Insight & Analysis

Talent in the Spotlight: Ian Clarke, HSBC – Part 1

Published: Oct 2020

This rising talent at HSBC shares his thoughts on career advancement and equality. He is a shining example of the progress in our industry and he offers unique insights on the dialogue around diversity, inclusion and representation in finance.

Talent in the Spotlight: Ian Clarke, HSBC

Based in New York City as Global Sales VP – Consumer Brands, Retail & Healthcare at HSBC, Ian has worked in banking for 13 years and has a drive and ambition that extends beyond his own career advancement. His dedicated work with his clients is combined with a commitment to combat discrimination and open up opportunity for all. In this two-part interview we discuss his career journey and passionate commitment to creating an inclusive and innovative future of work.

Could you tell me a little about your background and the career path you’ve taken leading up to your current role?

Fresh from graduating from Lancaster University class of 2007, I joined HSBC’s fast-track Executive Management programme full of optimism. But the financial crisis had other plans. The day that Lehman Brothers collapsed, I sat at my desk in our Interbank Lending team, looking out of my 40th floor window at the sprawling offices of the very banks whose lending applications I was reviewing. Only that day the view was different. Thousands of people – many young people like me – leaving their offices for the last time, carrying the remains of their careers home in cardboard boxes. For me, this was a wake-up call that the values of the past were no longer fit for the future, and it would fall to our generation to rebuild banking.

Since those early days, I’ve held managerial roles in every line of business we have, overseeing everything from personal accounts and retail branches, to small business relationships, and ultimately global FTSE-100 corporate banking relationships. At 28, I was among the youngest directors ever appointed when I moved onto our Transactional Banking team. Today I’m the senior-most product specialist the bank assigns to its largest Fortune-500 corporate clients, a role I’ve been fortunate enough to split between my hometown of London and my current home in New York. It’s my pleasure keeping these clients happy, helping them grow their businesses and achieve their objectives by delivering HSBC anywhere in the world at its best, every day.

What do the terms diversity, inclusion and representation mean for you?

I am half Jamaican, but was raised by my English mother on a London council estate near Victoria Station. Mum worked all hours to provide for me and nurture my potential, but we were still poor and religion was really our only hope for the future. I grew into a great relationship with dad, a charismatic man who taught me the differences between my life and his, growing up a black man in Ocho Rios and later in 1960s London. But still, I was happy and relieved for mum when she married my step-father – a principled, stable Ghanaian who helped raise me as his own – when I was eight. But our church excommunicated her for associating with a ‘non-believer’, cutting off her wider family and support structure. As I rapidly became secular, regret over the judgementalism I had been taught gave way to empathy. Recognising this as a skill, I trained as a counsellor, later becoming the first person in my family to attend university, where I graduated first-class in my first degree of two – Psychology. I was bullied at high school in Croydon for being different – too black, too white, too posh (the accent), and probably gay, but it wasn’t until university that I was officially ‘out-ed’. After confiding in a girlfriend one drunken night, I woke up to seemingly the whole football team banging on my dorm room door. But rather than bullying me, touchingly they were there to support me. Everyone deserves to feel that acceptance.

The accounting firms wouldn’t even interview me, but HSBC recognised the value my uniqueness could bring and helped me flourish as home-grown talent. In 2008, I helped set up and run the bank’s charity committee, including foolishly volunteering as the first person ever to run up the 42 floors of our HQ offices to raise donations. Though I’ve stopped running, the committee – including its annual Stairway to Hell challenge – continues to donate time and money to good causes that matter to the bank’s younger staff each year. I also led one of the bank’s first outreach teams to non-red brick universities, helping to recruit more diverse talent before the word really mattered. My favourite platform was working with the City of Westminster and Young Entrepreneurs to coach school leavers from disadvantaged backgrounds on interview skills and CV writing – those kids were me once. Diversity and inclusion aren’t buzzwords to me, they’re what drives me, as they should any company committed to thriving in a multi-cultural, globalised world.

What has the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement, if any, been for you as a professional?

I’m a poster boy for minorities and underdogs everywhere, demonstrating real social mobility through education and hard work. Or am I? In one of our earliest memorable conversations, my stepfather cautioned me on the dangers of being different and encouraged me to blend in – ‘act like a white man’ he said, trying to protect me. Easy really, after all I sound white, my friends were mostly white, I was educated by white-led institutions and I work in a predominantly white industry. My success comes from my privilege more than anything I’ve ever done – privilege that sadly many people of colour cannot access.

The events of March 2020 were an awakening for so many of us that racism is not only alive but flourishing all around us. An old school friend later made a throw-away comment to me – ‘Wow, Director? Imagine how senior you could be if you were white?’ I wondered what injustices and prejudices my black contemporaries might be experiencing along the way. That moment was a real awakening for me. This is 2020, nobody should have to act in a certain way to be successful anymore.

Read part 2

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