Life After Chase: Christine Loomis
Banker with a Russian Soul
Cue in Lara’s Theme.
Christine Loomis may have grown up in Bergen County, New Jersey, but her heart is in Russia.
So is her business, although she’s back living and working in the New York area after living for six years in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Loomis started her own company, Loomis Associates International, to recruit Russian-speaking professionals for Moscow-based Western clients, in addition to making U.S. placements in financial services.
Her passion for all things Russian began with her seeing the movie Dr. Zhivago at the age of 16. “I wanted to work internationally and lived in the New York area, where I heard native European languages. Thinking I could not be better than native speakers, I realized when I saw the movie that I never heard Russian! I loved the literature and majored in Slavic Languages and Literatures at Princeton, for my BA, and Columbia, for my MA,” she explained. “Though I put the field on hold during the 1980s, there has always been a persistent pull back to the country.”
In 1976, after graduate school, Loomis joined Chase World Information Corp. (CWIC) as a research associate looking at Russia and Eastern Europe.
“A friend from Princeton said, ‘You’ve got to become a banker,’ and although I had thought of becoming a diplomat, I became a banker,” Loomis recalled.
She entered the Chase training program in 1979 and was then assigned to International Financial Institutions, covering the Netherlands, Turkey and Israel. She particularly liked the Dutch assignment as she had been an American Field Service (AFS) student in Belgium in high school and spoke Flemish.
Loomis left Chase in 1983, when she was recruited to NatWest as a vice president in credit and middle-market lending. NatWest was so impressed with her Chase training that they made her manager of its loan officer credit training program in the early 1990s. It was a busy time, as she was also a new mother, having met her husband, like her an opera aficionado, through the Metropolitan Opera’s Opera Club.
NatWest was sold to Fleet in 1996, and Loomis took a severance package. While working with an outplacement coach, she began getting calls about positions requiring a Russian speaker, as someone knew of her background. “Fifteen years had gone by since I was really using Russian, and I was mostly reading Russian poetry,” she said. Most of her recent exposure to Russian was through the librettos of the Russian operas that were being performed at the Met.
A “very family friendly” offer came: to become a senior vice president for The U.S.-Russia Investment Fund, first in St. Petersburg, then in Moscow. Her children were 10 and 11 and could attend the Anglo-American schools in Russia. Her husband, George, was an attorney with more than a passion for music; he was an “all but dissertation” for his doctorate in music from Yale. He found time and was motivated to write the dissertation abroad. He also ended up as the Russia-based music critic for the International Herald Tribune, Financial Times, Opera Magazine and Musical America.
The U.S.-Russia Investment Fund had seven regional offices from 1996 to 2002. Loomis offered credit approval and led the bank partner program for small and medium-sized enterprises in a Russian economy that was getting on its feet, if maybe still a little wobbly.
“I was working with people of great strength and fortitude,” she said. “For a people who didn’t grow up in a capitalist society, there were some amazing entrepreneurs, though a few were throwbacks to the old way…a few actually asked, ‘Do we have to pay back the loan?’”
By 2003, she wanted to be in the United States as her son and daughter prepared for college, but she worked with Russia still. Consulting for AIG Consumer or Société Génerale in consumer finance, she would go to Moscow for four or six week stretches. Soon she transitioned into executive search, where she believed she could contribute unique value. “I began building teams for corporate management I had worked with many colleagues, who were now rising in the ranks and wanted to join Western firms.”
She joined a U.K. executive search firm but returned to the United States, again prompted by family needs, and continued in search for Russian and US clients.
A current dream assignment, for a Western niche strategy management consulting firm in Moscow, is to find Russians who have Western training but complete Russian fluency and a Russian passport. “Most of the candidates are in the Russian marketplace but have spent time in the United States or Europe,” she said, noting that Columbia University is also a fertile recruiting ground. “I’m going over next week for the month of July. Russian talent is needed to build their own businesses, but Western firms appreciate Western executive search firms to evaluate the talent.”
A number of the major Western firms have branches or affiliated firms in Moscow, including Korn Ferry, Russell Reynolds and Egon Zehnder.
One lesson she learned from Chase and had reinforced in Russia was the importance of nurturing relationships. In Russia, business relationships are cultivated and trust is developed through face-to-face meetings. When Loomis returned to New York, she kept wanting to meet people in person. One colleague told her, “You’re in America now. We do things by phone.” “I’m a bit more streamlined now,” she chuckled.
Coming back to the United States after years abroad, she needed some new personal relationships and networks of her own, and she found them largely through the Princeton Club, where she was invited to join the board of governors. In return, she has brought her passion for Russia to the club, where, as co-chair of the program committee, she organizes various events on Russian themes. One week there was a panel on doing business in Russia, attended by 120 people, followed a few days later by a luncheon with a Princeton professor and Russian economist, separated by a Russian art and vodka evening.
“As a member of the American Chamber of Commerce in Moscow, I became a diplomat, I wanted to tell the accurate story,” she said. She said the Princeton Club affords her the chance to help New Yorkers hear the accurate story from Russia.
Many of the programs she organizes at the Princeton Club are open to non-members, plus she points out how many other schools have alliances with the Princeton Club for their alumni. She’s happy to be the point person should anyone wish more information.