Macquarie Podcast Series featuring Commodities and Global Markets
Speakers: Carolyn Porretta with Sarah Fennell
Recorded on 25 February 2020.
Voiceover: Welcome to the Macquarie Podcast Series featuring Commodities and Global Markets.
Sarah Fennell: Hello everyone and a warm welcome to the second episode in our podcast series. My name is Sarah Fennell and I'm the head of Diversity and Inclusion for Macquarie in EMEA. Today's episode marks International Women's Day and celebrates women in finance.
I'm delighted to be joined by Carolyn Porretta, Managing Director in our Fixed Income and Currencies team. She's responsible for origination and structuring of our European structured products. So, Carolyn, thanks for joining us today. Could you start by telling us a bit about yourself and how you got to where you are?
Carolyn Porretta: Sure, and thank you for having me. So, when I studied, I studied maths and computer science in France. And then I studied again and did a business school that we call a Grande Ecole in France. I did a couple of internships at Soc Gen, but mostly my career started in London. I started as a Quantitative Analyst in securitisation and principle finance, and then grew from there into structuring and even more commercial roles. I've mostly worked for investment banks, but I also worked for investment managers and even a small private equity firm.
Sarah Fennell: And what made you make the switch to Macquarie?
Carolyn Porretta: So, when I looked at it from the outside, I was at a point in my career where I really could take pretty much any path I wanted, and what really mattered to me was to work for a good place. And from the outside, it was pretty obvious to me that, one, there was a very good culture, and two, it was a very lean and successful place to work for.
The one thing I noticed that was glaring obvious was that they were sponsors of various women's organisations, including Women in Banking and Finance, which is an organisation that I really like. So, it told me that somehow they were committed to diversity. They had a woman CEO which is something I definitely valued. And then every person I spoke to said ‘oh, it's great to work here’. So, the word of mouth definitely came number one and confirmed the impression I had.
Sarah Fennell: So, what does a normal day look like for you?
Carolyn Porretta: If there is such a thing, I would say the first thing is the transactions I work on take 3-6 months to be put together. It's very different from the buy and sell idea that people can have about what it is to work on a trading floor. So, I usually work on two or three or four transactions at the same time and all of them are going to be at different stages, at different times.
So that means that usually when I arrive, the first thing I do is to review the emails that have landed overnight, obviously. And then I'm going to carry on having calls with clients to discuss some commercial points on a transaction, review some information that I've received from clients, such as business plans, for instance, and looking at it and doing some analysis on it. I need to speak with lawyers. I speak to rating agencies. I give them information to get their opinion. I need to build Excel models, write presentations in PowerPoint, in Word, investment memos. So, it's very varied. It's very rounded and very varied.
Sarah Fennell: That sounds like a lot of fun.
Carolyn Porretta: No time to get bored.
Sarah Fennell: So, a lot of people ask, how do you find life on the trading floor? How's that changed over your career?
Carolyn Porretta: So, I like the trading floor and I enjoy working there because most of the people are very driven and usually they're all self-starters, which is something I really like, and I consider myself being a go-getter as well.
The one thing instead that has changed really is me and my behaviour. I definitely am more vocal and less apologetic about speaking up. I feel way more comfortable about calling out what I feel is not right and I really feel empowered to make change.
Sarah Fennell: Great. So, where do you think we have the greatest opportunity to drive further change?
Carolyn Porretta: I think the greatest opportunity is coming in the diversity of thought. The first step is allowing people to speak their mind and then the second step is listen to it and consider it and integrate it and do something with it. Social diversity at large, if embraced, will be gold for the organisations who manage to do something with it.
Sarah Fennell: Absolutely. And for people who are about to start their career on the trading floor, is there any, particularly for women, is there any advice you would give them from your own career?
Carolyn Porretta: Yeah, I think, when you start, you often think that you're going to do a good job. You're going to get rewarded and promoted. One thing I would say is don't just come and spend 100 per cent of your time trying to do a perfect job. I would reserve some of that time to go and build relations with people around you. Get involved, get involved with employee network groups, create a link, get some rapport with the people around you, with all your stakeholders; above, below and diagonal. And do spend some time and make some new thoughts there as well.
Sarah Fennell: That's good advice. So, when you've been faced with challenges in your career or things haven't necessarily gone your way, how do you overcome those obstacles and what would you recommend to other people following behind you?
Carolyn Porretta: So, there will be challenges, that's inevitable. And that's a great opportunity to actually develop and do something even better. Someone one day said to me ‘you can't change other people, you can’t change the system, but what you can change is how you react to things and how you make the most of it’. So, that's the idea behind it.
Sarah Fennell: Okay. So, it sounds like you've had some mentors and sponsors along the way. Can you tell us about how those relationships went?
Carolyn Porretta: So, I've had a colleague, for instance, once, whom I knew through my engagement with a women's network, who was sitting not too far from me and really acted as a sponsor first. He kind of, promoted me internally. But then also he was here when I had a tough time and, you know, acted as a sounding board, and he was really useful. And it's great that some of the older, more senior people do take the time to help the more junior ones.
I had a couple of formal mentors for six months, let's say, which is also very useful when it's someone that's outside the organisation and with whom you can really reflect to a higher level. But generally, where I draw the most of the advice I get is from the network of women I know around me. I can pull on and ask questions when I have a dilemma or problem and say, have you faced something similar and how do you manage it? What would you do? And hence the importance of having built a good network around you.
Sarah Fennell: And how did you go about creating that network?
Carolyn Porretta: Well, it's putting the time and effort and in meeting other people. I'm an introvert by nature so it does cost me to go towards other people, but with time it's become easier and easier. And then have a genuine interest in other people.
I sometimes thought that I was not really interesting. I've got nothing really interesting going on in my life. But actually, even if I don’t have much to talk about me, getting interested into other people and caring for them helps me build that rapport. And actually, introducing people between themselves and following up and organising things again and again, I've developed that, sort of, circle of people whom I can help. And sometimes, actually, whom I can call for help as well.
Sarah Fennell: Great. That's really good advice for other people to take forward. And do you have any female roles models, either in that network or elsewhere, that you particularly look up to?
Carolyn Porretta: I'm particularly picky, because I come from a very low-income background. So, what I'd love to have is a role model of someone who has really come from nowhere and had a fantastic career. And there's not many. And there's a few women I look up to, but it's more, it's more a handful of them that I admire for one reason or another, rather than one where I said ‘I want to be exactly like this’.
But through work, I didn't have any in the beginning at Macquarie, where we have a few: we have a very senior managing director on the trading floor here; obviously, we've got our own CEO; and there's a few other senior women that I really like, that are really nice. All those add up and create a great role model figure, if you want, that I can look up to.
Sarah Fennell: And so we're here today for International Women's Day. What does the day mean to you?
Carolyn Porretta: Well, you can question whether there's the need for a day in the year, really to celebrate women. It should be an everyday thing. But that said, I think it's easy to see what we don't do well or what we don't succeed at. And yet often we forget to give ourselves a pat on the back. So, if nothing else, I think it's a great day to celebrate our successes as well, and just stop and reflect on what's been done and what we could do.
Sarah Fennell: I think that's a good reflection. It's not just about picking one day where we care about gender. It's taking that day to see how we've progressed and what we can do next.
Carolyn Porretta: Yeah.
Sarah Fennell: So, moving on to a few more insights from you. One key question that often comes up is, what about your work/life balance and flexible working. The perception of banks is that it's a very long-hours culture, always spent in the office at all times of day and night. But what's your experience been in your career?
Carolyn Porretta: My experience is that people care about the work being done and deals closing. So, I've never had to stay here for long hours. I've also always been really keen to, you know, do the work and stay until I've finished doing the work. And equally, some days, if I finish early, I leave. I've never been apologetic, and nobody has reproached that to me ever. So, I'm not going to say it doesn't exist, and if it does exist, it's very sad. I think today we're all well-equipped with laptops, and iPhones, and we're all very capable of doing a lot of things at work or whilst we travel. So that should definitely disappear, if it hasn't disappeared yet.
Sarah Fennell: In addition to your already exciting and demanding day job, you spend a lot of time volunteering. What does the future hold for you and what are your burning ambitions for the future?
Carolyn Porretta: So, there are two aspects that are very important to me. One, I like to progress, I like to see that I'm going forward. Sometimes I can be sidetracked, or I can do a step back, but overall I like to see some progress into what I do. The other aspect is how I do that and what people say about me when I am not in the room, what wave I leave behind me, what's my aura, and how good do I do it. So, it's not just trying to progress and be a big boss, it's also making sure I help people along the way. They're happy and I pull them with me as I walk through.
I do a lot of work with some charities outside of work. I also try to get involved and help people as much as I can internally as well. That's all part of the job as far as I'm concerned. You cannot succeed on your own. You need to look after people behind you. One of my old bosses used to say ‘you're as good as your team is’, so if there's anyone in your team that is struggling then you cannot be successful yourself. Everybody has to be successful.
Sarah Fennell: And outside of Macquarie and outside of your volunteering, what do you do when you get time to relax?
Carolyn Porretta: So, I like and I try to go for a run as much as I can, and I like cooking, baking. I'm sorry, it's going to be boring, but I actually discovered a passion for gardening five years ago. I'm a bit ashamed to say so, but actually, it's my happy place. I love scuba diving when I'm on holiday, that's another happy place for me. And I spend some time with my four-year-old daughter as well, and my husband, by the way (laughter).
Sarah Fennell: And finally, what advice would you give any of the women listening, starting out on their careers, that you wish that someone had told you when you started?
Carolyn Porretta: There is one thing, one myth, that I think I have busted, which is that some people are lucky. I don't think anyone's lucky, I think you work and prepare yourself, position yourself, train yourself, teach, learn what you need to learn, and then you get a job, or and then you get a promotion.
But there is no such thing as anyone being lucky, doing nothing, and it happens to them. That's not true. Everybody, for one reason, has what he deserves overall. Life is fair somehow. So, there is no fatality. That's the good news. You can actually do anything you want. You need to work out what's needed for that and then work to make sure it happens. And then it's going to come. But that's not luck, that's hard work and pulling yourself forward.
So, one advice I wish I'd had earlier was around the importance of building relationships at work. So I'm a bit of an introvert so it’s very difficult for me to go towards others, and I wish someone had, kind of, helped me or advised me how to create those relationships with people you're working with, and equally that I had started that much earlier.
Sarah Fennell: And how did you go about creating those relationships once you realised the importance of them?
Carolyn Porretta: So, I've spent a bit less time doing the work at my desk and a bit more time going around talking to people, as a start. And then I try to find what people like, what's their little things. So, for some of them it's their children, for some others it's their dog, for some others it's football. I don't try to have a chat with them about things where I am not comfortable. For instance, I don't know anything about football so if that's the angle, I try to find another one. And I try to engage on those roles which are a little bit more emotional. So, you use the emotional path to actually connect with people, rather than just talk about work, talk about a deal.
Sarah Fennell: And how have those relationships helped you?
Carolyn Porretta: Well, if you know someone, and they’re familiar to you and you already had some conversation, when you come and you want to do business, no matter who it is, whether they're on your side or the other side, then you arrive on a favourable ground and you can start to build something. If you arrive on hostile ground, I'm not saying you can't, but it's going to be a lot of work.
Sarah Fennell: And are there any other final questions that I should ask?
Carolyn Porretta: I think sometimes women are, I've noticed at least, scared of having big ambitions. They shouldn't, the sky's the limit. And everybody can do whatever they want, really. And I genuinely mean it. You can be President if you want to. It's just a matter of figuring out how to get there and then working on it.
But, we shouldn't be ashamed of having big ambitions and we shouldn't be discouraged. None of that will be easy, no matter what your ambition is. But actually, if that's what you believe you want to do, you'll work through that. So, we should just all aim very high and not worry about what can stop us along the way because by the time you meet that, you'll figure a way to push it away and keep going.
Sarah Fennell: Carolyn, a huge thank you for joining us today and for that fascinating insight into your career. Thank you to everyone who's listened. I hope you found it useful and inspirational as you consider your own careers. We look forward to welcoming you to the next episode in the podcast series next month.
Voiceover: Thank you for listening to the Macquarie Podcast Series.
Audio file available for download below.