“Tough times don’t last, tough people do”: A day in the life of Luvleen Sidhu, CEO and founder of BMTX
- Luvleen Sidhu is the youngest female founder to take a company public as the chair, CEO, and founder of BMTX, formerly known as BankMobile.
- The life of a banking executive comes with challenges, and Luvleen discusses her professional journey, love for spirituality, and empowering more women to thrive in male-dominated industries.
After graduating from Harvard in 2008, Luvleen Sidhu joined Lehman Brothers – her first day on the job was the day the company went bankrupt. As she was walking in the building to start her career, bankers were walking out of the building carrying boxes.
This experience left a mark – it was something shocking to see on television, but witnessing it in person had an even deeper impact. It revealed the fragility of the global financial system, and how the lives of millions of people can be affected by decisions made on Wall Street.
“As I think back to that time, I think it taught me about risk management and to think about how we could financially empower millions of Americans,” Sidhu said.
Today, Luvleen Sidhu is the youngest female founder to take a company public as the chair, CEO, and founder of BMTX, formerly known as BankMobile.
Luvleen's journey of BMTX began at Customers Bank, which she joined after her stint at Lehman Brothers. Her father is Jay Sidhu, chairman and chief executive officer of Customers Bancorp, a veteran banker and one of her mentors. The family is well-connected in the industry, and naturally, there has always been some osmosis taking place at the dinner table.
Jay Sidhu and his peers were involved with bringing BMTX to life, bringing their experience in a highly regulated sector. Paired with Luvleen's millennial mindset and her own experience, it was the perfect combination to create a vision for a 21st century bank.
Luvleen moved up from chief strategy and marketing officer to president to CEO, and when the company spun off and went public, she became the chair, founder and CEO of BMTX.
Throughout all these role changes, Luvleen remained the visionary behind the company’s strategy, always focusing on the balancing act of being profitable while having the mission of bringing change to the US banking experience.
Through her experiences, she realized that challenges are inevitable and there's always an element of risk – the role of a public company executive takes resiliency and the ability to stay grounded while learning to pivot. When one door closes, another one is always going to open.
“A quote that my dad always says to me is, Tough times don't last, tough people do. And that is true. In the face of challenges, keep pushing forward, remember your vision and goal of what you're trying to create,” she said.
Spirituality is a big part of Luvleen's life. She starts her day with meditation, practicing a single Buddhist chant – Nam Myoho Renge Kyo – bringing her an invigorating energy.
"That really raises my vibration at the start of the day, and has a trickle-down effect on the thoughts and actions that I take that day," Luvleen said.
But sometimes she also needs to take a step back and feel more peaceful and relaxed, for which she started a quiet meditation as well. She's balancing the two, using both techniques to kick-start her day.
A typical working day encompasses a combination of strategic meetings with bigger groups, accomplishing specific tasks, and moving projects forward.
Every day except Friday, there's a 30-minute daily catch up with her four most senior executives, a habit that started during the pandemic when they weren’t seeing each other as much. Now they've moved to a hybrid model, where people have the option to come in and work from the office. Every four to six weeks, everyone meets in person for strategic sessions.
Luvleen doesn’t do back-to-back meetings – there can be very intense days, and sometimes one just needs to breathe and collect their thoughts between meetings. A lot of the mental load also comes from our perception of certain situations, she said, so it's important for her to take a step back and observe her thoughts.
“I don't have a consistent meditation practice during the day, but I focus on having the self-awareness to check in with some of my thoughts to make sure that I'm not adding to my exhaustion throughout the day,” she said.
While she aims to wind down and disconnect between 6 and 7 pm, it's tricky for an entrepreneur to take their mind off the business. This big responsibility carries weight, but it’s important to make space for a personal life and general wellbeing.
Being in nature is important for Luvleen, so she takes a walk outside every single day – that’s her way of practicing another form of meditation, relaxation, and connection.
Leading by example
Luvleen was the youngest female to ever take a company public at the time of its listing. She focuses on actions that can help propel women in finance — promoting women in leadership roles, creating mentorship opportunities, providing equal pay, and ensuring female voices are represented at the executive leadership level.
In the early days, Luvleen found it an asset to be an Indian woman leading a disruptive business in a white and male-dominated environment. But as she's maturing and evolving in her leadership journey, she is starting to become more aware of the different standards she faces compared to her male peers.
“Someone said to me once that women are often assumed to be incompetent unless proven otherwise, and men are assumed to be competent unless proven otherwise. I’m starting to realize that there is truth to this. As a public company CEO, I'm seeing that more,” she told Tearsheet.
Being at the helm of a public company involves talking to various industry groups, investors, and third-party providers, and Luvleen noted that she is definitely starting to see the reality of things much more clearly.
This is why we need to have more examples of women being successful in the finance industry, she said, serving as a point of inspiration and a role model for others.
And the women that are paving the way by taking up leadership positions within this male-dominated industry, such as herself, should encourage more women to enter the business and help them break the glass ceiling by creating a culture where women support each other.