Banking is in my DNA. My first job was in the financial industry and for the next 23 years I was an investment banker at Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch in New York, London and Tokyo. I loved the excitement of the trading floor and the diversity that every day brought with it.
However, when my then husband’s job took him from Tokyo to Singapore and my second son was born, I relished a change of pace and stepped away from my career. It was also the beginning of the Emerging Markets Crisis and I had to choose moving back to the UK or allowing my ex’s career to take precedence this time – Singapore it was! But I didn’t stand still. While living in Asia, I ran a headhunting business, set up an event management company and opened two bars as well working on a 6 month project for Richard Branson’s Virgin which ended with an employee points card to be collected across all business.
I returned to the UK in 2005 where I took an art degree at Christies, redeveloped a house and had a third baby just as the financial crisis hit in 2007. Yet returning to banking was always at the back of my mind. Friends (and former colleagues) told me it would be impossible for me to return as so much had changed within the industry. Thankfully, I didn’t listen to them!
At first I began discussing a return to the banking sector with a head-hunting firm. However, they claimed they couldn’t help me because of the gap in my CV. In their view, banks wouldn’t be interested in hiring me because I no longer had relevant contacts and was unfamiliar with the altered regulatory environment. I persisted. I kept talking to people from all sides of the market: buy-side, hedge funds and investment banks and kept an eye out for the right role in the right company for me.
When I read an article about the Credit Suisse Real Returns program in New York, I was inspired. I immediately contacted Credit Suisse NY and asked if they were running a similar program in London. They were and the HR department in London contacted me almost immediately.
The difference in the positive approach to my CV by Credit Suisse compared to the head-hunter’s rather negative disdain was staggering – and incredibly encouraging. At Credit Suisse they looked at what I could do (networking, negotiation, problem solving, team leadership) and matched my skill set to a new role. They believed I was capable of learning about any new products and regulations, which is obviously true.
The Real Returns program has been fantastic in enabling me to get back to what I love to do, at the age of 51. During the 11-week program, myself and 14 highly qualified and amazing women were strongly encouraged to network within CS. I took every opportunity, through the project I was working on, to meet and talk to as many people as I could to discuss the project, discuss the business this would feed into, understand the players in the market, learn what the new regulatory landscape looked like and get to know CS better. There’s a real open door policy at Credit Suisse – the management made time for these conversations.
Part of the programme included HR handpicking mentors for each “Real Returner”. At first glance, my mentor and I do not have much in common as far as our fields at work but she was a perfect choice. She is an incredibly intelligent, intuitive – and amusing – woman. Helen also had a great understanding for the potential drawbacks of having children during your prime career years. This however did not stop her from getting her PhD, returning to work in the height of the financial crisis, reinventing herself, leaving to have a child and being made MD whilst she was on maternity leave- a true inspiration! Additionally she understands the main players and helped steer me through the workings of a new organisation.
Being on the programme confirmed to me that something that comes naturally after so many years in the business (as well as honing the art of negotiation at home with three sons – and an ex-husband!) is the ability to meet with and talk to people at all levels using the great network available at CS to get things done – and leverage our people and contacts to get the best results.
At the end of the program, I was offered an ongoing role as a Director in Public Policy that is totally outside the Fixed Income trading environment so familiar to me. It has been a challenge to start something so new but I’m building my knowledge quickly and enjoying being in a high profile role. When I had doubts about taking on the role, my boss said: “You worked on the trading floor at Goldman Sachs in the ’80s, so I know that you can do anything!”
If you’re thinking about returning to work after years away, trust your own instincts and don’t be put off by negative or unhelpful advice. You will find the right role for you but accept it will take perseverance. Also, read as much as you can – from every available source – on topics related or potentially related to your business and the market as a whole. Finally, make sure you have good help at home and support from those around you whether this is from your partner, relatives or female friends. However much you love your job, you still need that good work/life balance!