Mom of 3 successfully juggles finance career, family — and hopes to hire other women with the same skills

By Meg Fry
Princeton | Sep 18, 2018 at 7:15 am

Cynthia Kendall Gavenda, like every mother, has a unique story.

“I have morphed a couple of different times to meet a variety of personal, family and professional needs,” Gavenda, managing director of family office services at KB Financial Cos. in Princeton, said.

That is why she said she actively works to identify and recruit seasoned professional women with life experiences for her organization.

“It pains me to hear that many women feel as if their skills have gone stale or that they no longer know how to jump back into the workforce,” Gavenda said. “So many of the things these women have been doing in managing their families and their own lives are skills that are relevant to what I do.”

Nearly 20 years ago, Gavenda was working as a senior manager of risk management advisory services at Deloitte in New York.

“I was servicing big clients, I was traveling and I had an idea in my head of what my life would be like once I had kids,” she said. “I would go back to my career and make partner.

“Then, my oldest son, who is now turning 20 and has Down syndrome, had a number of serious medical issues when he was born, which needed my attention.”

Gavenda said Deloitte was able to give her the flexibility needed to work through her son’s open heart and abdominal surgeries, a number of complications and his specialized care.

But she had just finished running back and forth from her home and her son’s hospital room to fax and email documents when she found out she was pregnant with her second child.

“Everything came to a grinding halt and I had to re-examine everything I always had assumed,” Gavenda said. “I realized that, as a family, we were going to have to make some difficult choices.”

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When she gave birth to her younger son just 20 months after her older one was born, she said she decided to take a couple of years off to be with her boys.

“I was home for three years, in which I became very involved in the special needs community,” Gavenda said.

While volunteering, she said, she met a man who worked for MassMutual Financial Group.

“MassMutual had started a new program called Special Care, which was financial planning for families with special needs,” Gavenda said. “It was kind of intriguing.”

A job like that would allow her increased flexibility while still remaining in the fields of finance and accounting.

“I had never pictured myself doing fee-based financial planning outside of a corporate environment, but I was willing to give it a try,” Gavenda said.

She worked as a financial adviser and special care planner at MassMutual for five years.

“I enjoyed it a lot,” Gavenda said. “Then, four years in, I found out I was pregnant with my daughter.”

She said she and her husband already were working many hours.

“When we reached yet another critical pivot point, I asked myself, ‘OK, we’re adding No. 3 — do I really want to keep working the way I am?’” she said.

Gavenda said she decided to take extended maternity leave to figure out what it was she was going to do.

“MassMutual was very understanding about that, which was great,” she said. “And, through the process of transitioning clients throughout my extended leave, a client approached me about finding someone who might be able to help manage all of his personal business and extraordinary needs.”

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Gavenda considered the request and went back to him with an answer.

“I said, ‘What about me?’” she said. “He was confused, because I already had a job, but I told him that I, too, was trying to figure out what I was doing next.”

Gavenda became the chief financial officer for her client and his family, including three disabled children, in 2007.

“I started managing all of this family’s personal, financial and legal business — anything you would imagine a family has to do, such as paying their bills, buying and selling real estate, handling their children’s health care and more,” she said.

“It was a very interesting job and I really loved what I did because it lent itself to all of the things I was really good at. My skills in accounting, finance, management and consulting were key, but, also, all of the other types of skills that I think are especially prevalent in women professionals were not discounted.”

Skills such as being detail-oriented and able to multitask.

“Women are active listeners; we are team players; we are problem solvers; we manage households as well as jobs and community activities; and we always have 10 balls in the air,” Gavenda said. “In each of these roles, we must be creative and efficient in order to keep everything moving along.”

In juggling her career, family and community, Gavenda said she had developed skills that were both an asset to her and her new client.

“Their lives were too complicated and busy, and they needed to make sure things got done,” she said. “When someone is paying you for that, you need to make sure that nothing ever slips through the cracks.”

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When people realized what it was she was doing for the family, she said others began asking for her help, too.

“I told the family I worked for that I might like to explore my options and begin networking,” Gavenda said.

Gavenda founded and acted as CEO of Kendall Gray, a boutique financial life management company to manage clients’ personal and financial affairs, for nearly four years.

Then she met with KB Financial.

“I thought I was going to another networking meeting, but Jim Kaplan, who runs the firm, said, ‘We’ve created a multifamily office platform and the one piece that we are missing is exactly what you do.’

“‘We provide wealth management, tax and accounting services, financial planning, insurance and corporate advisory services, including mergers and acquisitions, for our clients who own businesses. But we do not have anyone to pull it all together, manage our biggest client relationships, and do all the concierge work to help manage our clients’ lives.’”

This conversation went back and forth for quite some time, Gavenda said, but a little over a year ago, she said she decided to merge her business with KB Financial.

“This job has enabled me to continue what I was doing in a very personal way at a small firm of only nearly 30 people,” she said. “That has allowed me to stay true to my original mission.”

Furthermore, with all of the other capabilities and resources available to her at KB Financial, she has been able to take on clients much more quickly than before while also attracting different types of clients looking for larger firms with a more personal experience, she said.

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That is why, Gavenda added, she is interested in hiring more women like herself — women who have great skills and professional experience, but may have taken time off for a variety of personal reasons.

“I’m typically looking for women who have spent time at home with their families and are now looking to invest more in themselves and in their career,” she said.

Gavenda said skills such as having negotiated home repairs or purchases, balancing family finances and juggling multiple complicated schedules all count — and flexibility, of course, is key.

“There is still a need for them to be attentive to what we are doing and be connected to our clients, but the nature of what I do can be segmented by function,” she said. “It’s very easy to have one person who handles all the bill pay, for instance, and if they want to work three days a week, we can adjust the number of clients they handle to be able to accommodate.

“Or, if someone needs to work from home, they can do that and still be effective.”

Gavenda said it makes her feel good to be able to employ women who need the same kind of flexibility she did.

“The only difference between me and them is that I just happened to find an opportunity that allowed me to keep my toe in the water for nearly seven years, with a family who was super-appreciative of what I was doing and very cool about me needing flexibility,” she said. “I know not everyone has found that same sort of opportunity and I like to be able to provide it now.”

‘How to’ return to the workforce

Cynthia Kendall Gavenda, managing director of family office services at KB Financial Cos. in Princeton and mother of three, said she has left and re-entered the workforce in a variety of different ways.

Now, as she begins to grow her company, she said there are things women much like herself must consider in their job search.

“First, one must be confident in how useful and relevant their skills are,” Gavenda said. “Maybe it’s been 10 years or more since they have worked in a professional environment, but expertise comes back to you quickly, and having that confidence is important.”

Second, she said, is considering whether one wants to return to work in a small or large environment.

“I know of many corporations with special programs and resources to bring women back into the workforce, including those who allow women to return for a three-month trial period before transitioning back into full-time employment,” Gavenda said.

Lastly, one must do some research, connect and network, she added, perhaps by first reaching out to one’s alumni office and speaking with career coaches.

“It amazes me just how many resources there are to help women return to the workforce,” Gavenda said. “We just need to take better advantage of them.”

Meg Fry | mfry@roi-nj.com | megfry3