Girl Friday: Alejandra Villagra
Photography by: Isabelle Ratane
Alejandra, better known as Ali, is the Managing Director of Citibank’s Institutional Clients Group in NYC and is an incredibly smart, accomplished, and lovely young woman. After graduating from Dartmouth, she spent years working on Wall Street as one of the only women on the trading floor. In addition to training as a classical pianist, she’s also an accomplished mountaineer in her off-hours, having climbed Vinson Massif, the highest mountain in Antarctica. Read her Top Five Tips for Entrepreneurs and her Girl Friday interview below.
Tell us a little bit about your job. What do you like best about it; what is most challenging?
I work in Citi’s Institutional Clients Group, which is the part of
My job is akin to part Palo Alto startup, part Wall Street bank.
the bank responsible for Investment Banking and Sales and Trading in the Financial Markets. I’ve had a few roles in my 13 years at Citi, but right now I’m responsible for building technology to help clients make trading decisions. My job is akin to part Palo Alto startup, part Wall Street bank. I sit in the middle of a trading floor the size of two football fields with about 900 other people. (I let go of any delusions of privacy a long time ago). It’s rare in this business to create things you can see and touch and feel, I value the opportunity to think creatively in an otherwise very quantitative environment where products are mostly intangible.
Today, things feel much better, but from 2007-2010 we were going through the financial crisis. I called my Mom from the trading floor the day the House voted down TARP, the DOW fell over 700 points while we were on the phone. The exposure to everything happening during that period was obviously very stressful to so many people inside and outside of the industry.
You’re newly married and your wedding was featured in the New York Times. You two have the sweetest relationship. Can you tell us a little about your husband and about your journey to the altar?
Jason climbs mountains, has four motorcycles and is absurdly handy. (He’s an architect, but did construction for several years). In some ways he is a total ‘guy’s guy,’ but he is also very tuned into his emotions, which is extremely important to me.
I shop for groceries online, buy my suits online, and even found my man online!
We met through Okcupid.com. I’m an online enthusiast! I shop for groceries online, buy my suits online, and even found my man online! (I went on to buy my wedding dress online, too). After an incredible year together that included trekking to Everest Base Camp and road biking across Italy, we got engaged, then later married at City Hall in Manhattan. Being in an atmosphere where a whole bunch of people are sharing their happy day creates the best vibe. My wedding day was the happiest day of my life.
What is your favorite thing about living in New York? Least favorite?
Most: Access to anything,including specifically, lots of awesome coffee shops.
Least: The frenetic pace of everything.
How would you describe your style and what role does fashion play in your world?
No one ever asks me this question, thank you! When I was a little girl, I would put on an outfit and imagine I could become whatever I looked like. That kind of dreaming was very appealing; it was also instant, and patience is not my strong suit.
When I go to work, my style choices are all about credibility. At this stage of my career I’m also conscious I’m setting an example for younger female colleagues. I wear suits and dresses that are flattering but don’t distract from what I’m saying. I always wear heels, I like to be as tall as my male counterparts. I prefer to own a few investment pieces instead of having a lot of things I’m not committed to. The Row makes beautiful basics. A friend of mine in NY with impeccable style introduced me to De Vera, which has wonderful jewelry, often vintage. I like to mix their pieces with my work clothes to give the corporate uniform a little more interest.
What books or media have had an impact on your life?
I listen to audio books while I am working out and in the morning when I’m getting ready for work.
Jason got me into audio books. I listen to them while I am working out and in the morning when I’m getting ready for work. I don’t have a lot of time to read, so I’ve been really happy to have books back in my life in a consumable fashion. I’m listening to Team of Rivals right now, and just finished Shogun.
Stumbling On Happiness by Daniel Gilbert is definitely worth picking up, I read somewhere that Bill Clinton found it impactful to his thinking. In addition to being funny, it’s the book I reference more than anything else I can think of. I learned a lot about decision making reading it.
You’re a classically trained pianist. In a busy life filled with all the things we typically try to juggle as women, are you still able to find time for your art?
I’d love to say I do, but my piano is in storage, which is a reflection of physical space in our apartment, time constraints, and a bit of classical pianist baggage. I’m still a little burned out from practicing every day for 15 years! Jason comes from a family of artists, and my sister Julia is the founder of a chamber music series in NYC called Tertulia. We make the arts a priority, but for now I am more of a consumer than a producer, which is a role I am enjoying.
One of the things I find so inspiring about you is your sense of adventure. You always seem to be planning a mountain climbing expedition somewhere exotic! Why are you so drawn to these physical challenges in nature?
At least once a week I say out loud to myself: I climbed to the top of the highest mountain on Antarctica, I can do this!
Elementary things–stay warm, stay dry, eat enough, don’t fall–are so all-consuming in the mountains that my brain actually gets a vacation from itself. When I sit on the beach I think (worry) about a zillion things: work, the future, what our cats are doing at home.
Away from exhausting my brain into a zen-like state, climbing is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. With that kind of tough experience comes wisdom that is applicable to everyday life. At least once a week I say out loud to myself: I climbed to the top of the highest mountain on Antarctica, I can do this! Mountaineering has given me confidence to tackle things I used to run away from. It’s also taught me patience. You go up a mountain one step at a time, there is no rushing the outcome.
How are you training for your next adventure?
Mountain biking, trail running, beach running, running up and down my building stairs with a backpack full of kitty litter! I also work out with a trainer, we’ve been focused on strength training and some technical climbing technique. Getting ready for a big mountain is a huge commitment, but it gives exercise a purpose. The more time I put into training, the less suffering there is on the climb.
If you weren’t in your current field, what would you be doing?
I like to imagine all sorts of careers, but they are just curiosities about what life would be like if I
I look forward to the day when a woman running a business isn’t a cover story, it’s just business as usual.
was a [fill in the blank] – contractor, diplomat, mountain guide. Daniel Gilbert does a great job of explaining why we often misjudge what will make us happy, I think about his book often when I’m being romantic about other career paths.
What would you most like to see change in the world for other women in your field?
We are very much in the mode of celebrating the female role models we have in finance and tech, which is good, inspiring, and necessary right now. I look forward to the day when a woman running a business isn’t a cover story, it’s just business as usual.
Girl Friday is a phrase more common to the 1940s and 50s, defined as “a female employee who has a wide range of duties,” and is most recognizable from the film His Girl Friday. Here at Move LifeStyle, we’re resurrecting its saucy vibe for the title of our last column of the week which profiles inspiring women in the workforce. For more inspiring stories, click here for more Girl Friday Interviews.