Nadia Manzoor - Breaking Moulds!

Nadia is a total force of nature, whilst remaining incredibly humble, and I loved hearing her story over breakfast at Dean Street Townhouse. Last June, at just 30 years old, Nadia was appointed to the board of JP Morgan American Investment Trust, making her the youngest woman in the world to sit on the board of a company listed on the main market of the London Stock Exchange. She is almost half the average age of non-execs currently sitting on UK boards! Nadia is also a Partner at S. W. Mitchell Capital - the hedge fund run by star-manager, Stuart Mitchell. She made Partner after just 18 months at the fund - whilst still in her twenties! Read on to discover her story, her advice for those seeking to break in to Finance and her thoughts on the diversity of the industry.

Meet Nadia

Current Job Partner at investment management boutique, S.W. Mitchell Capital. I head up the business development team and am General Counsel to the firm. I also sit on the board of J. P. Morgan American Investment Trust as a Non-Executive Director.

First Job When I was 14, would you believe, all I wanted was a long-sleeved Manchester United shirt with Giggs on the back! My mum didn’t think this was suitable attire for a young lady (although not sure that I’ve ever been a “young lady”!) and said that if I wanted one I would have to earn the money myself. So, I got a job picking strawberries on a farm near where I live in Yorkshire. I worked from sunrise to sunset picking - slash eating - strawberries for 2 long days. Just long enough to earn £65 to buy the shirt, which I still have to this day…but definitely never wear anymore! I used to wear it the whole time – with a matching cap…aaah! I couldn’t even tell you who their captain is now!

Education Law at Cambridge University. It was a real privilege to study there. 

Go to meeting spot I always ask the person I’m meeting where’s best for them. As a result, I seem to spend a lot of time in the various Le Pain Quotidien’s dotted around mid-town New York. If a client is visiting London and asks me to choose then I go for The Parlour at Fortnum & Mason. Partly because it’s right next door to our office but mainly because they serve their hot chocolate with marshmallows and cream!

Favourite book Too many! Things that jump to mind straight away: The Count of Monte CristoThe Great GatsbyTo Kill a MockingbirdAesop’s FablesThe Shadow of the Wind. All Roald Dahl and I adore reading Oscar Wilde’s plays as well. 

Necessary extravagance Uber everywhere. Whoever decided not to produce cumulative monthly statements was a very clever person. Somewhat ironically, walking everywhere is my other extravagance – it would be wonderful to walk everywhere, but I never seem to have enough time. 

Favourite productivity tool Yoga – or at least, trying to do yoga - I’m not very good! It’s amazing how slowing down can help you speed up. I’m addicted to sugary treats which give me productivity bursts too… but I’m (very) slowly trading this in for green juice! It’s so important to give your body the right kind of fuel.

Female inspiration in business My mum is the inspiration for everything in my life – she is a remarkable woman. I remember her being an early donner of trouser suits back in the 80s which used to terrify the Kindergarten dads (probably including my own)! I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with inspirational women too. When I started my career, I trained as a corporate lawyer under Nilufer von Bismarck at magic circle law firm, Slaughter and May. They don’t make lawyers better than Nilufer. I owe much of who I am today to her - she could certainly be tough on me! Sarah Bates, the super smart Chair of my board, is also a huge inspiration. I look up to these women very much – they are absolutely killing it in a man’s world.

Hottest tech startup in the UK right now Entrepreneur First. The work that EF are doing to support people - many of whom would otherwise not have had the opportunity to build and create companies of their own – companies that will mould our future - is tremendous. (Although perhaps I’m a little biased… I’m a lawyer so full disclaimer at all times: my best friend’s husband, Matt Clifford, is a Co-Founder).

 

The Journey

Have you always been interested in Finance?

Absolutely not! When I was a child, I used to fluctuate between wanting to become a doctor and an actress – but in theatre, not Hollywood.

I was a total science geek. I set up the junior science club at my school… I still go to science lectures now (always alone!). It sounds like such a cliché saying it out loud – but I wanted to do something that could make a difference to people who need it the most. I spent a summer in my teens volunteering in Malawi and came home convinced that Médecins Sans Frontières was my calling in life. Maybe it is. I’ve always had something in my DNA that wants to help people. Ultimately, I’d love to set up a charity.

As for acting - I’ve been interested in drama ever since my first casting as Joseph in the Kindergarten nativity play. I like to think that this was due to my talent rather than because I looked like a boy! Nobody is entirely sure which it was, but either way, I ended up going to Performing Arts school and am Grade 8 in Guildhall Speech & Drama. I also worked as an extra in various films and television programmes that were filmed in Yorkshire. My family home is right by the Emmerdale set so I spent time during school holidays there - waiting for hours for the 2 seconds I was needed to cross a road somewhere very very far in the background!

I never even considered Finance. But then I’m not sure any little girl says to her parents “when I grow up I’d like to work in a hedge fund…”.

So how did you get to Law initially?

I’m not good enough to be an actress - although it’s still a great hobby of mine. I did a course focussing on Stanislavki’s system at RADA recently and I’d love to put on an amateur production one of these days. As for medicine, those aspirations were cut short when I did work experience with a paediatrician and discovered that I’m just not emotionally tough enough to become the kind of doctor I’d envisaged. 

I was left stuck (or so I thought) because I was doing all sciences and Economics at A level. I ended up panicking and reading Law because I simply didn’t know what else to do. For some reason, I thought I needed to do something which carved out a path for my future – but do any of us ever really know what we want to be? Perhaps the best things happen when you don’t have a plan. With hindsight I should have just studied something I enjoyed. I absolutely love my job, but I sometimes wonder how different my life would be if I hadn’t made the decision to study Law.

How did you get from Law into Finance?

Luck. It can be very hard to make a complete career change without starting at the bottom. It’s useful to start with speaking to recruiters and possibly even looking into relevant courses… but for me it came down to speaking to as many different people already in the industry as I could. A friend (to whom I will be eternally grateful) who works at another fund very kindly made the introduction. At the time, I had no idea that it would eventually lead to a job. I was just incredibly lucky that my (now) boss was able to see the transferability of my skill-set and was willing to give me a chance to prove myself.  But getting the job is only the start. It’s an incredibly competitive industry, so keeping the job is the hard part. It was a real baptism of fire for me at the start.

Unfortunately, the fund management industry can be pretty opaque. People don’t tend to use recruiters, internships are scarce and it can be hard to even just to get a CV in front of the right person. In the absence of getting an internship, I would encourage anybody thinking about jobs in a fund to reach out to individuals already working in the industry to ask for advice - rather than just sending a CV. Websites often have email addresses (if not you can often work them out or failing that, LinkedIn is a great resource). If you can find somebody that you have a connection with, it’s a nice way to introduce yourself. Even if you just went to the same University or like the same sports team, it’s enough. People are usually always willing to go for a coffee, and you never know where it will lead. Being able to show who you are and what you have to offer is always much better than just being a name on a piece of paper. I'm happy for anyone reading this to get in touch with me if they’d like to talk about this more. I’m always so happy to help if I can.

How did you get your Board role?

I was headhunted. One of the difficulties is how to find good candidates from all backgrounds who are not already on boards. I’m not sure there is a good answer to that, but with an ever increasing focus on strong corporate governance and diversity, boards are (rather encouragingly) starting to look much more actively in wider pools. Board Apprentice is a superb not-for-profit organisation which aims to increase the number and diversity of board-ready individuals – well worth having a look at for anybody thinking about a board role.

 

Women in Finance

Why do you not think there are more women in Finance?

I think it stems from not enough women applying in the first place, rather than there being a “glass ceiling”.  A lot of analyst roles require a Maths degree, which typically tends to be a more male dominated subject. Plus the perception of the industry can be quite tough –women may be intimidated by stories of gruelling hours and difficult characters. We need to change both of those things. Maths is obviously very helpful, but it isn’t essential - some of the best analysts I know have arts backgrounds. From my own experience, the perception of the industry is unfair too.

My particular role involves a lot of travel - I’m in the US every few weeks and somewhere in Europe every couple of months too. Whilst I love travelling, being away so much for business can be exhausting and is pretty unconducive to having a young family. It’s inadvertently a way that women can get pushed out or (at the more cynical end of the spectrum) not selected for roles in the first place. At our firm we are hugely supportive of women and  flexible working but that doesn’t appear to be the norm. More firms need to evolve to create an environment to support their employees as they grow. In my view, creating more autonomous working environments isn’t just about supporting women, but also about increasing productivity across the board. I won’t go into it now, but if you haven’t seen the TED Talk – Dan Pink, The Puzzle of Motivation – you have to watch it! One of my absolute favourites.

The industry is aware there is a problem, which is the start of things getting better. The Diversity Project was launched last year, with the aim of accelerating progress towards a more inclusive culture in the investment profession. I very much hope that it will help to bring about the change needed – not just for women, but to ensure diversity in all of its different guises.

Do you find it hard to be a woman in such a male dominated industry?

I give the men a run for their money! But, yes it can be challenging at times. Often that’s my own mind playing tricks, rather than as a result of anything that other people do. I don’t like to stereotype, but there is all sorts of interesting research that shows that women are, typically, much less self-assured than men. I think I am confident… yet I would never have considered myself for my non-exec role if I hadn’t been headhunted. I see the same sort of mind-set in other women I know. We desperately need to change this.

What personal qualities to you attribute most to your success?

There is no magic ingredient. I just try my best and work hard... and I work hard because I want to be the best. Every accomplishment starts with a simple decision to try. Outside of that, I think it’s important to treat people well. In a world where we can choose to be anything, I wish more people would choose to be kind. Everything in life comes down to the relationships we have.

What would be your advice to women getting into Finance today?

You can never be overdressed or overeducated! It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, or what stage you are in your life – education can be the key to a myriad of different doors. I hope I never stop learning. But as much as we like to think of education as meritocracy, I know it isn’t always easy – if you’re struggling then please get in touch with charities like Tomorrow’s People and The Prince's Trust. I volunteer for Tomorrow’s People and I’m blown away by the work they do to help people acquire skills and ultimately find employment.

The dressing remark is slightly tongue in cheek, but I think there is some truth behind it. My mum always says “dress for the job you want, not the job you have”. But most importantly, make sure your clothes are professional – including at evening functions.

I would also say, think about why you want go into Finance. It’s a great career – but I ended up here by default rather than design. There are so many different paths out there – explore them – do work experience and speak to as many different people as you can. For example, tech is a hugely exciting area… it’s the future.

Another important thing is (throwing our genetic pre-disposition aside) to believe in yourself. Everybody has talents – find yours. I love the Einstein quote

Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking it’s stupid

Final thought...

Most importantly of all, remember balance in everything that you do.

The ability to switch off is crucial

Having a career as a woman can be hugely empowering, but it’s equally empowering to spend time with your family and to do the things that make you happy. Ultimately if you have your health and a couple of people you love, then you really do have everything.