Top women change jobs and lean into their careers

May 18, 2011, 8:22 PM UTC

Linda Robinson. Credit: Richard Van Le

Linda Robinson is leaving the PR firm Robinson Lerer Montgomery to join BlackRock.

Linda Robinson sounded like Oprah in her stunning announcement that she’s leaving her namesake PR firm, Robinson Lerer Montgomery, to join BlackRock. “The last 25 years have been an amazing journey and I’m excited for the next chapter in my life,” she wrote in a Monday afternoon email that bounced around Manhattan and across corporate America’s upper echelons.

Robinson’s new gig is in her wheelhouse: Global Head of Marketing and Communications for BlackRock . Still, her move is surprising. The job requires her to quit the company’s board, where she has been a director since 2004. Robinson is tight with CEO Larry Fink, who has been needing to upgrade marketing at his expanding financial services giant, particularly since the acquisition of Barclays Global Investors in late 2009. Well, here comes his upgrade, and you can bet that Robinson will be one of the highest-paid marketing communicators in the world.

“Wow!” was the reaction inside Fortune. The super-connected Robinson, who is married to onetime American Express CEO Jim Robinson, is “no ordinary flak,” as the authors of Barbarians at the Gate described her 21 years ago. In the 80s, she was a central character in that M&A potboiler. (“She was a tall, willowy  strawberry-blond with a knowing smile, a grueling work schedule, and an obvious love of gab. Raised in California, the daughter of the actor who played Amos in radio’s famous ‘Amos ‘n Andy’ serials of the 1940s…” the authors wrote about her.) Running Robinson Lerer Montgomery with and without Ken Lerer — who left to go join AOL and later co-found the Huffington Post — Robinson juggled swarms of high-profile clients. (She and I met in 2000 when I was writing a Fortune story titled “Seventh Avenue Smackdown,” about a vicious battle between Calvin Klein, her client, and Warnaco’s Linda Wachner). She adores a good corporate crisis and the thorniest CEO transitions, as clients such as Morgan Stanley , Citigroup , and Pfizer have learned.

Besides Robinson, a few other powerful women, it turns out, are making “wow!” moves. On my running list:

Christie Hefner, who joined her dad’s Playboy Enterprises straight out of college and was CEO until 2009, is moving to Canyon Ranch Enterprises. She’ll be executive chairman of this new arm of the spa and wellness company. That means  she’ll work on extending Canyon Ranch’s partnerships and help it branch into new areas of the healthy-living space. From sex to stress relief, that’s not such a stretch. Canyon Ranch and Playboy, Hefner tells me, “are both lifestyle brands. And they both have content that can live across categories.”

Hefner may be the envy of women (and men) stuck in the killer grind, career-wise. Speaking of those kinds of jobs, here are two noteworthy departures from Citigroup: Lisa Caputo, long ago Hillary Clinton’s press secretary and recently Citi’s chief marketing officer and an investment banker there, is going to Travelers Cos. . Caputo will oversee marketing and communications for CEO Jay Fishman. What particularly excites her: She’ll be working on Travelers’ direct-to-consumer business. What goes around comes around. Fishman was a protegé of Sandy Weill, who recruited Caputo into Citi 11 years ago when he was CEO there.

And then there’s Cindy Armine, who has a story-book career. From a Sicilian-American working-class family in New York City, Armine never graduated from college. During 31 years at Citi, she climbed to chief compliance officer — and in that job these past few nail-biting years, she strengthened Citi’s reporting systems. Now Armine is moving to JPMorgan Chase , where she’ll be chief control officer for the bank’s home-lending business. “I just turned 50,” says Armine. “I told my staff that I want to know myself in a different way. I’m going to work inside the mortgage business, which has been central to the financial crisis and is still one of America’s primary issues.”

It’s a relief to see women “leaning in” to their careers rather than stepping out. Yesterday, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg gave the commencement speech at Barnard and urged the grads to keep going for the big jobs — a message she started preaching in 2009 in a piece she wrote for Fortune, “Don’t leave before you leave.”  Sandberg noted yesterday that women “almost never make one decision to leave the workforce…They make small little decisions along the way.” She advised: “Do not lean back; lean in.” To see Sandberg on video, click here. Or you can read the full text of her talk at Barnard by clicking here.