Being a Successful Woman in the Finance Industry
Rachel Lord was quick to grab our attention and make one of her points immediately after taking the floor: ”Do you hear me? It’s really important to make yourself heard you know, learn how to be loud, women can be so bad at this…”
She went then on to tell her life story in an engaging and personal manner which was later to serve as background and anchor the words of advice that she left us with. We got to hear about Rachel’s strong and wise mother (an early role model) who imprinted her desire to educate herself and be financially independent on her daughter. We got a glimpse of her father’s fascinating story, shipped to South Africa during the war at a tender age and later joining the navy. Among his gifts to his daughter was the thirst to see the world and the bravery to do it. Rachel’s choice of education, International History and Politics, was partly the result of this legacy. She fantasized of becoming a diplomat or maybe a spy but opted for a more practical profession that would bring in money. She went on to become a Chartered Accountant and joined Arthur Andersen as neither banking nor asset management were hiring women back then. This started to change in the early 90’s and so Rachel took promptly the opportunity to move into the world of structured finance.
Rachel made it all sound so easy: the story of how she came to develop Morgan Stanley’s equity derivative business in Asia (wanted to see the end of the British empire in Hong Kong and practically forced her boss to send her there), the sabbatical she took in Mexico (“I’d had enough and wanted to quit but they offered me a seven-months break and a bonus if I came back”). Back in London she opted to take on a new and challenging project just after her first child was born, reasoning that “if I’m to work rather than being at home with my child then I want to be compensated for it; I want real money and I want to be in charge”. It helped of course that her husband was happy being the “stay at home” parent as he was planning to write a book at that point.
We all found incredibly impressive her attitude to the completely new area that she took on, “No idea what you are talking about but give me the business and I’ll build it”. This seemed to be a recurring theme with Rachel, when asked by BlackRock later to head the ETF-business she didn’t hesitate to take that plunge either: “I didn’t know anything about ETFs but I knew the boss and liked the women-friendly and egalitarian culture of the organization”.
Another fascinating detail from her time at Morgan Stanley was her experience of working with diverse teams. Rachel got completely invested in and passionate about this new business she was to develop. She was quick to hire a team of five men and five women, all highly competent and dedicated. Once the business got tough though and seemed to be going nowhere all the guys decided to quit. The women stuck and became tight and worked it all out. Later, when the business was thriving, the men wanted to get back in but who needed them! And so Rachel ended up running a women-only team…
As to the advice we got from Rachel, apart from the ones she’d already exemplified with her own life, there are a few:
- Confidence is key, if you don’t have it, fake it!
- Don’t expect to feel comfortable all the time, if you want a career get used to feeling uncomfortable, often.
- Be loud, make your voice heard. Don’t juniorise yourself!
- You don’t need to know it all. Women tend to be such perfectionists. Learn to delegate (both at home and at work) and to leverage other people’s strengths.
- Seek and take feedback, it’s not a sign of neediness but of a desire to be better.
- Don’t worry about your long-term career. There isn’t one career path only. Have short-term objectives and have fun on the way.
- Look after people. Be kind, especially when you don’t need to. Women are particularly good at this. Random kindness pays out in unexpected ways.
- Know what you want – of your life and of your career, make deliberate decisions.
- Invest in your career – invest both time and money, educate yourself.
More insights and advice was to come during the q & a session:
- “The idea of retirement sounds crazy to me”, declared Rachel. I work because I enjoy it not because I have to.
- When you feel lost it might be a good idea to take a break, it gives you perspective.
- Shine a light on problems and most people would want to solve them. The world is full of good people and people with good intentions.
And the best piece of advice Rachel at 50 would give to Rachel at 20? “Relax!”
All in all a thoroughly enjoyable and invigorating talk that the women from KvinnoKapital who got to attend it are bound to contemplate on at and discuss at length.