Paying it Forward: Alumna, a Force in Fintech, Returns to Stevens for Service on Dean's Board
DeStefano Says Stevens 'Sisterhood' Challenged Her to Succeed; 'I Feel a Sense of Responsibility to the Next Generation of Women'
When she was deciding where to go to college, Annie DeStefano ’12 thought she might end up as a reporter.
“I was looking at communications and liberal arts, because I always felt more comfortable using that side of my brain,” she said. “A business degree was appealing because I thought I could be a business journalist.”
Today, DeStefano has zero published bylines. Instead, she’s a vice president in fintech for Silicon Valley Bank, a financial services provider for venture-backed startup companies.
It’s the kind of career turn that she finds hard to imagine had she studied somewhere other than Stevens Institute of Technology.
“I thought Stevens represented the best opportunity to challenge myself by doing something analytical, and learning to flex another side of my brain,” said DeStefano, who studied Business & Technology. “The business program combined the technical piece with critical thinking, real-world application and softer skills, which are so paramount in my day-to-day.”
Solving new kinds of finance problems
Her day-to-day is a dream job for most any Stevens alumnus. She builds relationships with founders, management teams, CEOs and venture capitalists to see how the bank can solve the kinds of problems confronting startups in the tech space.
The bank provides traditional financial services, but many companies leverage SVB’s infrastructure in order to power their fintech operations, “so we’re providing something besides traditional banking services that helps companies to grow,” DeStefano said. “I really enjoy having both sides of the coin, of being on the bank side and the finance and consumer fintech part.”
It’s the kind of work she’s wanted to do since graduation, spending six years at Goldman Sachs — she was part of the team that developed its online consumer banking platform, Marcus by Goldman Sachs — before heading to Foursquare and, earlier this year, SVB.
“What I love most about my work now is the opportunity to see the entire tech landscape,” she said. “We sit at the middle of the innovation economy, and it’s incredible to experience the amount of rapid change taking place in fintech.”
In the fall, DeStefano accepted an invitation to join the Board of Advisors to the dean of the School of Business. She sees it as a chance to give back during a time when the school is undergoing rapid changes of its own.
'Dramatic, positive change'
“It’s exciting to see how much has changed in a short time at Stevens, but I’m not totally surprised — even while I was a student here, there was a lot of dramatic, positive change,” she said. “I’m excited to be in a position where I can help inform some of the strategy and direction going forward.”
It’s not a new role for her. Dr. Ann Murphy, an associate professor at the School of Business, recalled DeStefano’s enthusiasm in volunteering her help as the school prepared a slate of new majors.
“We did a ton of focus groups, trying to get a handle on what was working and what could be improved,” Dr. Murphy said, “and her feedback was always helpful.”
Dr. Murphy called her former student a brilliant, charismatic learner who was keen about technology, following media, attending meetups and keeping her skills on the cutting edge.
“And she had a real entrepreneurial mindset — the ability to see how things can be made better and the passion to follow through on that vision,” Dr. Murphy said. “I think that’s true of a lot of our students, and even if you’re working at an established company, like Goldman Sachs, that kind of mindset can help you solve problems and become a valued part of a team.”
DeStefano hasn’t ruled out a startup of her own in the future. She’s interested in the idea of doing something around advancing women in business, especially because “I’ve always been in industries where women have been very underrepresented in leadership. It’s a passion of mine that I’d like to bring to my work.”
That passion got her to volunteer with Girls Who Code while working at Goldman, and she said it’s rooted in her Stevens days, where she was part of a small cadre of female students who today “are all crushing it, they are fearless leaders — and Stevens was definitely a part of that.”
“We just created this incredible network of very intelligent, strong women,” DeStefano said. “I feel a sense of responsibility to the next generation of women, to ensure they have an experience like I’ve had.”