01/24/2015 08:10 am ET Updated Mar 26, 2015

Women in Business Q&A: Harriet Steel, Head of Business Development at Hermes Investment Management

Harriet was appointed to the Board of Hermes Investment Management in October 2013 as an Executive Director, having joined Hermes in 2011 as Global Head of Business Development and member of the Executive Committee. Harriet joined the City in 1990 with a degree in Architecture from Princeton University. She joined the global trading team at Bankers Trust, initially on the currency options trading desk and subsequently holding senior sales roles in Paris, London and New York. In 1996 Harriet joined Morgan Stanley's fixed income group to build out a client franchise similar to the one she created at Bankers Trust. In 2003 Harriet established Portico Advisors, an asset raising and marketing advisory firm for alternative investment managers encompassing hedge funds, private equity and real estate strategies. She holds a degree in Architecture from Princeton University.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
A range of experiences - from competitive team sports to working in large financial institutions, to starting and running a business of my own - has shaped my leadership style. For me it is all about selecting the most talented people that you can for the right roles, then supporting and enabling them to apply their skills to perform at their best. Leadership is different to management: it is more about empowering talent rather than directing it.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Hermes?
I've worked in the capital markets divisions of big banks and also in much smaller entrepreneurial firms before joining Hermes. While almost always in client-facing roles, I have also had experience in trading, investing and as a business owner. By financial services standards, this is a relatively broad range of experiences. This gave me the confidence to look at doing things in different ways and that was important to my success at delivering positive change at Hermes.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Hermes?
I have had the privilege of building a very talented team at Hermes. Working with this team to transform the business has been the clear highlight. Watching them individually and collectively succeed has been immensely satisfying. Other necessary parts of the role, like building sales support infrastructure and processes from scratch and refining them over time, have been more challenging but we are now realising the rewards.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in the financial sector?
Women make exceptional contributions to the financial services industry. Even though it is a male-dominated sector, women have no need to feel intimidated. Women can provide a different perspective on all business matters - from strategy, to risk, to interactions with clients. My advice is to be authentic in your way of viewing the world and to speak up! In almost all cases your ideas will be very well received and appreciated by male colleagues.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
That nothing is ever constant, and that any strategy must be dynamic. It's how you manage plan B that counts - because at some point, plan A will fail!

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
The workplace is competitive and we all need to work hard, but it's important to be disciplined, learn to delegate and also learn when to say no. I try my best to structure commitments so that work and family life can co-exist: for example, I try not to plan business trips over weekends or school holidays. It's also important to ensure that you are mentally as well as physically present when spending time with family and friends. No one has limitless bandwidth, so the best way of doing this is controlling what you worry about work wise. Forget about things over which you have no control - you cannot change the outcome!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
For women with children who want to continue their careers, it's having the confidence to return to the workforce after maternity leave - whether they have been away for a few months or a longer period of time. It's crucial to believe in your ability to come back to work and excel, whether with support from your employer, or even harder, when going it alone. My advice to women facing this challenge is to remember who you are, where you came from and all that you have already achieved. There is absolutely no reason why you cannot do it all over again.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have never been formally mentored, but have drawn inspiration and lessons from people that I've worked with and for in each of my roles. I have also learned a huge amount from people that have worked for me.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
The quality that I admire most in any leader, male or female, is courage: whether personal, political, or commercial. The two female leaders of recent times that embody courage most to me are Benazir Bhutto and Margaret Thatcher. They were both brave and authentic. Both fought courageously for what they believed in; political and personal consequences were secondary. Ultimately, Thatcher paid with her job and Bhutto with her life. As a girl growing up in the 70s and 80s, it was impossible not to be inspired by these women.

What do you want Hermes to accomplish in the next year?
Realise our key growth initiatives. We've been working on a number of client-centric solutions to provide investors with appropriate access to assets that are attractive but currently out of reach, because they are unconventional and are not offered by many investment managers. I also want Hermes to build on the recent success of our business in the UK and Europe, where we have tripled external client assets, and to work with more new clients in other regions, such as Asia, which is an important part of our strategic plan. We are well positioned to achieve these goals given our transformation from the internal investment manager of a pension fund to an outward-facing business that is driven by the interests of its many clients. The growth of our third-party business is sensational: new clients currently contribute almost 40% of our revenues, and we aim to increase that significantly over the next year.