Investment Banking from London to Nairobi

Journey to Shangri La- this is where we were all headed. Three hundred graduates, all from top-notch universities across the world, meeting the world of Investment Banking for the first time.

I remember, it was the year 2000 and I had just graduated from my Masters in Law in Banking and Finance in 1999. What was my motivation then? I don’t think I had any. But London’s bright lights were calling and I wanted to be that person who shouts across the trading floor ‘Sell!!. After all I had seen it on television enough times. And those people looked pretty important.

I picked JPMorgan’s program for the reason that they had a plug and play for ‘Diversity’. They had an initiative known as ‘War for Talent’. And part of that so-called war was for women and minorities -of which I was both! I thought to myself, “They want me. They have made an effort.”

The world of high finance, trading floors, risk-management was nothing like I expected. The idea that we could make the world go round drove us. The excitement of early morning meetings; meeting this and that director; networking! expensive hotels! That was where I was.

Fast forward to now and really, what can I say? Today, I work at Sinapis Group, a private equity firm in Nairobi, Kenya with a focus on African start-ups.

Women work not because they have to but because they want to. High Finance is typically male, a lot of people would say. But women too are highly skilled and fascinated with numbers as well as by making a real difference.

Intuition and instinct were my biggest allies. I would simply feel my way through things and situations. I typically blurted out what was on my mind. After all, my best ideas come through in the strangest moments. Seeing as I had no one to look up to and compare, I simply did what I thought best for that particular time. Sometimes, it got me into trouble but at other times it opened the most amazing doors.

So as a parting thought:

I have the strongest conviction that High Finance is actually for women.

Why? Well in the first instance, 1) We need money. 2) We are great at making money. 3) We make the vast majority of the global spending decisions. 4.) We enjoy a significant challenge. 5) And very importantly, women want to have a huge impact on the world. Every time, I want to walk away from my work, I remember the words of the then Chief Financial Officer of the Americas at JP Morgan saying, at a women’s meeting “Hey, don’t leave all the toys on the table. You deserve this too.”

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