The Rainmaker: Carrie Chen, Barclays
Carrie Chen learned long ago that she could prosper in her career without trying to beat male bankers at their own game.
Carrie Chen has come a long way since she began her career as a consultant in McKinsey & Co’s corporate finance practice in New York.
Her next job was in Asia, working in Macquarie’s infrastructure and funds management business, focusing on infrastructure advisory and private equity investment in China.
That move was to prove a turning point in her career.
As Macquarie’s China business was just emerging at the time, Chen could work directly with senior leaders even though she was just a junior associate – and some of them eventually became her mentors.
“A former senior managing director at my previous firm was one of my early mentors in my career,” says Chen, who is now vice chairwoman for global banking at Barclays in Hong Kong.
“Through his mentorship, and encouragement by other senior leaders I have come across in my career path, I realized sell-side investment banking was where my passion was.”
That realization led to a spell at Morgan Stanley, where she was a managing director for China coverage, focusing on advisory and capital-raising transactions for blue-chip clients, before she joined Barclays in March this year.
Over the course of her career, she has seen a big change in the way banks tackle gender diversity and female empowerment.
“Most of the banks are now stressing gender diversity and equal opportunities,” she tells Asiamoney.
“This isn’t something that can be fixed overnight, but the industry is making progress towards encouraging female career development, to reach gender parity, to provide inclusive and flexible working environments, and to increase the number of women working at different levels.”
Chen has also seen a shift in the way both her peers and clients look at gender and equality.
Some say rainmakers are born, not made. This is true
She recounts an anecdote from early on in her career, when she went out with a client and with competing firms to a club in China, to pitch to the client while wining and dining them.
“This was not my scene,” she says. “It made me very uncomfortable, and in that moment, I felt like I didn’t fit into that picture.”
Now, however, clients are more sophisticated, she adds. While socialising with them is still important, product knowledge and the right advice trump relationships built purely through social activities, she says.
There have been times, however, when being a woman banker did help boost client relationships, for instance, with clients that were older and wanted to find good role models for their children.
Chen says that when she was a young banker, she often spent time talking to some of her clients’ children, to offer them advice about getting on the right track in terms of education and career.
“They see me as part of their family and, obviously, in addition to that, you need to have all your own industry skills and knowledge too,” she adds.
Circle of trust
Being a female rainmaker in Greater China is tough, she says, because most of the blue-chip companies are controlled by men. That raises an important question: how do you break into their circle of trust?
“It’s challenging because personally I likely won’t participate in what some of the male bankers are doing – go out with clients to clubs or have heavy drinking sessions with them,” says Chen.
In such cases, making sure you understand what you have to deliver to the client becomes all the more critical, she adds.
Chen’s investment banking career in China spans more than 15 years, including at US firm Morgan Stanley where she built an impressive track record of covering clients across financial institutions, industrials, and technology, media and telecommunications (TMT).
But beyond just relying on her own strengths, she says a support group can also go a long way.
“Some say rainmakers are born, not made,” says Chen. “This is true – and I consider myself lucky to have many rainmakers who [have] become my mentor and who teach [me] how to develop my business and expand my network.”