The Managing Director of the LME’s Asia Business, Rebecca Brosnan, was instrumental to the take over of the London Metal Exchange by the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd (HKEx). She says there is no replacement for expertise. Know your stuff! Love what you do and take the job that will make you number one. She strongly believes that mentors matter — not only having them but being one too. The former investment banker now has a different lens through which she looks at the business world. Her passion – the internationalisation of the Asian markets and seeing history in the making. By Camila Reed
What is the thing that most appeals to you about your job?
Before we pitched to the board to buy the London Metal Exchange (LME) I spent a year researching the commodities markets. The LME is really unique and it has such potential, particularly in Asia.
The best thing about where I am now is bringing the LME to Asian clients who are not trading. It is a real service to the market and only makes the LME stronger.
We are working with some Asian hedging clients, who have never traded on with the LME before, and are helping these miners and refiners understand how it can protect their cost base and improve their financial performance to make their companies stronger in the long run.
Have you got any mentors or sponsors, has anyone helped you?
Absolutely — I don’t think you can do it without mentors.
My number one mentor has been my boss Romnesh Lamba who runs Global Markets. He is more than a mentor, he is a sponsor and whether it’s pretty tough criticism that I need to hear and being really honest; or if it’s a restructuring in the market — making sure my skills are able to add value to the company, he has been great and our CEO, Charles Li, has also been a great support.
In addition, it was during the LME acquisition that I got a group of strong senior female mentors from the global financial markets who took a keen interest in me.
I think of them as my career stakeholders, when I’m going to make a big decision I call and pick their brains.
I really appreciated the support that my female mentors, who were in bank financing, mining and energy, gave me and who really supported me in my move from M&A to running a business.
I would also like to encourage other women to be mentors. I mentor a number of people internationally both internally at the Exchange and externally and the truth about mentoring is that you almost get back more than you give. One of the women’s mentees from the Women’s Foundation (TWF) has taught me to be a better manager.
What are the challenges you are currently facing in your job?
The number one challenge is talent management — making sure we have the top talent, managing my people making sure they are growing in their own careers – it is the number one opportunity and priority but it’s also the number one challenge. You need to get the right people to run the business.
My shift from corporate M&A to running a business was a very big change, it goes from project based work looking at 6-9 months finish, to we are going to grow this for 10 years it is a different lens that you look through when you are running a business.
Which skill has been the most useful?
Being able to communicate clearly with other people in a way that they understand.
Try and understand their perspective and what language they use so you can articulate your message in a way they understand.
Have you had any challenges navigating cultural differences?
You can learn through language and study and experience and through watching and listening to other people.
You have to be aware in any meeting that culture and business styles differ and you have to be able to adjust to those different cultures and watching is another way to achieve this.
What would you like to do next?
Being made a managing director has made me think a lot about our strategy here. What I want to do most is add as much value to this company as I can and I have been talking to the management about how we structure the divisions.
It’s the first time in my career that I’m not thinking about the next job or next promotion, because every day I’m being pushed to my limit in learning and being interested and challenged and that’s a pretty good place to be.
What challenges have you experienced during your career and how did you overcome then?
I’m a passionate person and that has upsides and downsides. For most of us our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses because we push them so far that we forget about the other things.
When you are doing M&A it is ok that you yell but when you’re running a business and you have a whole team of people looking at what you care about and what you focus on, then I had to really learn to change the way I communicated.
I had to totally change my body language, how fast I spoke, how I reacted but that was what the job required.
The biggest challenge in my career has been adjusting my personality to make sure I do my job in the best way.
Do you feel you have had to change your behaviour more because you are woman?
I don’t think so honestly.
I run the Women’s Exchange here at the Hong Kong Exchange so I am focused on making our women employees be focused on their careers.
I think that the women I see who need the most help are particularly in Hong Kong or China where the culture is very much about deferring to authority and they need help to speak out more and put themselves out of their comfort zone.
But for me that has not been my challenge. The real challenge has been about running a business and I have seen my male colleagues also having to moderate the way they communicate and behave too.
What are you passionate about in your work?
When I went from an investment bank to an exchange I was a bit nervous about how the people would be different but I have been nothing but incredibly impressed by the people here at the Exchange.
It’s the longest place I have been in my career. We have a very open structure. When someone presents an idea we are allowed to challenge each other. We have a consensus culture and it’s really about trying to get the best result.
My other passion since university is the internationalisation of the Asian markets and the Chinese market in particular — If only I had studied Mandarin harder at university.
Now working at the Hong Kong Exchange we are seeing history being made. We are watching the financial markets of China opening up at a faster rate than they ever have. We are at a special time in history, you cannot but be excited. We are really lucky.
Will you stay in Asia or are you planning to move?
I have been here over 11 years. I don’t make permanent decisions and say I’m never going to leave. These markets are global and I will go where the excitement is and where the opportunities are and where I can learn the most.
At the moment that is here, I am incredibly blessed.
What is one thing you wish you’d been told when you were starting out that you know now?
You think your social life is the most important thing, but when you are young it is important to invest in yourself. I did study Mandarin and knew China was going to be incredibly important even 15 years ago but I did not put the absolute focus on it. If I was really fluent now and had really killed myself to make it happen then I would be operating at a different market level today.
To pay the price and give up some opportunities and really invest in yourself — I wish I had done that better.
I knew what the opportunities were but I didn’t completely pay the price although I think I have tried to make up for it.
Are you pro quotas or targets for women on boards?
I’m not speaking on behalf of the exchange but for me personally I’m not a fan of quotas.
What boards need to function really well is a well-rounded group of individuals with different experiences, so to put a quota in place does not recognise the flexibility that corporates need to make their governance work.
While gender diversity is incredibly important it can’t come at the expense of the functioning of boards.
Quotas don’t work for me but I think having women on boards is so important because it is a reflection of the governance and how well a board works.
The more diverse a board is in every way, usually the better they can do their governance function, so having women on boards is a reflection of how well that company’s governance is working.
We have just announced a second female board member being appointed so it really has given women employees I’m working with on the women’s exchange a feeling that they have goals to work for, towards and makes sure your employees feel you value them.
What about you – would you like a position on a board?
I’m the chairman of the Women’s Exchange our female club and also on the women-on-boards advisory council of a Hong Kong NGO the Women’s Foundation (TWF).
I am very interested in board work and that only happened after the LME acquisition when I worked closely with our board. That experience showed me what boards did and how critical their role is.
It will be a goal in the long-term.
What are some of the things the Women’s Exchange focuses on?
The Women’s Exchange is an internal function at the Hong Kong Exchange and we have three functions.
We have set ourselves up to ensure we are meeting international standards of gender diversity. We added a nursing room and a flagship Back to Work Programme hiring women who have left the workforce for family reasons; some come back after over a decade being off work.
The second thing is about networks and making sure that the female employees have an internal network of senior employees they can go to.
We have a luncheon programme where we invite successful women from around the market and the theme is breaking the glass ceiling and we also have a lot of men participating at those events too.
The third thing we look at is how to engage our female clients and making sure we don’t miss opportunities to do sales and marketing to them.
Women don’t make networks the same way as men do, so this is one of the ways to show them how to do it and so they can introduce themselves.
Any advice to young women starting out?
The number one advice is know your stuff because there is no replacement for expertise particularly for women just starting out.
A lot of women think: ‘Am I promoting myself enough, or do I have a network?’ But those problems only come up when you develop your market expertise. My best advice is be indispensable to your boss, learn as much as you can, become an expert then worry about networks, and branding at a later stage.
For women coming up to the mid-level, the first thing I would say is do something you love because it is so much easier to excel if it’s something you are passionate about. Love what you are doing. So take the job that will make you number one!
Also mentors matter. I found that listening to how they did it and making sure you are constantly educating yourself about your career path by listening to other people to be invaluable.