From art school to financial services, Kate Bohn reflects on the journey that led her to where she is now – reflecting on the benefits of a non-linear career and the importance of diversity as the Global Head of Private Markets Technology for Macquarie Asset Management.
Kate Bohn’s notably non-traditional route into financial services is integral to her approach to life and work.
Seven months into her role as Global Head of Private Markets Technology for Macquarie Asset Management (MAM), she talks about “joy, fun and freedom” in the workplace.
“I'm a massive fan of retaining joy, fun and freedom, as much as we can. We can empower and enable people to think for themselves in ways that allow a strong sense of autonomy, within environments that make it safe for them, our clients and Macquarie Group as a whole.”
Born in Australia, then regularly moving between there and the UK as a child, as well as grappling with a serious injury while in her second year at Camberwell School of Art in London, Kate conveys an innate resilience.
Kate had an early love for art, engaging with art school training and trying everything from photography to printing and sculpture. She went on to study History in Drawing and Printmaking, with Chemistry, and working as a curator in the art world, before moving into financial services.
“You don’t have to go through certain processes, tick certain boxes, look or sound a certain way to succeed. I’m conscious that I don't have banking qualifications” she says, “that I didn't go on a grad programme, but there is so much value in having different voices and a different way of thinking in the room. There are so many of our staff, stakeholders and clients who have different backgrounds and cultures. If we only represent one variety of person or thinking, that’s really limiting.”
She has developed a unique and diverse skillset, which she has found different ways to apply throughout her career.
“I really like agile methodologies, because we don't start with assumptions about what the answer will be” she explains. “When you set out, you are just seeking an answer—you're testing assumptions; you're testing hypotheses. And the answer may be different to what you thought it would be.”
Kate’s 20 plus years in financial services have taken her to other global organisations and now to Macquarie. When her current role was first on the horizon, she gave careful thought to the move.
“I have 22 years of experience and I didn't want to walk away from that, but I also recognised I needed a new challenge. I didn't necessarily want to start again so—much like I did when I moved away from the art world—I asked whether there was a different way to use my skill set.”
She consulted friends and contacts who had worked at Macquarie for their thoughts on the business. Without exception, all told her that the culture is unique and entrepreneurial.
Kate highlights the opportunities offered whereby “it’s extraordinary that staff at any level are encouraged to bring forward interesting ideas.”
“Rather than being asked whether you are the right person to have that idea, or in the right role or the right part of the business, you are given the freedom to run with the idea which empowers our people.
The opportunity to have interesting ideas and be offered the freedom to follow these through is great—it's almost like we’re a 18,000-person start-up and the outcome doesn't have to be a product; the outcome can be anything that moves us forward, helps us get better at something.”
Recognised across the industry as a transformational leader, behind Kate’s apparently ‘unorthodox approach’ lies a belief in order and structure. She has won numerous awards over the course of her career, being selected in the Women in FinTech Powerlist for the last three years running and most recently as part of their ‘Stand Out 45’, whilst also being named as one of the 10 Most Inspiring Women of Influence 2022 by Insights Success Magazine.
In her current role, Kate helps to bring connection between business stakeholders and technology teams. “I am a fan of anything that invites more understanding, more transparency and encourages curiosity. Checks and balances, structure, governance, and oversight are vital, particularly in a growth context, and do not have to compromise the ability to think outside the box, be curious, ask questions and deliver new ways of thinking or doing things that are beyond the obvious and the comfortable.”
Kate recognises that transformation from more traditional structures and attitudes around risk, to a new era in which an ability to respond at pace, is essential for all participants in financial services.
“The industry is changing, and I have seen, particularly in the last ten years, that the old operating models just don’t stand up anymore.
Radical transformational activities (such as strategic organisational change or the adoption of radically different technologies) no longer linger across a three-to-five-year lag from emerging to disruptive impact and there is pressure to become even more nimble to rapidly changing landscapes.”
“We want to be at the front of the curve and that takes completely different onboarding models and understandings about what the risk is, what kind of data we’re using, and how much money we’re spending.
For Macquarie to continue to be nimble, we will need to attract and retain our diverse talent as we explore an increasingly pragmatic, and lateral-thinking approach to our problem-solving. We will need colleagues with technical skills balanced with a holistic, strategic mindset, particularly in the digital space, which will grow our ability to pre-empt and maintain engagement with new ideas and technologies.”
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