Sallie Krawcheck has never been afraid to speak her mind. Once the subject of a Fortune cover story that posited she may be "the last honest analyst," the former CEO of Sanford Bernstein and head of Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch rose to Wall Street fame for her tough calls on stocks amid an era of conflicts of interest. Her 2008 exit from Citi, where she ran the wealth management group, came shortly after she pushed the bank to help clients who'd lost money on investments that had been sold as low risk — a position she says was at odds with her boss's.

And now that she has moved beyond the financial services executive suite and purchased the women's network 85 Broads, Krawcheck seems even more free to speak openly. During a recent speech at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business — Krawcheck is a diehard Tarheel who attended the school as a Morehead-Cain Scholar — she talked about the jobs she's had and the lessons she's learned. She shared that when looking for her first job as a research analyst, Morgan Stanley made her an offer but took it back after learning she was pregnant. She candidly talks about the "10 months of sitting on the sofa in my sweatpants" after her exit from Citi.

And she speaks unabashedly about the amount of time women spend doing their hair and makeup as an example of how societal expectations influence what women feel they must, or can't, make time for. ("For me, for years, it was exercise," Krawcheck admits. "That’s why the good Lord made Spanx.")

Most of all, she gives freely of hard-earned advice. "We women in theory are more emotional than the guys, but we are allowed a narrower emotional channel at work," she says, recalling the double standard that exists for female leaders who are maligned for losing their temper while it's acceptable for men to do the same. "If you want to be successful, at least for the time being, that’s what one has to navigate."

Still, when it comes to her plans for 85 Broads, Krawcheck holds her cards a bit closer. Following her speech at UNC, I sat down with Krawcheck to ask about her vision for the professional women's network, which she purchased in May from founder Janet Hanson. It will be re-branded, but no details on that yet. When asked about reports that the network will start investing in women-owned businesses and how it might do so, Krawcheck laughs and says "you're further ahead than we are on that."

She does say, however, that the organization's research shows 50 percent of its 32,000 members are interested in investing in other women. She also admits to some changes — getting rid of job listings and book sales on the Web site, for example. Still, she doesn't have a target goal for the network's ultimate size. "Bigger," is all Krawcheck will say. "Bigger is good."

Below is an edited excerpt of our conversation:

Q. 85 Broads started out as a free network designed for women in the financial services industry, but it's now a subscription-based network that has expanded its reach to all professional women. What is your vision for where you want to take it from here?

A. It’s actually not my vision. It’s got to be the network’s vision. And that’s not just semantics. There are some surprising similarities between having responsibility for Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch and having responsibility for a network. These are groups of individuals who have chosen to affiliate with an organization. At Merrill and Smith Barney, those guys have the clients with them, and they can leave whenever they want. There’s really a similarity to it. Okay network, what do you want? What’s the need out there? It's not what does Sallie want. It's what does the ultimate client want.

So we’ve actually spent time within 85 Broads talking to the members and polling the members. They definitely want the connections and the network. They want the education. Some good number of them want to get together in smaller groups. And some of them are actually telling us that they want to invest behind other women. Some are doing that informally within the network, either through mentoring or through investing in other women’s businesses as angels. But right now, we’re focused mostly on the basics.

Q. You must have had some plans of what you wanted to do with this organization when you decided to purchase it?

A. Look, I’m about impact. One can make impact if they run a big business with a lot of zeroes. I’ve done that. One can also make an impact when you’re a research analyst where it’s you and your associate. I’ve done that. I got offers from some hedge funds. I got a couple of calls saying, “Come in, we’ve got a business that needs to be turned around. Turn it around! No promises. But if you turn it around, you can be CEO!” I’m like, "What? Do you guys share the same script with each other? I’ve had this call. I’ve done it. It didn’t work out that way."

So I thought: I’m not going to do that again. For me, 85 Broads was not even so much about "I want to take it and do this with it." It is a point of leverage where I and my team and the network can have impact on something that matters. And this is something that matters — increasing diversity within companies.

Q. It seems like the issue of advancing women's careers is everywhere right bow. Why is that? Is it just because of Sheryl Sandberg's book "Lean In"?

A. No, it’s a combination. The numbers are so significant. Sixty percent of college attendees are female. A greater percentage of advanced degree attendees are females. Women are starting businesses at a greater rate than men. Women are first-time homeowners at a greater rate than men.

I would also argue that in management the keys for success are beginning to tilt toward some qualities that women bring to the table. We always think of a CEO as command and control. But with all the data available to everybody, it’s becoming more about communication, collaboration, bringing people together, understanding the information that’s out there, and sharing the information. These are qualities that many men possess, but a lot of women possess them too. So there’s something shifting in the qualities that drive success in business. There’s something about the numbers of women. And there is the massive amount of research about how diversity does drive stronger business results.

Plus, I would actually start it with Hillary Clinton and Hillary really making the rights of women a cornerstone of her time in the State Department. She has brought that to the forefront. She’s been enormous with this. Then, there is Anne-Marie Slaughter with her piece in the Atlantic, Sheryl Sandberg and Debora Spar's new book. There’s a lot of discussion and conversation about it. I'm not sure I’ve fully fleshed out this thought, but I do think people are looking for a little bit of a different way with capitalism.

Q. Are the Lean In "circles" a competitor to what you’re doing in any way?

A. I’ll tell you how I think about this: It’s all good.  This is by no means a zero sum game. There are 64 million professional women in the United States. These are very large numbers we’re talking about. Hitting these things in different ways, as we are right now, it’s almost like we’re all spitting in the ocean. [Sandberg's] message in the Lean In Circles is one great way of approaching it. It's enormously successful. Our networking is another.

Q. Speaking of Sandberg, it doesn't seem like a coincidence that two women at the center of this movement right now both hail from male-dominated industries: You from finance and Sandberg from tech.

A. I hadn’t thought about that until you said it. But yeah, why didn’t someone in the media industry write ["Lean In"]? Likely because in the media industry you have much greater gender representation. What she and I have both seen happen is that women fall out as they get more senior. It brings into stark relief the challenges that we face as women, and the lessons she and I can draw from the fact that we made it through. Yet her industry continues to grow. My industry has gone through a catastrophic downturn and has moved in the wrong direction in terms of diversity.

Q. What specifically do you think needs to be done to help change the finance industry’s culture and improve the number of women in the senior ranks?

A. Everybody in banking knows what the CAMELS rating is — Capital adequacy, Asset quality, Management quality, et cetera. What I have written about and talked about to regulators is, why don’t we take a look at this work on diversity? If we believe that more diversity of all kinds drives higher returns, lower risk, greater client focus and those good things that the research indicates, why wouldn’t we feed it into the M in the CAMELS rating? Right? Not force anybody to do anything, but why wouldn’t we feed it into that?

We in our country have a searing shareholder focus. But shareholders aren’t pushing this, and in part they’re not pushing this because the typical bank shareholder owns a stock for three months. They’re renters, not buyers. That pressure could come from the board. It could come from the CEO. It could come from the regulators. It could come from the debt holders. It could come from the public at large.

Q. What do you think about the idea of quotas for women on boards?

A. I haven’t gotten there yet. The only piece of research I’ve seen about quotas on boards is out of Scandanavia, where women were forced onto boards and their performance was not good. If you can show me research that says that quotas work, then I’ll reconsider. We may be at a tipping point. I’ve had numerous groups of women say to me they would stop buying from a company if they understood what their gender makeup was. That information’s not available. With technology, people are going to become much smarter consumers, and so there will be pressure coming from different places.

Q. Two years ago, would you have ever expected this would be your life today?

A. I never expect anything. But do remember: I was a research analyst. I didn’t even have an associate for a while; I shared an assistant. After a while, when I got to be successful, I got an associate. But before, I did all my models, I did all my writing, I did all my travel planning. That wasn’t that long ago.

I had a moment recently when Ally McDonald, who’s the president of 85 Broads, and I were looking at a company up in Canada before we bought 85 Broads. We had a 6 a.m. flight out of Newark. We were standing there, drinking cruddy, awful, terrible tasting coffee at 5:40 on a Monday morning, freezing cold, waiting to get into a puddle jumper to go up to Toronto. And I turned to her and said, "You know, I used to fly around on corporate jets." It was an interesting moment. I was like, this doesn’t bother me at all.

Q. So you don’t miss the trappings of corporate life?

A. No. Not at all. I was just talking to somebody about this maybe two days ago, and I was like, "I wonder why?" Because it was a lot nicer. A lot nicer coffee. They used to make me eggs on the flight. But what matters to me is impact. The trappings don't matter. With those trappings, as luxurious as they are, you also know if you fly to London overnight on the corporate jet, you get up and you sort of owe them your life. Now I fly overnight, I go to the hotel, I exercise. I owe myself. I don't have to pay back. I do my first meeting at 2, not at 8. So there are tradeoffs, but it really is a matter of what motivates you, which can be hard to figure out.

Q. What has been the reaction from your former peers to your decision to buy 85 Broads?

A. "Congratulations." "Come talk to us." "Tell us what you’re seeing." "What should we be doing?" It's all good.

Q. Could you ever see yourself back at a bank again?

A. You’ve got to learn your lessons. It would have to be the right thing. I have a very simple point of view, which is: I’m going to be alive for some amount of time, I don't know how long that's going to be. Then I’m going to be dead for a really, really long time. Right? You need to squeeze everything you can out of this time when you’re alive. That doesn’t necessarily mean doing the same thing over and over again. That might not be the best way to spend the rest of your life.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

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