Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Women at Work

It is true that women in the City / Wall Street (read finance industry) are typically underpaid compared to their male peers. It is also true that there are a number of sexual harassment incidents that occur in the banking industry. And furthermore it is also a fact that post motherhood most women in front office jobs find it tough to progress on their desired career path. However, I do not agree with a recently published article in the Financial Times (online version) stating that “when the going gets tough on Wall Street, women are the first to go”.

This article cited the recent examples of Erin Callan (ex-Lehman Brothers CFO who was recently demoted to a “senior position” in the investment bank) and Zoe Cruz (ex- President of Morgan Stanley who “resigned” in November 2007) as having been made scapegoats by the men in their organizations to cool the atmosphere in these tumultuous times. The evidence does not support the claim that these women suffered their fates because of their genders. A lot more than just that contributed to the final outcomes.

Zoe Cruz was with Morgan Stanley for 24 years before her departure. She survived more than a couple of market downturns, a merger with Dean Witter and a testosterone driven trading floor. The woman was a meritocratic and principled employee. She was fiercely loyal to her employer and refused to accompany her mentor and boss, John Mack, to Credit Suisse in 2001 when he went to the Swiss house as the CEO. Post Mack, Vikram Pandit (the current CEO of Citigroup) was made her boss and they did not have the camaraderie that Cruz shared with Mack. Cruz’s position was weakened because of internal politics. When Mack returned to Morgan Stanley he once again took Cruz under his wings. She was the most likely successor to Mack. But then came the sub prime crisis and along with that a gang of displeased executives who looked at Mack to be pacified. This was essentially the pro Pandit and anti Zoe crowd. Mack had two problems, one he needed to save his job and two he needed to calm down his fired warlords. He could appease the raging crowd and save his job. So Zoe got canned. It was politics and not gender that took Zoe down. What is very interesting (as a side note) is Pandit’s proclamation to be conservative (while at Morgan Stanley) while touting Cruz be an excessive risk taker. Well seems ironic, the excessive risk taker stuck with the safer bet of Morgan Stanley rather than moving to Credit Suisse and the more conservative punter started his own hedge fund which in its first year of being taken over by Citigroup caused the institution to take a write down of USD 202m.

Erin Callan is slightly a different story. When the tax lawyer and investment banker was promoted to being the CFO in late 2007, there were doubts voiced by analysts and insiders on her abilities to navigate the fixed income house through the choppy seas of the sub prime crisis. While she had the industry knowledge she needed some more time to understand the balance sheet of the mega machine she was now responsible for. The current market did not give her luxury of time to come to grips with the situation. Thus she made some mistakes which the market held against the organization. For example, a few weeks after stating that the bank did not need additional capital, Lehman announced a USD 6bn capital raising exercise. That was a blow to the CFO’s office as well. It was this lack of investor buy in and experience which led Erin Callan back to the ranks of senior management. However, one cannot forget that she was not alone in her fate. Joeseph Gregory, a man, a male, also was demoted along with Callan. And well the sub -prime has had its share of male casualties as well. Can we forget Chuck Prince, Stan O’Neal, Huw Jenkins and Martin Sullivan? It is not about male or female it is about internal politics, shareholders and survival of the fittest.

So does that mean that women find it difficult to survive in this male dominated environment? I am not sure that as a generalization the statement holds true. There are women and very successful women in the banking world. Having said that, yes the number of senior women in financial institutions in the west is still very small. However, look at India. A number of global and local financial institutions are headed by women. In fact the deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India (Indian central bank) is a lady of many talents, Mrs. Usha Thorat. Some of the women bankers in India are pioneers in their field and forces to reckon with. Below is a short list of some of the top performers (in no order) over the last few years.

Chanda Kocchar (Fortune’s list of 50 most powerful women in business)
Current Job: Joint MD ICICI Bank
Past Employers: ICICI Bank
Education: MBA from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute, Mumbai

Naina Lal Kidwai (Recipient of the second highest civilian award in India – Padma Shri)

Current Job: CEO of HSBC India
Past Employers: ANZ, JM Morgan Stanley
Education: MBA from Harvard, Boston

Lalita Gupte
Current Job: Joint MD ICICI Bank
Past Employers: ICICI Bank
Education: MBA from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute, Mumbai & INSEAD, Fontainebleau

Renuka Ramnath
Current Job: MD & CEO ICICI Venture
Past Employers: ICICI Bank
Education: Engineering, MBA

Kalpana Morparia
Current Job: Joint MD ICICI Bank
Past Employers: ICICI Bank
Education: Law

Meera Sanyal

Current Job: Chairperson & Country Executive ABN Amro (now RBS) India
Past Employers: ABN Amro
Education: MBA from INSEAD, Fontainebleau

Vedika Bhandarkar
Current Job: MD and Head of Investment Banking at JP Morgan India
Past Employers: JP Morgan
Education: MBA from IIM (Indian Institute of Management)

Manisha Girotra
Current Job: Head of UBS India
Past Employers: ANZ, BZW
Education: Masters in Economics from Delhi School of Economics

Ashu Suyash
Current Job: MD & Country Head of Fidelity Fund Management
Past Employers: Citigroup
Education: Chartered Accountant

Falguni Nayyar
Current Job: MD Kotak Investment bank
Past Employers: AF Ferguson, Kotak Mahindra Bank
Education: MBA from IIM

Deepti Neelkantan
Current Job: COO JM Morgan Stanley
Past Employers: JM Morgan Stanley
Education: Chartered Accountant

There are others who I have not mentioned because I am just attempting to give a snapshot of the evidence. In addition to the core banking functions, the ancillary industries in India have also seen some powerful women rise to the top. This includes credit rating agencies (e.g. Roopa Kudva CEO of CRISIL), stock exchanges (e.g. Deena Mehta President of Bombay Stock Exchange), regulatory bodies (e.g. Usha Narayanan ED at Securities and Exchange Board of India), accounting firms (e.g. Bharti Gupta Ramola Partenr at PwC) and housing finance companies (e.g. Renu Karnad Director at HDFC).

Most of the women who have attained these heights in India have done so on their own merit. Few of them have been brought up in blue blooded families. This makes their achievements even more commendable and inspiring. One key reason, in my opinion, for Indian women being able to succeed in the career ambitions is the family support they have post motherhood. Unlike the west where children need to be left at a crèche, with a child minder or a baby sitter; in India grandparents step in. This lends a huge support to the mother allowing her to pursuit her professional goals. At the same time in India women anyway need to struggle to stand on their two feet be it in any industry or any walk of life. Thus the determination for them to prove their ability in the professional male dominated scenario is probably higher than that of their western peers. Whatever the reasons are, the fact is that Indian financial industry has a number of role models for young women and that is a great achievement for an emerging market. It is also is an outstanding example of female perseverance, diligence and intelligence for the entire world. Women rock!

2 comments:

Raka said...

nice article..

I had no idea we have so many power-frau's in the finance industry back home....very encouraging. i can imagine u on that list someday soon!

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