As a product of hardworking immigrants, Angelina Colombo was always encouraged to stay focused, work hard, and be practical. This upbringing is what initially led her to a career in public accounting and management consulting at what was then a Big 6 firm. She ended up finding a niche in financial services—which she loved—and, with the help and guidance of great mentors, eventually landing at her current role as chief operating officer of Citizens Bank’s legal department.
Her responsibilities encompass all legal operations and include new process and tech implementations, management of outside counsel, oversight of financials and budgets, and collaborating with human resources on organizational structure, hiring, and compensation.
“I do everything except give legal advice,” Colombo says. “My mission is to give the legal department what they need to be efficient and effective in delivering legal advice to their internal clients, and to support the general counsel in his leadership of this department.”
Colombo got her start at Arthur Andersen, first as an auditor and then pivoting to its management consultant practice. After taking a short sabbatical to help care for her ailing father, she landed at Bankers Trust, helping build the banking industry’s first operational risk management programs.
There she met her first great mentor, Marta Johnson, who at the time was managing director at Bankers Trust, leading the operational risk management function. “She made me an offer to join her team,” Colombo says. “It was 1996, and she was the first female role model who had a successful career while managing to have good work/life balance and raising children. I thought I wanted a family of my own someday and just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work for someone who was balancing it all.”
By 2000, Colombo had followed Johnson to NetRisk, a start-up risk management software and consulting firm founded by the former president of Bankers Trust, Gene Shanks. After three years, and the sale of NetRisk to Fitch Ratings, she was ready for a new challenge.
Johnson once again provided guidance, handing Colombo’s résumé to someone who got it into the hands of Sheldon Goldfarb, general counsel at Greenwich Capital, a boutique investment bank in Greenwich, Connecticut, owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). Soon after, she was hired as head of operational risk and tasked with establishing and leading Greenwich Capital’s operational risk management function, eventually taking a role as COO of RBS Americas legal which included Citizens Bank.
When the credit crisis hit in 2008, RBS was bailed out by the UK government and forced to divest most of its non-UK businesses. “We had been working in the region to integrate and then had to quickly pivot to separate from our parent, including spinning off Citizens Bank via an IPO,” Colombo says. She was quickly brought on board to Citizens Bank by the new chief legal officer, Stephen Gannon, in early 2015 as COO of legal.
“It’s important to have someone who can point you in the right direction, encourage you to take big steps in your career, and support you during difficult personal times.”
“I worked closely with Steve and senior management within the legal department to ensure the department had a really solid set of resources,” she says. “Transitioning from a subsidiary of a foreign bank to a public company meant we had to establish a whole new organizational structure. Ensuring we had the right people in the right roles was key.”
Colombo has come a long way from her days graduating college with an accounting degree, which seemed like the practical choice. Her mentors have made all the difference, she says.
“It’s important to have someone who can point you in the right direction, encourage you to take big steps in your career, and support you during difficult times,” she explains. “For example, when my mother was very ill, I needed to adjust my work schedule to be there for her in her final days. Working for someone who respected me and trusted me enough to allow me to balance my personal needs and my work responsibilities created a deep sense of loyalty.
“This was a life and work lesson that I continue to carry with me as a manager,” she continues. “Our colleagues cannot be fully engaged if they don’t have the trust and support of their manager when they need it, especially at the most critical times in their lives.”
Although Colombo’s career has had twists and turns, she says it’s always been the smart and dynamic people—and the new challenges—that have kept her invested in the financial services industry.
“A lot of the decisions I made were based on the people I worked with and the opportunity to work with them on new and interesting projects,” she says. “Working with great people, and for supportive managers, is what pushes you to take the necessary and smart risks in order to achieve your full potential and be your best.”