What do you do at Coronation and what led you to this role?
I’m an economist in the Fixed Income team. I have been involved in economic research for about 20 years. When I finished school, I wanted to join the diplomatic corps. It was 1994, in a fast-changing South Africa, so I chose to take a gap year. On returning from overseas, I went to UCT, but found it hard to settle down. In the end, I moved to Johannesburg. I called all the local banks’ economic divisions and offered to work for free. I eventually spoke to Chantal Friedman, then about to leave Standard Bank, and started working in their Economic Division as the editor while I finished studying. It was the best possible training because I got to read all the research.
From there, I joined the ‘sell side’, doing SA-focused economic research mostly for global banks, until joining Coronation. This was great experience – competitive, demanding of thought, time and energy, tough, and I learned a lot.
Grit and inspiration
What drove you to succeed?
I think success is achieving something you really want, and that you’ve worked hard for. These ‘things’ change over time, so what we see as success becomes an evolution, and I’m very much still working at it. I don’t feel the same way about some of the things I thought were important when I was younger. Some, I just don’t want any more, and others have had to make way for new ambitions. So, while my career is still very important to me, being a good mom, wife, daughter, sister and friend are too, and all require different things of me. I want to succeed in all of those roles.
Importantly, though, I think achieving your success is something you do for yourself, not for anyone else.
Where does your resilience come from?
I often joke that I wish I’d worked as hard at school and university as I have since! I think I am most driven by not wanting to let anyone down, including myself. There have been so many times along the way when I messed up, when I wasn’t sure how to do something and didn’t ask for help, or when I misjudged a situation and had to go back and make things right.
These situations have been difficult, sometimes painful, sometimes embarrassing, but have always proved to be the ones I learned from the most. And, when I admitted I needed help or that I was wrong, I generally not only received the help that I needed, but also grew a great deal in the process. Most often the tough part is recognising that and getting up to try again.
Shoulders of giants
Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
I have always had enormous support from my family, especially my parents, who are both incredibly hard-working people with great integrity and courage. I grew up in a small suburb and my parents were both very involved in their communities and careers (my dad was a librarian and my mom a high school teacher). Despite being busy, they made time for my brother and me. They were interested and interesting, and we had good conversations about everything. They encouraged us to travel, be curious and believe in ourselves.
As a parent and working person, I only really understand how valuable and precious this ‘gift’ was now. It isn’t easy to make good quality time when you’re busy and tired. It isn’t easy to be present at the end of a long day and ask the right questions, and, above all, listen properly to the replies. I often don’t get any of this right, but I am lucky to know what that is, and to try and be better.
Who have been your career mentors?
I have never had a ‘mentor’ in the traditional sense of an experienced and trusted advisor in the workplace. I have, however, been very lucky to have worked in teams of extremely smart and accessible people. I have learned so much from senior members of those teams, who gave me their time and were willing to answer many questions, no matter how basic they were.
We are a team-based meritocracy, what does this mean to you? And how does it impact your work experience?
Being part of a team where every member is there because they are good at what they do and has earned their place, creates an environment that I think elevates the quality of thinking and debate and, ultimately, the product the team delivers. Being part of a such a team (and I’ve worked in several throughout my career), is really a privilege. When you work with people who are committed to excellence, who are engaged and interested and working hard to do things better, it makes you want to do the same, and everyone benefits. Teams such as this have longevity, they grow on themselves through time, and become more than the sum of their parts.
Where this isn’t the case, the process fails, and a team will struggle to be greater than its least-motivated member.
We place high value on integrity in all that we do. What does integrity mean to you, personally and for the business?
I think having integrity is to always be honest and to do what you say you are going to do, no matter how small or inconsequential this may seem. Without integrity there cannot be trust and without trust, relationships don’t work, either at home, in the office or with our clients. Like being part of a great team, being part of a business built on integrity that everyone understands becomes something very special. I think Coronation’s clients know and value this bedrock of the business.
What do you think needs to change in the mindset of working women?
I haven’t felt that being a woman at work ever limited what I thought I could do. That’s perhaps because there are quite a lot of women economists in financial markets, but perhaps also because I learned that by working hard, the things that made me different offer equal value. I think women need to accept that they approach issues and challenges with a different way of thinking and that this adds its own value.
Being a working woman is always going to be a juggle, mostly because we often have responsibilities of care elsewhere. I still feel very guilty about needing to leave work to attend to a child, and equally needing to leave my children to do work. It usually means I spend a bit of time working at home, and a bit of time away from my desk. Accepting that this cannot be helped is as important as realising that most colleagues are understanding of these responsibilities. I don’t find it makes me feel less guilty, but it allows me to try to be the best mom when I’m with my family and to try to do the best work I can when I’m at my desk.
What advice would you give women entering the workplace now?
Don’t be scared to ask questions, no one expects you to know everything about a new job (or anything else, for that matter). Ask for help if you need it. Try to remember that you have more time early on in life than you think you do, so enjoy the time you’re in now. Maya Angelou wrote, “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it.”