By Cleo Thompson (London), founder of The Gender Blog
Carol Paterson Smith has one key piece of advice for women in business – and it’s a good one.
And, as a hugely successful and influential woman in the City of London, her words of wisdom carry some weight. Paterson Smith is head of hedge fund clients for Rothschild Blackpoint and, in her early 30s, is one of the City’s most connected and stylish players.
“When I graduated, I knew I wanted to do something intellectually stimulating and I also knew I wanted to move into sales. I’ve always been very commercially focused – I was an Avon lady in my mid teens. When I was 18 I managed a sales team in Edinburgh. My mum runs a business and is very successful; she’s a great role model who has always encouraged me.”
Graduating from the University of Aberdeen with an MA in European Studies and speaking three languages, Paterson Smith was drawn to London’s demanding environment, which she describes as being:
“… exciting, dynamic and cutting edge. You have to know what’s happening all the time and always be up to speed on news and developments. Information is key, it drives price. That kind of world attracts dynamic people, with a great sense of humour. Most of my clients and colleagues are very bright, witty people and perhaps not the stuffy stereotypes perceived by others. And it’s a very meritocratic place – if you work really hard and you’re bright, it’s difficult not to do well. It never occurred to me that I’d do anything other than work hard and be successful – it’s how I grew up and was raised. I saw the power in being a strong independent woman and I wanted that for myself.”
And the City was the place where all of these aspects came together and were possible – for Paterson Smith, a perfect storm in career terms.
She joined Scudder (a US mutual fund manager) aged 21 and travelled globally, very often with the chief investment strategist, who she credits for teaching her so much about this brave new world – “He was a fantastic role model and a huge intellectual; he recommended books to me and I just absorbed it all.”
When Scudder was taken over by Deutsche Bank in 2002, she transferred to GAM, a big hedge fund company, and moved into hedge fund sales, which she describes as feeling like her true home as soon as she got there.
Hedging a bet
“Hedge funds are so interesting – they’re the canaries in the coal mine; they aim to uncover what’s happening ahead of time, as recently seen with the Greek debt situation. Their only agenda is to make money – and to always be ahead of the curve. It’s very hard work to keep on top of the game in terms of information and knowledge – it’s extremely time consuming to do the reading and always be up to speed with the stories and the issues and the trends. I learned this very quickly at GAM” – where she became FSA regulated via the City exams.
Paterson Smith’s career escalated when she then moved to brokerage house Pali International and built their business from scratch; they’d never before done hedge funds and wanted to go into the cap-intro sector. She initiated all aspects of the business, which she describes as: “an amazing experience and I got involved with so much. But then they then decided not to pursue that industry and so they shut it down – a huge shame, just as money was starting to come in. So six years ago I arrived at Rothschild Blackpoint, where I’m now head of hedge fund clients.”
Her role entails working with the fund managers, understanding what’s happening with the fund (both how it’s performing and how they manage it), and communicating this to existing clients, as well as seeking out new ones.
Reverting back to her original passion for sales, Paterson Smith also handles sourcing Rothschild’s clients – from amongst pension funds (and their consultants), sovereign wealth funds, trust companies, insurance companies, private banks and family offices.
As for so many in the City, her days are long, action packed and demanding. She is usually at work by 8am, having run or roller-bladed to the office.
“I get home any time between 7pm and midnight. I’m often out in the evening with my clients, but that doesn’t feel like work because my clients are so smart and plugged in. Because I’ve been doing this for ten years, I’ve got a great network of fascinating people around me and I like to share that. As a way of supporting women in the City, I take my two female interns out and about with me so that they too can network and learn. I lacked role models when I started and I want to try and stop that.”
Where and who are your contemporaries?
“Initially, I thought there weren’t any problems in the City’s working environment and it was only after four years or so that I started to notice the lack of other senior women. The issues for women in this arena are unique – where and who are your contemporaries, how can you share and learn from them and discuss your own set of problems?
“And is it a demand or a supply issue? I haven’t had a problem as a woman – I’m focused and hard working and maybe I’d have given up if I wasn’t. There are more senior women in the City now, or so it feels. I never accepted that my gender might hold me back; it’s irrelevant for me and Rothschild have been fantastic – they’ve acknowledged my efforts and promoted me on the basis of my talent and hard work. I strongly believe that, in sales – if you sell, there’s no ambiguity.”
And that brings us to Carol Paterson Smith’s advice for other women in business, whatever their industry sector and wherever they may be located.
“My best career advice for women is that they must always strive to own their P&L (Profit & Loss) account. It’s very easy numerically to say “that’s what I’ve achieved” and your employer can’t then dispute your value. It’s so empowering to own your own P&L and it gives you freedom and respect. If you can generate P&L, someone will always hire you, so you can move on if you need or want to. And, don’t ever take the attitude that gender issues are not going to affect you – ignorance is naive.”
Savvy women, smart networking
In addition to leading a full life as a senior woman in the City, Paterson Smith is also the founder and CEO of website Alpha Female, which she describes as her antidote to the way in which the media views, treats and reflects women in a negative light, often setting them against each other. Having had the idea bubbling away for years, the site finally launched in spring 2010 as a place for alpha females who, as she describes it: “enjoy being women, don’t want to ape men, do enjoy their femininity, are very bright, hugely fun, know their stuff and are hard working.”
Her goal with the site, which is free to browse after sign up, was to create a destination for women which is “beautiful, chic, inspiring and celebrates the rewards of working hard. It details great places to shop and visit and promotes suppliers who understand that alpha women work the hours that they do and need their services. It’s important to tell the market that we are here and that we need looking after, because nothing is structured to help successful women, either at a media or a lifestyle level. For younger women, it’s a one stop shop for finding role models and building your network, whilst for more established women, it’s about connecting them to their peers.”
As with her career, Paterson Smith’s ambitions are huge – and it would, with her track record, be foolish to bet against her achieving them.