Saturday, October 21, 2006

Women in Business Conference 2006

Yesterday we held the Women in Business Conference at the London Business School. What an experience! It was very high profile and I met and listened to some very impressive women:

1) Vivienne Cox,
Executive Vice President and CEO, Gas, Power & Renewables and Integrated Supply & Trading, BP

Vivienne is one of the top people at BP and also an excellent speaker and a very nice person. She spent some time talking about renewable energy, but the most interesting parts were her advice to succeed (and I think that goes for men and women alike). Her advice was: "find something that only you can do and know what only you can do". This is useful for two things:
- If you ever want to work flexible hours, go home early or in any way appear to put in less time than others (e.g. when you have children), she said it is crucial that you are still the best person to do that job. So you have to know what you excel at and make sure you leverage this skill on your job. That way, you are in a much more favourable negotiating position than if you are easily replaceable
- If you're a boss, you may find yourself in the position of having 1,000 things on your to do list and you may get overwhelmed by all the work. So knowing what only you can do also means that you know which things others can also do by exclusion. So her advice was if you are overwhelmed, only do the things that only you can do and delegate the rest. Also sound advice

2) Dorothee Blessing, Managing Director, Goldman Sachs IBD
Many who saw her agreed that Dorothee was the jewel of this conference. Finally, an example of a very smart and ambitious women who loves her job, has a big family (three children) and is an extremely good and helpful person. Her answers to the questions from the audience were very insightful and she listened very closely and thought very hard to give just the right answer to that person.

She shared some wisdom of hers that I will never forget. Lots of us were wondering "how is it possible?" to work fulltime in investment banking, travel around the world and have three children? Her answer was that the main problem is not about being a women. She said the most important thing is to know what you want in your life. This gives you determination and also makes you do only the things you love. In her case, she said she always knew she wanted a big family, no matter what. She then joined Goldman Sachs in Frankfurt and simply loved the job, so she also wanted to continue in that job. She said if you know exactly what you want and love your job, you will find a way to make things work.

The conclusion to this is that maybe many women who say they can't handle job and family or they need to withdraw from work because it doesn't work never loved their job in the first place? Maybe we just use children as an excuse to leave a place we didn't want to be in anyway? I'm not claiming it is going to be easy and Dorothee wasn't. I just found it very insightful that instead of agonizing over how hard it is to be a woman, we would do well investing this time in figuring out what exactly we want and which job we would really love, and then I completely agree with her that you will find a way to make it work, because in that case it is worthwile.

I am very thankful this busy MD flew in from Frankfurt to share this with us. She has changed the way I think within an hour, and how often can you say that about people? This leaves me now with the task of figuring out my dream job again - ouch!

3) Networking
There was also plenty of time to network in between and after the session. Apart from having more time to talk to my lovely female classmates (they are all so nice, so this is always great, even if I do it every day :-) ), I met an Irish alumna who is now CEO of her software startup, and funnily enough also a MiF alumna from Hamburg who is now a freelance consultant in Hamburg. I also met again a Goldman Sachs recruiter I had met already at a dinner two weeks ago, and it was a pleasure to talk to her again, and then I got the chance to talk for the first time to our excellent Finance professor, Francesca Cornelli. She is one of these rare persons simply everybody has to like. She is also an excellent teacher, the pace is fast but I enjoy the class very much. I came with some previous finance knowledge but we go much further than the basics I had in every lecture. We are in the 3rd week now and already dealing with calculating forward rates, it's great

The weeks ahead are going to be BUSY. It's not so much the workload from school (though there are five assignment piled up), but more the fact that every evening there are events, so if you want to take advantage of them you only have the weekend to do any work. The events for the coming days:
- Indian Diwali party on campus, including dinner, fireworks and Bollywood dancing
- Lehman Brothers Women's Workshop in their Canary Wharf offices
- Scholarship drinks reception with the Dean and the corporate sponsors of the school
- Lunch with the MD of HR of Deutsche Bank in their offices in the City
- Undergraduate recruiting at London School of Economics, Oxford and Cambridge - since I have time I am helping out my company to recruit smart German undergrads for our German office. Some of them might be lured by opportunities in London so we have to work hard to lure them back to Germany. I think I am well suited for this because I studied in the UK and actually applied to the London office out of undergrad, but somehow the German office found out and convinced me to forget about London and come to Germany

Apart from that - still working on figuring out the right path in my life. Yesterday I decided to take a day off from this. If you look at it from an outsider's perspective, all this talk about "should I do Consulting or Investment Banking?" probably sounds completely stupid. There are so many people in London who are designers, art dealers, architects, journalists and so on, and to them I assume it all sounds the same. What I'm doing now is I'm talking a lot to other McKinsey people and then to lots of other people, often with finance background. Among the McKinsey people (we are 8 in our MBA class) I think as good as 100% want to go back and think this is the best thing to do. Of the other people I talk to, many also think it makes sense to stay a couple of years longer. It's funny how fast things can change. I'll keep my mind open for a few more months and go to all the networking and informational events, so far they have been very helpful in giving me an idea of where I would enjoy working and where I most likely wouldn't.


Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to ask Dorothee's children whether they also think she can manage both things - to be a good mother and director in GS...

angie said...

I don't think it is correct to assume children of successful busy mothers are unhappier than children of housewives. In the end, it is not down to the quantity of hours you spend together. I can see it's a stretch, but I think it is very unhelpful to suggest children of successful women will be unhappy, as this is supposed to make working women feel guilty, while you wouldn't say the same about successful men.

Anonymous said...

I suggest you move to London for a couple of years with McKinsey. Much better quality of life office. See how that works out for you and then decide. From my brief experience with our esteemed German colleagues, I definitely think their lifestyle is crazy. London is much more relaxed and much more opportunities for local staffing.