing side?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: Yep, exactly. They are very much digitally led. Most of our customers prefer that. And so we needed to make sure it was a really great experience for them, and frictionless and that we gave them everything that they needed.
Whereas on the charitable side, it's very different because we are a nonprofit and we have what we call a “Donor Advise Fund.” Think of it as a platform essentially, where people can go ahead and donate money and their money can grow, they can pick their investment strategies and then their money grows over time. But then they also have the opportunity to grant out their money. For us, we granted out over $5 billion last year.
Christopher Reichert: Wow, that's a huge fund that you're drawing from.
Kristen Robinson Darcy: It's a huge fund that we're drawing from. It was our biggest year yet as far as granting. Our goal is to take this money and make sure that we're granting as much as we possibly can. And also that we're helping people with their philanthropic strategies. Because that's what we've found as well, is that people don't always know they might want to give to veterans or they might want to give to food insecurity or there might be something that they're really passionate about, but they don't really know where to start. They don't know how to look at different nonprofits and so forth. So we also do a lot of education. We do a lot of webinars and have a lot of content.
Christopher Reichert: So that's the attraction pipeline? In other words, why they would invest with Fidelity versus other advise funds.
Kristen Robinson Darcy: Definitely, yes. We definitely help people figure out a strategy. Some people know exactly what they want to do, but many don't. So this is a really good vehicle that they can put their money in and then they can determine their strategy.
Christopher Reichert: I've always been curious, is there a time period where it's allowed to grow without distribution or does it have to be pretty much immediately distributed?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: No, there's a time period. You basically have four years that you can go ahead and grant it. And it's a minimum amount that you need to give.
Christopher Reichert: A percentage of the particular principal.
Kristen Robinson Darcy: Well, it's actually a dollar amount. But we're constantly ... I mean the thing about our donors is they're very generous. Actually our payout rate is higher than foundations which have a mandatory 5% payout.
Christopher Reichert: Yeah, that's the number that I've heard.
Kristen Robinson Darcy: Yes. We're at over 20% payout.
Christopher Reichert: Wow, well I hope one day to be able to join.
Kristen Robinson Darcy: Good. Well, we would appreciate that.
Christopher Reichert: Got a ways to go on that.
Christopher Reichert: What's your definition of success?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: Personally, I have two daughters, so part of my definition of success is making sure that I'm raising two children who are going to make a very big impact in the world and make a difference. That's probably my biggest job.
I think career-wise, it's really making sure that I path my career. So obviously I'm in the nonprofit sector. As I said, I'm on a very big learning journey, which I love and thrive in, which of course all Sloanies do, but for me it's really getting out and at some point just making a bigger difference to either children who need food security or for veterans.
Christopher Reichert: Excellent, what's the last thing you geeked out about?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: Oh my gosh. Well, I did watch Game of Thrones. I mean that was just horrible, horrible ending. I geek out all the time. I'm a very curious person. I guess one of the things that I did last week was I have Prime now and all of a sudden I saw that you can actually get wine and beer delivered in two hours. And I thought, "There's no way that you can get that."
Christopher Reichert: But you tried it?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: Of course I did. My husband was home. I went on and I thought it would be kind of funny that all of a sudden I have this wine show up. So I did. I actually ordered some wine and they knocked on the door and had him sign. Yeah, within an hour. They were really quick. It was during the day.
Christopher Reichert: They knew it was urgent.
Kristen Robinson Darcy: They must have known.
Christopher Reichert: It was before 5:00. She really needs this.
Kristen Robinson Darcy: I really wanted to see ... I mean I wanted the wine of course, but I think more importantly I was just really curious to see does this really work and how do they actually do it. I think that I'm just naturally a very curious person, so I do things like that all the time. I like to see how things work.
Christopher Reichert: Any parting advice for perspective Sloanies or even alumni?
Kristen Robinson Darcy: Oh, I would say “just do it.” Don't over think it. If you're thinking about coming to MIT Sloan, you should just look and talk to people, potentially attend some of the admissions sessions that they have where you can learn more. But for me I came on campus and I knew the moment I stepped on. So I would say just come.
And for alumni I would say get connected. That's what this MIT Sloan Alumni Board is all about, is really making sure that we're engaged as a community and we're connected. So if you're not, there's so many opportunities for you. I would just say connect with your class if you haven't reached out for a while. Connect to us. We have plenty of work, some volunteer work that you can do. So we would just love to connect with all of you and get a stronger community ultimately.
Christopher Reichert: Excellent, well thank you very much Kristen Robinson Darcy, EMBA ’13, for joining Sloanies Talking with Sloanies.
Kristen Robinson Darcy: Thank you, Christopher.
Christopher Reichert: Sloanies Talking with Sloanies is produced by the Office of External Relations at MIT Sloan School of Management. You can subscribe to this podcast by visiting our website, mitsloan.mit.edu/alumni or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. Support for this podcast comes in part from the Sloan Annual Fund, which provides essential flexible funding to assure that our community can pursue excellence. Make your gift today by visiting giving.mit.edu/sloan.