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Interview with Terri Duhon

Updated: May 2, 2021

Date: 28th April

Good afternoon, Terri. To start with, could you walk me through your background - from your time in university, how did you develop an interest in finance and your career path. How did your career path lead you to where you are today?”

Sure. I talk about it as if I’m on my third career, which, by definition, means, I hope, there’s going to be a fourth, fifth and sixth. My first career was what I call my corporate career. I started off on the trading floor as a derivatives trader at J.P. Morgan. I had just come straight out of university - with a Math degree from MIT. And for context, I grew up in rural Louisiana – so Wall Street was a huge eye opener.

At the end of my first career, which was about 10 years on the Trading floor, predominantly at JP Morgan and split between New York and London, I decided it was time to move into my second career and become an entrepreneur. And I built three different businesses, one was a total bust. It was a capital-raising business in the middle of 2007. So poor timing. The first did well and continues today. The third business also did well, but it was hard to manage. We made some money, but we decided to shut it down after a few years.

What I learned about myself is that every 10 years I get bored and I need something new. So when I was in my second career, I actually spent a little time thinking about my third career. I eventually figured out that I wanted to sit on boards. Partway through my second career, I started preparing to do that by sitting on charity boards and charity committees and really developing my network around the boardrooms, so I could make that transition.

About 7 years ago, I really properly transitioned into my portfolio career, when I was invited to sit on the board of CHAPS, the high value payment system for the UK. I now sit on the board of Morgan Stanley International, where I chair the Risk Committee. I chair Morgan Stanley Investment Management business (EMEA Asset Management arm of Morgan Stanley). I sit on the board of Rathbones, which is a UK Wealth Manager on FTSE250 and I also chair that Risk Committee.

I’m also an associate fellow at Oxford University’s Said School, where I lecture on topics like Asset Management, Women in Finance and Fintech. I sit on a committee for the MIT Mathematics Department. I have written a book called “How the Trading Floor Really Works”. And I’m thinking about writing a second book. Basically I’m having a lot of fun.

So I’ve been in finance for over 25 years. As a student, this was not an immediately obvious choice, if I am honest. When I got to MIT, there were lots of people who had specific goals and dreams. I did not have that. I found it a lot harder to make that first step out of university. I looked around at the industries that people were looking at – engineering, science, some were looking at further education. A lot of students were going into consulting and finance. I was not sure what was right for me, but I had a Math degree and I figured that with a Math degree I could do just about anything. So I looked around and spoke to people, and did a few interviews in different industries. What I learned is that I was looking for something that had high energy, because I was a high energy person. I loved the energy and excitement of the trading floor, the innovation, the constant activity and the constant change. It was really attractive to me and it fit my personality incredibly well. I ultimately stayed in Finance, because when I moved from my first career to my second career, I really leveraged my knowledge from my first career into my second career. And, again, I leveraged my Financial knowledge to start my third career as well.

Now I feel like I am at a point where I could branch out and sit on boards of companies that are outside of Finance and still add a lot of value to the board, which is exciting. But for the past 25 years I have been in Finance, and I love it. It is a fascinating space. I have grown to love it, appreciate it and understand its broader purpose, so it is a fun place to be. It is still innovating and changing. I am glad I am here.

Looking back, what were the most challenging and defining moments of your career?”

They were the big nonlinear moves from trader to entrepreneur to author to university lecturer to board member. They were big points in my life, where I was ready to learn new things. There are all sorts of different drivers for people to make those nonlinear shifts – perhaps you need a challenge, maybe you are bored, maybe you’ve stopped learning for whatever reason or not enjoying what you are doing anymore… It may be a big life event, like coronavirus today and the lockdown, which is causing a lot of us to self-reflect.

There are many reasons to look at something different in our lives. I have done that at many points in my life. They were the big events for me and they were hard. There is no training as a trader for entrepreneurship, so you have to figure it out. It was pretty exciting and scary as hell. Trying to sit on a board was really not easy. But they were defining moments for me, where I challenged myself to learn a whole industry, a whole new process and a whole new way of thinking. Really exciting as well, they weren’t all highs. I got some terrible lows along the way. Part of the story is you’ve got to embrace failure, because that is where you learn the most. Then when you do win, it feels so good.

What do you feel about the current discussion of gender diversity issues? Do you believe we are on the right track? What more should the major financial players do? What can we (as young women navigating the industry) do?”

When I joined the JP Morgan training program 25 years ago, we were 30% female going onto the trading floor, and very few senior women. But I did not even think about it, I just looked at my program – I thought “Okay, 30% women. Eventually, in 25 years’ time, we’ll have 30% of women at the top. And maybe more. 50% of women coming into the organization. It will be great.” In truth, those stats did not change for about 20 years. We always had about 30% women coming into the training programs, and they never seemed to progress as far as the men or as fast as the men.

What I have seen though in the last 5 years is real focus on gender in a way that I did not see in the first 20 years. There is a real ground swell of difference in thought and in appreciation in what diversity means and a real focus on making it happen. There are more senior women now and we are looking to support young women coming in. I think we have a real opportunity to change what the future of finance looks like.

The other thing that is very interesting is this pandemic has really given us an opportunity to rethink how we work. The working from home method has been busted. And given that women are often the primary caregivers, which is a societal structure, not the financial structure, it means that if they can work from home easily, then they don’t have to make the compromises they had to make in the past. That is a huge game-changer. We predominantly lose women, everywhere, not just finance, around after about 8-10 years in the industry. That is when women stop being promoted, stop being paid as well, and often leave, because of the compromises they are making. They feel they are not being recognized for the work. Why should they continue making those compromises? So many women leave the industries. If we can think about how to manage a more flexible workforce better, working from home could be a real game changer for gender-diversity.

Of course, we still have other diversity issues to worry about, it’s not just gender. In fact, I have found that constantly pushing just the gender diversity issue can dilute the message. And that supporting other diversity issues is more powerful. So for example I also focus on social mobility and race as a diversity topic in university lectures I give.

So we’re moving forward, slower than I would like on all diversity issues. Which means there’s still a lot of work to do.

If you could change one thing about the industry (other than the gender inequality issue), what would it be and how do you think it can be achieved?”

I have a lot of focus on culture and purpose. I think the industry has worked on the culture since the crisis in 2008, but we have a long way to go. Culture means being better managers, looking after our people better. It means more diversity, corporate social responsibility, having real purpose, fully understanding sustainability in our world. We have made some strides in those directions, but we have more to go. 

Employees want a good culture and a purpose. Culture is what makes you happy in the office and purpose is what gets you out of bed. I think we need to better explore and better articulate these things going forward. We are working on it, but I’d say we still have some work to go. 

What should candidates do to shine through the pool of applications?”

Everyone needs to focus on what is absolutely unique about them and really make themselves stand out from the crowd. What is special about you? It has got to be specific to the organization you are applying to. You need to understand the culture of the firm and whether it fits you, because it is a two-way street – you are there choosing them and they are choosing you. If what stands out about you really fits the culture and the purpose of the organization, you will stand out to them.

When I was applying to MIT, I knew I wasn’t the smartest person in mind by any means. I focused on what was unique about me, and at the time I was a dancer. I sent the application office a video of me dancing. That does not sound like a big deal where we are today, where we have a million videos of us dancing in our room, on our phones. This was a big deal 30 years ago. Finding someone who has a camera, borrowing it, plus there was no editing available.

I gave this speech about my personality and I choreographed this dance to match with my personality, and I sent it in. I am pretty sure that made me stand out as an applicant in a positive way.

When I went to apply for a role on the trading floor at JP Morgan, what stood out was the fact that one of my summer jobs was at Disney World. I did some fun and interesting research at MIT as well, but Disney World was my early summer job. That made my CV stand out. I am not saying you have to do any of these things today. It was relevant to me and to that time. So today, you need to really understand what really stands out about you and matches the culture and the purpose of the organization you are interested in.

We need people who are thoughtful, critical thinkers, who are prepared to learn. I don’t think what you know today matters as much as the ability to learn. So what you have to evidence is what you can learn in the future and your passion for learning. Because no matter what you know today, it is going to be different tomorrow. Demonstrate your passion for learning, interest in the industry and find something unique about you.

The fact is, it is a competitive world out there. And frankly, no path is that easy. But you can’t give up. Learn from every “No”. Until you finally get a “Yes” that you want.

To what extent do you think has the COVID19 situation affected the employability of the current cohort of graduates?”

Lots of work experiences and internship programs have been delayed or cancelled – that is unfortunate. But that has impacted many people. The ones that haven’t been cancelled have moved online – and, look, it is much harder to stand out online than in person. Don’t give up, continue to look for opportunities to learn. If you are interested in a particular industry, there is so much free information out there. There are lots of webinars, zoom calls - lots of interaction opportunities, still virtual. Skill yourself up, learn more about the industry, point yourself in the right direction and don’t give up.

How do you envision the future of finance to play out, following COVID19?”

What I am seeing is we are focused on being better managers, because you have to be an active manager when people are working from home. You cannot be a passive, just go on to the trading floor and count if everybody is at their desk - that does not work anymore. The fact is you have to call people every day and check in on every one on your direct reports, make sure they are doing okay, check on what they are doing. And that’s got to cascade all the way down the organization, so everybody receives a personal call every day. That is crucial for everybody’s wellbeing. 

We are getting more focus on well-being, because everybody is suddenly in a new stressful situation. This means that more people than ever are sympathetic to the issue of wellbeing. People who you have never thought would have talked about well-being are starting to talk about it – brilliant. These are the silver linings. It means we are talking about it. Almost every board call I have is talking about well-being and better management of people.

Flexi-working we have already talked about.  I hear that many companies are talking about reducing their real estate footprint, having more hot desks, and much more flexi-working going forward. And focus on tech - there will be much more investment in tech going forward. We are highly reliant on it if something like this happens, and if we want to continue flexi going forward, we need the tech working for us and for our clients. So, those are silver linings in a difficult time. The future could be very exciting from that perspective.

Do you have mentors/mentees? How would you advise young women to approach potential mentors and build the relationship? What do mentors expect from their mentees?”

The fact of the matter is if you don’t use your community, then you are going to feel pretty alone. As I have said, I have had some amazing highs in my career, and many more lows. Those lows - big fails, cringy, awful moments - is when you need your community. And that is also when you learn the most.

I have mentors of all sorts – people that know me, people that I speak to only once a year, maybe every few years. Because I have worked with them in the past, I can call them and ask for advice. Some of them I speak regularly - I give advice to and they give advice back. Many of them are colleagues - people I sit on boards with - and we support each other. They are incredibly helpful to me.

Because I benefited from people helping me along the way, I always try to pay it forward. For example, mentees – I have a few. Because I was a lecturer for many years at Oxford, a number of my students have come back and asked for advice. And we have developed more of a mentor-mentee relationship over the years.

The fact is finding mentors can be challenging. It could be a professor who taught you, a more senior student who has gone into the working world and can give you advice. It does not have to be someone who is super senior, someone who does not know you. In fact, it is harder to help people when you do not know them. Also, you do need to think through what you are asking when you ask for help. If you come to me, you haven’t thought about your problem and I don’t know you very well, it is very hard to help. I always say “help mentors help you”.

You need to think through the problem as much as you can, use your parents and friends, your immediate community to help think it through. Come to a mentor with a slightly more thought out problem or maybe even with a possible solution that you can discuss. It depends on the relationship you have with your mentor. Of course, if you see your mentor every day, for some reason, but that actually sounds more like therapy to me and not what a mentor is there to do - we have day jobs too. I think you want to use all your resources. Don’t think that your mentor is the only place you could go for help - your community is there. That is where you need to be starting.

I have also more recently been asked to formally mentor someone. That consists of very structured meetings with very clear topics. It is someone who has a lot of experience and wants to take a further step in her career, so she wants to cover very specific steps in each of our meetings. And we talk through them. She gives a sense of what she wants to talk about ahead of time. I can sit down, and then work with her very specifically. She has been chosen, because she has a similar background to me. I have been chosen, because I am doing some of the things she wants to be doing in the future. And so that has been interesting.

My students who are now mentees - I can help them, now that they are working. I am far away from the analyst experience, so I can’t help them with a lot of the details. I help with the big picture. The point is – understand how well your mentor knows you. Try to be specific about the questions you have. Try to come with answers before you pose them and try to help your mentor to help you as much as possible.

What challenges have you encountered when managing people and how did you solve them?”

Managing people is one of the hardest things to do in the world. Nobody is born a great manager. You can be a great leader, but still not be a great manager. There is a big difference. Managing people takes time, energy and effort – and lots of communication. You have got to communicate about the good and the bad. They are both crucially important. You’ve got to be helping people understand what their goals are, helping people on their journey. They have got to communicate that to you as well and be honest about that. It is a two-way set of communications. 

Finance is not famous for having great managers, we generally promote people when they are great at their job rather than great at managing people. I am hopeful that this crisis gets us to a much better place, as I’ve talked about. 

Also, there is always a new way of thinking about managing people, and all of us, even the greatest managers of today, have to learn new things tomorrow.”

What hobbies and interests do you have outside of work to make sure you keep yourself on track and you are still balancing a healthy lifestyle?”

I have three kids. So that takes up almost all of my free time. Especially during this crisis where they are home schooling which hasn’t been very fun to be honest.

Otherwise, I love to read and I love movies. Reading is a solo pastime of course. But with movies, I mostly love watching them with my kids. I am a huge sci-fi fan – Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek all of that stuff.

Are you currently planning any projects to develop further professionally?”

Ultimately, I would like to sit on the board of a FTSE100 company and on a US-listed board. I would like to do a TED talk and I am thinking of writing another book. I would also like to do more paid motivational talks.

We should always have short-term and long-term goals that we are thinking about. They may not come to fruition or be the things we ultimately do when we get to that point, but at least these are things I am actively working on and others I am talking about. And importantly, you have to tell people if you want to do stuff. Opportunities come your way only when people know what you are keen to do.

What is your biggest takeaway from your career in finance and what is the most important advice you would give to young women pursuing a career in finance?”

First, do not give up. Honestly, don’t give up. No career path is easy. When you hit some bumps, take it as a learning experience, pick yourself up and keep going. We need you. We need as many women as we can coming into the industry and staying.

Keep your eye on the end goal - the financial industry will be different when it is more diverse and representative of the communities around us. Also, you are not alone on this journey – there is a community of people around you. Use this community, but also grow your community by reaching out to women in the industry or the company you are interested in.

Often there are mentor programs that are already structured, so every young woman gets a mentor. You are not alone. There are lots of senior women who really want a more diverse future for the industry. With every fail – use your community, pick yourself up and never give up. I can’t wait to see the future of finance when you are there.

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