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Magic Sponge: Q5 chats with Nicola Kane

Nicola Kane works for Credit Suisse as a Managing Director and Head of Group Operations for UK IB Entities and in 2006 she was one of 35 (out of 262) women who were promoted to MD at Goldman Sachs. Not bad for someone who ‘fell into’ her dream job!  Here, Nicola talks about her own leadership style, the challenges facing the Financial Sector, and why we should all make time for coffee.

What's the best career advice you've been given?

One female manager told me to ‘take time to have coffee’, which I thought was an odd thing to say, but what she meant was invest in your network.  Building rapport with people is so important: it makes it easier to talk about contentious issues and solve problems. She also told me not to make things look too easy. I think it’s a female trait, expecting results to speak for themselves, but if you never tell your manager about the challenges you faced, they get no insight into the skills you brought to bear. It’s about self-promotion, but without boasting.

What attracted you to the Financial Services sector in the first place?

I rebelled after A levels and joined a management scheme at a retail bank instead of going to university. But I soon learned that it wasn’t for me, and enrolled on a Business degree. I then worked for Deloitte in their financial consultancy before qualifying as a Chartered Accountant. My move into Operations came about by chance, when a recruitment consultant sent me to JP Morgan for an interview. I had no idea what Operations was at the time, but it was a watershed moment: I’d found a job that I love which played to my strengths.

You were at Goldman’s for fifteen years, what makes them so successful?  

People take a lot of ownership and accountability. They hire people who are very driven, motivated and competitive. It works for them, but it wouldn’t work everywhere. I was very conscious of adapting my skills when I moved to Credit Suisse – I tried to understand their culture rather than expecting them to adopt the Goldman’s culture.

Why do you think it’s tricky for women to gain senior positions in the Financial Sector? 

Firstly, there are a number of women who, if they wanted to, could achieve it, but perhaps don’t because they make other life choices that’s their choice and they can still have a valuable and rewarding career. For those who do want to get to the top, recognising the traits that define success is key, how to demonstrate those behaviours in a way that is still genuine and true to yourself is the art. For example, I tend to motivate people through encouragement “the carrot”, but when that didn’t always get the results I needed I had to develop some “stick” behaviours. At the end of the day it’s about balance, what do I need to do to achieve the desired end result and how do I do that in a way that is genuine and true to myself. 

Hopefully the HM Treasury’s Women in Finance Charter will continue to encourage more firms to support women in top positions. Credit Suisse has signed the charter which requires Board accountability and commits us to a minimum number of females in key governance roles. Ultimately we will be looking to tie results in with performance.  


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Olly Purnell

What’s your leadership style? 

I’m proactive, I take ownership and I don’t micromanage. Although I delegate, I don’t abdicate, so I still ‘own’ the problem. I believe in teamwork and collaboration. I try to be honest about the what and the why, build trust and value honesty and integrity.

What lessons can we learn from the 2008 ‘financial crash’? 

Humility! An appreciation that the majority of people don’t understand, or see the value of, what we do. There’s a need to educate people and re-build trust: we’re not all ‘evil’. Regulation is a necessary evil which we all need to comply with, however, as important as the letter of the regulation is, the underlying principles and intent are what we also need to embrace to rebuild our reputation.

What do you think are the biggest challenges for Financial Services?

Cost is a huge challenge, the burden of compliance with regulation is adding significantly to the cost base. We need to find cheaper more efficient ways to operate, offshoring to Poland or India is not going to be enough. We need a step change in technological innovation.

How do you relax? 

It helps that I’m good at compartmentalising, and can easily switch off from work. I have an incredibly supportive husband, and teenage twins who keep me grounded. We make a point of sitting down for dinner most nights and discussing our day. I recently took up the piano, and I love the way that it focuses my attention – but I’m a slow learner and my family are getting really fed up of Silent Night!