Tell us a bit about how you got to your current position?
I didn’t get a finance degree. I studied political science, and initially worked in Washington DC, thinking I would go into international relations or international law. But it didn’t quite live up to my ideal, and I decided to switch gears. That is when I stumbled into banking. It had that macro- economic connection that I was interested in and I was lucky enough to have exposure to advisory and corporate finance. I also worked in equity capital markets and leverage finance before moving onto commodities after a friend, who knew me well, recommended it because they had a sense I would really like it. I’ve been here ever since!
It’s an interesting domain because our financing is really the core piece of debt - the lifeline of these companies. It allows a close advisory relationship with our clients’ finance teams. We are not waiting in line, we are having consistent dialogue with the treasury folks and are really value- add. Our clients still have a heavy male skew, but it is changing and there are some female CFOs.
What is the biggest challenge you are facing now?
The challenge of COVID is tough. I am good at taking emotional cues and reading people, but this is difficult on WebEx; my work also involves developing relationships and managing a team and it’s difficult in the current environment. I’ve tried to be more spontaneous and set up one-on-one calls with my group because a group WebEx doesn’t give you a window into how people are really doing, whether they are feeling disconnected or demotivated. Leadership is also about cultivating your juniors and helping them build their brand. We must ensure that they can get visibility with senior managers, and this sometimes requires forcing situations. For example, asking a senior leader to talk to one of the juniors on a call - it’s not an organic situation.
There are female role models, but it is not easy to get to the top. You must differentiate yourself and build your brand, which is difficult in a COVID-distanced world. I have role models and wonderful support. My boss is a champion of diversity, and I really appreciate that. I am lucky to have the support that I do, but the challenge lies in how I can really demonstrate my leadership skills and cultivate that in a COVID environment.
There is an understanding among banks that they lack diversity at the top, and I believe banks are willing to engage in this conversation. Juniors should take advantage of whatever efforts their companies are making. Everyone is still looking for tools, so juniors should suggest paths and tools.
What advice would you give to women in finance in terms of establishing and developing a career?
My advice is to seek out senior women – it is a useful track. They will help guide you through the organisation. Other than this, I would advise proactively taking on tasks and contributing meaningfully; don’t just speak the speak, but value-add. Everything you say or do is building your brand, so try to represent yourself well, particularly in front of senior management.
People do come to me, and I really enjoy that role. The best leaders cultivate new leaders, and the idea that I could have some influence on someone’s path is really satisfying.
What is your motto in life, or your greatest inspiration?
The America author and activist Helen Keller said: “Life is either daring adventure or nothing at all.” I have found that the most interesting and rewarding parts of my life have been where I’ve had adventures and taken risks. It is easy to get complacent, and although I smile at some of my more ridiculous adventures, this quote motivates me to keep trying new things.