Alumni Interview: Kate Burke ‘93, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer at Alliance and Bernstein

By Abigail Coburn | November 22, 2022

What made you decide to attend Holy Cross?

I am from Minnesota originally and when I initially looked into schools, I thought I wanted a large school with a business program. One of my uncles went to Holy Cross so I went out to check it out, not expecting that I would like it. But, as I was first walking around campus, something about the atmosphere drew me in. It just felt right for me to be on campus and that’s when I realized that Holy Cross was the place for me. It surprised me that I made the switch to be interested in a small liberal arts college so quickly, but Holy Cross just felt right.

What was your major? What did you enjoy about your time at Holy Cross?

I was an Economics major at Holy Cross. What I loved most about Holy Cross was the people, as those that make up Holy Cross are such an incredible group of individuals. Holy Cross is such a challenging institution that is made up of an abundance of interesting people that want to work hard. At the same time, they like to have fun and care about the community as a whole. I think that the Jesuit value of being women and men for and with others is something that I have consistently kept a part of my ethos after leaving Holy Cross. These amazing qualities of Holy Cross are what allow for there to be such an amazing group within this community. The size also contributes to what makes it such a special place. I feel the size afforded me opportunities I would not usually have at a larger institution. I did a radio show, rowed crew for a year and would play intramural basketball from time to time. The size of Holy Cross allowed me to try things I was not an expert in and grow from them.

Can you tell me about how your career started, and how it’s grown over your time at Alliance Bernstein?

I started at Alliance Bernstein back before it merged with Bernstein Research. The Bernstein Research program is notorious for being incredibly difficult and new trainees had to earn their dues. I remember on my first day, I got an email from someone who went to Holy Cross years before me who was a Senior Sales Person asking to get lunch. Soon after that, many other Crusaders who worked at Bernstein Research started reaching out to me. My fellow trainees were all so confused as to why all these Holy Cross grads were reaching out and being so welcoming, as they did not understand the Holy Cross connection. I think that because of the size of Holy Cross and the nature of the community as a whole, it leads to alumni always being so supportive, as they want to champion you and see you succeed.

When starting at Alliance Bernstein, did you face any obstacles as a woman in a male-dominated industry? And if so, how were you able to overcome them?

I will say that the environment today at Alliance Bernstein has matured and developed along the way, which has been amazing to see. As more women and diversity have been brought into the workplace, the culture has been able to develop to be much more appreciative and welcoming of having a diverse workforce. I have noticed that nowadays there is much more appreciation for everyone’s differences. It was a very male-oriented culture when I started also partly because of the fact that it was what was there from the beginning. But also, I have found that I have been lucky enough to be a part of a great group of female peers at Alliance Bernstein. As I began to rise in the firm I quickly realized was a great senior team around me. I think that it is important to have such a supportive network, as you want to have a group of people who have similar lived experiences to you. By having this, you constantly have people supporting and can use them as points of reference. I think that Alliance Bernstein has been very focused on trying to make finance more accessible to much more diverse backgrounds, something that I think is very important and I am very proud of.

How did you leverage your Holy Cross education in your career?

I am a huge advocate for a Liberal Arts education, as I feel it sets people up so well for the rest of their careers and lives. I think the best part about a Liberal Arts education is that it allows you to develop and therefore gives you the tool of how to use inquiry. At a Liberal Arts institution, you need to be curious. You need to be able to assess and be intellectually curious to be able to thrive. I feel if you come out with a different type of knowledge that allows you to be able to come up with an approach to solve any problem that you come across. If you are in the right industry, you should always be learning and developing and I feel as if a Liberal Arts education sets you up well to be able to consistently develop and learn throughout your career. I feel as if that is what has allowed me to consistently develop throughout my career and is one of the reasons as to why I am so thankful for my Liberal Arts education.

Finally, what is your best advice for Holy Cross students embarking on their careers soon?

I would say that many students may feel as if you are at a point in your life where you are incredibly stressed about not knowing the trajectory of your career. What I would say to this is the importance of giving yourself the freedom to try new things that interest you and help you grow your professional expertise. I had a very non-linear career in how I have worked in a Non-Profit, a Retail Firm, Sales, Consulting, Human Capital along with my time at Alliance Bernstein. Each of these roles have added to my knowledge and professional experiences from how they have all been different. I would not have been able to gain any of this knowledge if I had not given myself the freedom to work in each of these roles. I think that it is so important to be intentional on what else you need to or would like to round out in your professional experiences. Do not worry yourself that you have not gone in a linear way, because it is more important that you are learning and growing. They are so many paths forward that you can pursue and as one door closes, it does not mean it closes forever. I always like to hire people who are persevering and optimistic. Being able to exhibit these skills allows you to go far in your career. Life is about pivots and perseverance and allowing yourself to grow is the best thing you can do for yourself, especially at this point in your life.