Corporate Clubs: Making an International Investment
Financial-services giant enjoys a wealth of clubs.
By Paul Sterman
Photo Caption: Frank Wu, of State Street club in Boston, Mass., receives his CC award. He’s flanked by fellow members Richard Smith (left) and Ron Dagostino (right).
State Street Corporation is a business with a global presence. A provider of financial services to institutional investors, it’s one of the world’s leaders in this field, operating in 27 countries and employing more than 27,000 people worldwide. So when it comes to corporate Toastmasters clubs, it’s fitting that State Street has an international presence in that category as well.
The company, headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, hosts several clubs in the Boston area, and more in Sydney, Australia; Paris, France; and Toronto, Canada. It is currently forming new clubs in Sacramento, California; Hangzhou, China; and Dublin, Ireland.
More may be on the way.
“I have had interest from our employees in Hong Kong and Bangalore, India, who have heard about the benefits of Toastmasters,” says Heather Thompson, assistant vice president for State Street’s Global Human Resources department. “Many of our newer clubs have been inspired by the success of other State Street Toastmasters clubs.”
Because State Street’s business language is English, most of the clubs operate in the language, meaning that many members of clubs outside the U.S. give speeches in a secondary language. That can be quite daunting, notes Thompson, who has participated in the Australia club. She is impressed with how employees overcome this challenge and move from being just fluent speakers to being confident speakers.
“It really is fantastic to see people learn to give compelling speeches and presentations and then to realize it has been done in a secondary language,” Thompson says.
In this global age, international companies increasingly value communication skills, which are not only important from a business aspect but from a cultural perspective, as well. To that end, State Street is a staunch supporter of its Toastmasters clubs. It provides each with a location to meet as well as a budget that covers materials, conference fees, educational events and even employee rewards for achieving Toastmasters milestones, such as earning a Competent Communicator award.
State Street’s leadership believes in the Toastmasters program so much that it even provides its own club sponsor – Executive Vice President Stefan Gmür offers support to the groups and champions their activities among State Street management.
“The benefits of confident and well-structured speakers representing our business, both internally and externally, are undeniable,” says Gmür, “and Toastmasters is an excellent way to allow employees to develop these skills.”
Club members come from many different departments within State Street. With members often practicing their sales presentations or speaking about business-related topics, the clubs are a great way for employees to learn more about the company from each other.
Members of the State Street groups talk enthusiastically about their experience, saying that their new skills have made them better at their jobs. Anthony Guiang, who works in the Toronto, Canada, office, is a senior manager in the financial reporting department who often gives presentations to groups of 200 employees or more. He joined the company club to become more confident and says all the practicing in club meetings has helped.
“I do feel less nervous speaking in front of a large crowd,” says Guiang. “The jitters never really go away but I’ve learned how to manage them.”
Natalie Sterck works at State Street Global Markets in Sydney, Australia, and is a founding member of its two-year-old Toastmasters club. Club president in 2008-2009, she has given speeches on a variety of topics.
“Being on the club executive committee really helped me improve my leadership skills, including how to motivate and engage a group of people, how to lead the club executive meetings, the basics of planning an agenda and following up action points, all of which were directly transferable to my [job] duties,” says Sterck, assistant to the head of State Street’s Asia Pacific operations. “My manager, who is a big supporter of Toastmasters and a new club member, recognizes the development opportunities offered by Toastmasters and has included it in my performance goals and review.”
Tien Truong recalls her first-ever visit to the State Street club at the Boston headquarters, where she works: “I was really impressed by a person I met there, because she was giving her first speech and spoke so eloquently and confidently, and was so poised. I was sitting in the back, extremely nervous, and I wished I could be that person some day. I joined the club the very next day.”
Making a Wish Come True
Since taking that first hopeful step nearly five years ago, Truong has indeed transformed herself, becoming an enthusiastic and accomplished speaker. She attends two State Street clubs in Boston, has served in several officer roles – including club president and division governor – and is close to earning her DTM. During the last couple of summers, she has helped lead a well-received Speechcraft program for managers at Boston’s Four Seasons Hotel. Truong also uses her communication skills to volunteer in community programs such as Junior Achievement.
“When I first joined the State Street club, I was so nervous that I couldn’t even get up to speak in Table Topics,” recalls Truong, a vice president for State Street Alternative Investment Solutions. “I would kick myself because I knew there was always one question I wanted to answer but I wouldn’t get up to answer it.
“Now I get up there and I feel very comfortable speaking because of everything I learned from Toastmasters. It has built confidence in me. Without Toastmasters, I wouldn’t have been able to do business mentoring for Junior Achievement, where you stand up in front of a classroom of 30 high school students and help them build a case study in business.”
Truong feels the impact at work, too. Recently, she attended a large meeting held by top executives in her unit. During the Q&A session that followed, she stood up and asked a couple of questions. “Afterward, my boss said, ‘You did well. It must be your Toastmasters training that really helped you.’
“I said, ‘Yes, indeed it is.’”
Ron Dagostino, who works at State Street Global Advisors in Boston, has experienced a similar improvement. When he visited his first State Street Toastmasters meeting a couple of years ago, the thought of public speaking scared him – so he knew he had to join. A vice president and senior software architect, Dagostino is glad he tackled the challenge, because the Boston club has given him new skills and self-assurance.
“It’s definitely helped my work,” he says. “I’m much more confident in any meeting-type situation or any situations where I have to make a formal presentation.”
Paul Sterman is a Toastmaster in Orange, California, and an associate editor for the Toastmaster magazine.