THE BLOG

Women in Business Q&A: Katherine Garrett-Cox, Alliance Trust

05/29/2015 05:00 am ET | Updated May 28, 2016

Katherine Garrett-Cox graduated with a BA (Hons) in History from Durham University and is a member of the UK Society of Investment Professionals; CFA Institute.

She was nominated a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum in October 2005, is Vice Chair of the Baring Foundation and is a member of the Supervisory Board of Deutsche Bank AG.

In her role she is responsible for both the investment policy and asset allocation of the company as well as executive oversight for the business. She has over 24 years' experience in the investment industry, having managed North American, Emerging Market and Global Equities portfolios.

She was Chief Investment Officer and Executive Director of Morley Fund Management, the fund management division of Aviva where she was responsible for more than £160bn invested in equities, fixed income, private equity and alternatives. Prior to that, Katherine was Chief Investment Officer and Executive Director of Aberdeen Asset Management PLC. She began her career as a Portfolio Manager at Hill Samuel Asset Management, where she was Investment Director, Head of American Equities, managing a range of retail and institutional mandates in excess of $5.5bn.

Katherine was awarded a CBE in the 2014 New Year Honours List for services to the Asset Management Industry and charitable service through the Baring Foundation.

The Baring Foundation, an independent foundation of which Katherine is a Trustee, works to improve the quality of life of people suffering disadvantage and discrimination; recent focusses have been strengthening the voluntary sector, empowering civil society organisations working with displaced people in Africa, and engaging the enthusiasm of older citizens in the arts.
Katherine is a figurehead for career minded women; at the age of twenty six she became one of the highest-profile and highest-paid women in the City, gaining the title of 'Katherine the Great.' She has four children and is a finalist of the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman award.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Throughout my career, I have come across a range of challenges, some small, some big. I know that the best way to tackle any challenge is to rise to it and face it head on. As a result, I aim to be a courageous leader, making sure that I have confidence in my convictions at all times.

I am also very motivated in the work that I do, striving to constantly be the best I can and deliver the best value to our shareholders at Alliance Trust. I know that I always search for value in everything I do, and I expect no less from our shareholders as well.

As a mother of four, I know all about the importance of clear communication! Much like in my personal life, I recognise the need to open and honest with those around you, including employees and investors. Every business needs its shareholders to be on board with its aims and practices, and so I am very aware of being as communicative as possible with those around me.

Most importantly, I am passionate about what I do and the people around me. Alliance Trust is 127 years old, and we have survived many storms. This passion is shared by the people around me, as we all operate with a single-minded aim of collectively delivering a better financial future for our investors and customers. I am confident that we are well-placed to continue delivering value for our shareholders in a sustainable manner over the next 127 years.

How has your previous employment experience aided your work at Alliance Trust?
Prior to Alliance Trust, I worked at several leading investment managers, including Morley Fund Management, the fund management arm of Aviva and Aberdeen Asset Management. At all of these institutions, I learnt the importance of dependable returns for investors. Here at Alliance Trust, many of our investors are second or third generation and they look to us to provide continued and sustainable income. I am very proud that since I joined, total returns to shareholders have increased over 92% versus the market average returns of 78%.

I have also seen a shift across the market towards sustainable investing, which is increasingly becoming part of the mainstream conversation, and I know that Alliance Trust can be the market leader in that field.

Finally, I recognise the need for businesses to be resilient for both the long-term, and also relevant in the short-term. As such, I have led the team in balancing our traditional values with the reality of a modern, commercially-focused investment business.

What have the highlights and challenges of running Alliance Trust been?
Not everyone wants to run a public company; it brings a high element of personal risk - something that many people decide to avoid. I feel quite strongly that it is a good thing if you are prepared to stand up and be counted. Sometimes you have to fight hard for what you believe in. Maggie Thatcher once said that you have to fight a battle more than once to win the war and I agree with her. Alliance Trust hasn't got where it is by being a shy shrinking violet. We are committed to changing the way that people think about long term investment and the benefit of restoring trust into the financial services sector. We are proving that this is possible. Our fantastic team is continuing to drive real change in the market, and recognises the long-term benefits that investing in good, sustainable businesses can bring. We are delivering sustained value for our shareholders, while also investing responsibly. Being able to be so proud of what I do, the people I work with, and where Alliance Trust is going are the definite highlights of my job.

However, one of the challenges we face at Alliance Trust is that some investors still think with a short-term horizon. A short-termist horizon means returns are much more volatile, which renders the investment more risky. Also, the effect of compounding on your portfolio is reduced in the short-term, there is the potential for increased costs, and it is very time consuming. We know that our shareholders invest in us for the long term, and our investment focus is to try to match their investment horizon. We focus on identifying companies which are trading at discounts to their intrinsic value, and which we believe exhibit a superior or more sustainable return profile for many years to come.

What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
Be very clear about what you are wanting to achieve and compromise as little as possible. Seek out and work with people who can help mentor and guide you, I have found a "personal board of directors" invaluable. Equally it's always important to recruit well, hire people that are smarter than you, inspire them, develop them and help them fly, that way you will build a loyal and successful team.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
That it is possible to do well and do good. If you manage your business with a strong values based culture, you will make better decisions and attract the right people. The combination of these factors will make your business more successful and much more long-lasting.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Sometimes it's difficult there's no doubt, but it's about focus, keeping things in perspective and maintaining a sense of humour. I think I have a good sense of what gives me energy and what saps my energy, my family give me great energy and help me keep my feet firmly on the ground.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
The pressure to "fit in" sometimes means that women can't be themselves in the workplace. I am often struck by the fact that some women feel they have to conform, but in so doing they become very uncreative and frustrated so they walk away. I would like to think that at Alliance Trust we have created a culture where women can both be themselves and be successful, perhaps the fact that more than half of our employees are female, is proof that this is working.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have never had a formal mentor, but I have always been very fortunate to have a wide group of people to whom I have turned at various points in my professional and personal life. I quite purposefully tend to gravitate to people who come at life from a different perspective, but people who have a view that I respect and trust.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
The sad fact is that female leaders are often in short supply and far too few still exist in financial services. I admire strong women who are true to their mission and purpose, women that take on the establishment and make a real difference. Carolyn McCall for focusing on customers and transforming the fortunes of EasyJet, Ana Botin, for restoring trust within banking at Santander and Charmian Gooch, Co-Founder and Director of Global Witness, for her courage in tackling anti-corruption and injustice on a global scale.

What do you want Alliance Trust to accomplish in the next year?
We recently reorganised our investment team, and so far they have performed very well. I want this strong performance to continue over the next year, and into the future, solidifying our position as a trusted investment and savings business, able to deliver value for our shareholders.

We also recently announced that the Assets under Management at Alliance Trust Savings reached £7 billion, and I am confident this will continue to grow as the market changes to new regulations. Alliance Trust Investments will spend the next year continuing to deliver good performance, repositioning our SRI funds as a more mainstream product while also continuing to seek out strategic partnership that can add value to our business.

Over the longer term, we have also launched our 20:20 strategy, which outlines where we expect our business to be by 2020. We have set ourselves stretching targets, which we will achieve via a common set of values and behaviours, as well as a strong risk and control framework.