Interview with Clara Furse, Chairman at Nomura Bank International
Clara Furse is the ex-chief executive of the of the London Stock exchange. She is now Chairman at Nomura Bank International and holds many other corporate and governmental positions. When I met her last November, she told me straight away: “I don’t believe in the cult of the CEO, the idea …
Interview with Clara Furse, Chairman at Nomura Bank International
Clara Furse is the ex-chief executive of the of the London Stock exchange. She is now Chairman at Nomura Bank International and holds many other corporate and governmental positions. When I met her last November, she told me straight away: “I don’t believe in the cult of the CEO, the idea that the CEO needs to promote himself or herself to showcase the company. Originally, it has been being my reluctance to do personal profile.” But she accepted and I was lucky enough to have a forty minutes conversation with one of the top women in the Finance industry in the UK.
You don’t believe in personalisation but men are more willing to engage in it?
I think that is true but there is also huge pressure from the media to engage and put themselves forward. I guess it is “role model” because they think that is what their readers want to hear about.
You don’t believe in being a role model for some women?
No, I don’t think. I never thought of it in those terms. For the simple reason that everyone is an individual and will have different priorities and to some extent different values and therefore, this idea of putting oneself forward as an example has always struck me as slightly arrogant. I would never suggest that some might want emulate me because I know very well that I am far from perfect. I have had to make sacrifices to achieve in the business world and therefore, the idea that because I have a media profile, I should say “look at me” is just odd to me.
Why did you decide to go into Finance?
I was always interested in Finance. My mother said that I was, even at a very young age, doing calculations. I was also interested in this idea that countries had different currencies and I think I was just also naturally mathematical. It led me into read Economics which of course I did at the London School of Economics (LSE).
In what did you specialise there?
One of the course I did there was the economic history of Latin America which I wanted to do because I had grown up in Columbia and was interested in what was happening there. This country had high dependency on certain crops, for instance, coffee, bananas but also unfortunately drugs. I was fascinated by that particular course and that then took me to commodity broking in the City of London. Then, I went to financial futures, fixed income currencies, derivatives and eventually equities.
You started your career at the end of the seventies, what was it like to be a woman then in the Finance industry?
Fantastic, huge fun! You stood out without making any efforts to stand out and then if on top of it, you did a good job it was hugely advantageous. I think this is something about the city of London, which is not well understood. It is a very meritocratic environment because it is very international and very competitive. It tends to excel in what it does.
You never face challenges, frustrations not to get a job?
No, I did not and I think it was partly because I was doing something that I really enjoyed and I was good at it. Being a woman and being noticed all added it up to an advantage actually. I know this is not the experience of everyone but I have always enjoyed my job enormously. Of course there has been moments where you come up against something that is unfair or unhelpful but you can deal with that.
Well, when I was in my twenties and when I was working in the yield market, there was a particular person who I suppose minded the fact that I came into this environment and made my life difficult but I did not let that bother me. I just went on and the results spoke for themselves and finally I won and he lost. I think that in any environment which is truly commercial, what you tend to find is that the management wants to do the best for the company, they have to ensure that the talents that they have within the organisation is allowed to flourish. Now, it is quite possible that I was just lucky but I don’t think so. I worked hard, I enjoyed it.
Were you sponsored?
Never formally sponsored but I did have a series of very good bosses in the early days when I was at Phillips and Drew and then at UBS. They promoted me and I delivered so I got promoted again. I don’t think, they or I, thought anything much about the fact that I happened to be a woman. The great thing also about being in business is that at the end of everyday there are numbers, it is very easy to measure performance and if the performance is there, then that is pretty clear that success should follow. And if it doesn’t follow then, there is a reason and one needs to find what the reason is. Obviously, there are times when one has to have conversations to try to understand what is maybe not said and to try to understand if there are problems that are getting in the way of your ability to move up the ladder but it is about being able to have those conversations. Sometimes what I observed is that women aren’t that good at saying to their bosses: “ look I want to have a chat because I need to understand why I am not progressing”.
How many women were you?
Actually, quite a few in my 20 and 30’ and if you look at the City of London, there are a lot of professional women in the City. But I as got older they were fewer at higher level but again mainly because, they chose to do something different because obviously this is a very demanding environment, it is a 10 to 12 hours a day environment. And when you get to be CEO as I did, you are doing 12 to 14 hours a day everyday.
How did you managed to have a work-life balanced?
With difficulty actually so I ended up focussing on two things: my family and my job. In the UK, there is the option of sending children to boarding schools, which is very good for them from an educational perspective, it is also very good for them from a general perspective. That is what we did and they benefited from it. Obviously, it meant that during the week, my husband and I, we could then, focus much more easily on our work.
What was your relationship to women and were you part of a network?
I did not join any network simply because I didn’t have the time to network. But obviously, I worked with a number of women and it was great. It is a different kind of relationship.
Did you have to adapt your management skills to this “male environment”?
My management style is to be very open and very inclusive, I don’t know if it has to do with being a woman. It is just the way I am. But what worked for me was insuring that I had all the relevant experts in the room before important decisions were made. It works very well because you got the best out of those people. You also generate a better discussion as a result and make better decisions. I also always believed in being very open. I think it is really important for people in an organisation to understand where the business is heading and why it is heading in that direction. I don’t believe that information is power.
Would you say that to that extent you have a more “feminine” kind of management?
I don’t want to say that because I don’t want that to be true but I would say that I don’t believe in “Information is power” because the organisation waste a lot of time trying to work out what is really happening in playing politics. It just saps positive energy out of the organisation. I also don’t believe in a tiny group of people at the top of the organisation just making decisions. I think it is really important to bring as many people into the decision making process as you can to make the decision-making process, a good one. It is more natural because you are building up relationships that build team spirit and a culture that delivers you vision as CEO.
What are the keys of your success?
I think enjoying what you do is the most fundamental thing so it is about forming relationships that makes work fun. It is about being able to be part of a team and then lead it. So I always really enjoyed management because I really like working with people.
Did you think that you had to work harder, to prove more?
No, because the numbers are there everyday. You either succeed or you are not and if you are doing a really good job, why would any company don’t want to keep you, motivate you, reward you. It just doesn’t make sense. That is not to say they aren’t problems but I look at what I am seating today, Nomura has an absolutely fantastic programme for helping its female and male employees who are on their way to become parents. They propose, coaching for maternity, adoption, training support at managing director level, Free pregnancy yoga classes, support for parents even if they are not at work etc…
So what I mean is that the reason why my story sounds good is because I happened to be working in an environment, which is particularly progressive and meritocratic.
But it is not the case for all women; they are fewer at the top?
The bottom line is that you really have to want to do your job. It has to be central to your life and if it isn’t then you are going to step off the ladder. You are going to decide, usually in your thirties that you rather be doing something different or you just want to be looking after your family. A lot of women want to prioritise other things. They have a different definition of happiness. My definition of happiness was being able to do an extremely stimulating job and have a thriving happy family. That is my definition of success.
It is no more a macho world in your views?
It is a macho world in the sense that if you look at any work place, people in their forties and above, the vast majority of them at the most senior level, will be men. The question is what is that so and what do we do to change the balance? I think we can do an all number of things. It is for instance, about having affordable and high quality childcare, having a very supportive husband…
Isn’t it a question of corporate culture as well?
Yes of course but women can change that, I think that is what I have demonstrated. Women have the power to change that!
Interview by Véronique Forge