Catherine Flax ’85 has traversed many positions throughout her 20-plus years in the financial services industry. During her visit to Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, she described to Business Honors students what she called her “winding career path” and how she successfully navigated so many transitions.
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“For me, I’ve never really been afraid,” said Flax, who is currently managing director, head of Commodity Derivatives & Foreign Exchange, Americas at European bank BNP Paribas.

She recalled how her early years prepared her to work hard and make the most of every opportunity, even in uncertain circumstances. “What holds people back the most is fear. People become afraid of making a mistake or a wrong decision. People imagine that there’s a path you can set out today and say,‘This is how we’re going to get to the next spot.’ It just doesn’t work like that. Thank goodness, because what actually happens is way better than you could have planned.”

Flax’s own journey started at Texas A&M, when she began as an engineering major. But she was inspired by a Texaco economist to switch her major to economics. “I decided to find something I was passionate about,” she said.

This passion led her to graduate within three years, after which she moved to Brown University for a master’s degree. She started out teaching at the University of Nebraska; began consulting projects for local businesses; worked at a local radio show, commenting on economics; and even worked as an economic advisor for a congressman.

Later, Flax was chief marketing officer at JP Morgan as well as head of the commodities business for Europe, Middle East and Africa. Before JP Morgan, she worked at Morgan Stanley for six years. Flax won the award for Most Influential Woman in European Investment Banking in 2012.

Students asked Flax how they can best use their time at Texas A&M to prepare for job opportunities and life in the professional world.

“I suggest that you find situations to put yourselves in, that are uncomfortable, where you feel a bit over your head. Seek that out regularly. It’s a muscle.” She also recommended that the students spend more time networking and “understanding what people in the business actually do.” She encouraged students to take advantage of the modern tools that make building relationships and networks easier than ever. Finally, “be open to geographical mobility,” she advised, recalling her experience working in London with JP Morgan for a year and a half.

Flax’s openness to her many experiences resonated with Alin Piranian ’16, a Business Honors and finance major. “My main takeaway from speaking with Catherine Flax was that you have to be 100 percent ‘in’ in everything you do,” she said.