Emerging Leaders: Q&A with Goldman Sachs Asset Management's Sophie Dodson March 2018

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Having always wanted to work abroad - and being drawn to the 'global connectivity' that a career in finance offers - Sophie Dodson jumped at the chance to transfer from Goldman Sachs Asset Management's London office in 2015 to work in Australia in an institutional business development role. In a Q&A filled with passion, we hear about what makes Sophie tick, what she feels differentiates a ‘good’ leader from a ‘great’ leader, why she believes young people are critical to an organisation, and her handy tips for working a room at industry events.

What initially attracted you towards a career in finance?

I was attracted to the breadth and depth that the industry offers, notably the global opportunities. I’m from a small town in North Yorkshire in the UK and I’d always wanted to work internationally, so I liked the fact that the finance industry didn’t just focus on your location, it’s all about being globally connected.

Second to that, I was attracted to the way in which macro forces and geo-political factors impact the day to day of finance. My background is different to most people in the industry. I completed an undergraduate degree in Geography, which might explain why I have such an interest in people, demographics and global connectivity. I interned at Goldman Sachs when I was 18-years-old and realised early on that this is where I wanted to work. That was largely driven by the diversity of people I met, they were all super interesting and all had very varied backgrounds. Ten years later and I’m still here!

In your opinion, what important elements do younger people bring to a workplace culture?

I think it’s critical to have young people coming through an organisation. They each bring multiple facets to a team and the overall workplace culture. Sometimes the industry can be a little monotonous in how it works, the people who have been there for a long time can tend to become a little stuck in processes and ‘the way things have always been done’ and younger people can bring a lot of fresh ideas to the table. They challenge the way an organisation does things.

Another thing that I feel strongly about is social responsibility. When we look at the junior workforce, social responsibility is one of their number one priorities. It’s really important, and encouraging, that the young people coming through have this at the forefront of their minds. I’m a mentor for the Young Social Pioneers - Foundation for Young Australians. Being involved in this has really inspired me to be more conscious about how we hire young people. What I experienced from Young Social Pioneers was tenacity, business acumen and forward thinking.These qualities are so important to have within any team.

What’s something that you’re currently passionate about?

I’m really passionate about equality. For me, that means being the best advocate, colleague and leader that I can be. I’m currently the Treasurer for the Women In Super NSW Committee. Our campaign is to ‘Make Super Fair.’ We’re focused on improving economic security for females in retirement. Currently, women end up with 40% less super than the average man in Australia!

It’s not just gender equality that I’m focused on. I also focus on the social and age inequality. This is why I’m part of The Young Australian Foundation, because I’m interested in focusing on individuals who might not be your typical graduate. I want to help people to access the industry that they want to work in.

"I think it’s critical to have young people coming through an organisation. They each bring multiple facets to a team and the overall workplace culture. "

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

My career has not been a linear path, or one that I expected, but when I think about the next ten years I hope I am doing more of what I enjoy today. For me, that means managing a large team and driving a strategy forward. My expectation is that I will be involved in a continuous amount of disruption, whether that be in the super industry or the broader finance industry. I want to work to help businesses to be adaptive, innovative and accommodating.

Alongside that, I am passionate about impact investing. I believe this will become not just a pillar of what we do, but an integral foundation of how we invest. In ten years’ time, I hope that’s part of the DNA in terms of how we think when it comes to investing.

What has been a highlight of your career so far?

Unequivocally it would be making the move from London to Sydney in 2015. I’d always wanted to work abroad but had only really considered Hong Kong or New York as viable options. The timing of the proposition to move to Sydney wasn’t ideal from a personal perspective and I had never even visited Australia before.

However, after doing some research, I understood the sophistication of the Australian super industry and very quickly realised that this was something that I wanted to be part of. I’ve never looked back on that decision and my career has gone four-fold since making that leap of faith.

Do you have an industry mentor or someone that has influenced your career in some way?

I’m a strong believer in mentorship, especially for females. I have had several mentors throughout my career, people who have played very different and important roles. My earliest mentor has been a really great soundboard. She challenges my thinking and always makes me question why I’ve come to a certain conclusion. The best lesson that she’s taught me is that ‘a career is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.’ In my early years, I tended to focus on the sprint and my mentor was fantastic in helping me to look at the long-term gains.

"My expectation is that I will be involved in a continuous amount of disruption, whether that be in the super industry or the broader finance industry."

What qualities do you think make for an effective leader?

In my view, a good leader is someone who allows their team to work in the most effective fashion. A key part of that is understanding your teams’ strengths and weaknesses. You’ve got to be open minded and you can’t be dogmatic in your philosophy or approach. You very much have to be willing to change. Lastly, and this is often the hardest part, as the face of your team you need to be able to deal with the consequences of certain things. You need to go in and fight for what they’ve done and you need to be willing to defend them around things that they shouldn’t have done. In my view, that differentiates a good leader from a great leader.

What are your top tips for effective networking at industry events?

A lot of people find networking events to be confronting, and they can be! First and foremost, you must have the confidence to introduce yourself, particularly if it’s someone that you’ve always wanted to meet.

Secondly, you need to remain humble, that means being yourself. This isn’t a sales pitch, you’re not trying to win business, you just need to focus on building a rapport with someone. One way of doing this is by sharing an experience and showing some vulnerability. That allows you to connect easier with the individuals you’re speaking to. Lastly, ask thoughtful questions and you must listen to the response. There’s nothing worse than being asked a question and as you’re answering it, you can see the person scanning the room looking for the next best conversation to have.

Also, if you’re able to connect two people together at an event, by identifying a common thread, both of those people will then remember who you are. That’s a really valuable skill to have.

What are the biggest cultural difference between the Australian and English workplace environments?

The great thing about working for a global company like Goldman Sachs is that it’s always Goldman Sachs, no matter where you are in the world. We are a truly global firm and the quality of the people that I work with is consistent across the globe.

The biggest difference is geography – Australia is so far from the rest of the world, which means the super industry has its own nuances and is also very progressive. I also went from a head office working alongside all the portfolio management teams, now I interact via email and effective communication becomes paramount!

What was your very first job?

When I was 16, my first Saturday job was working for a high-end clothing and shoe shop called LK Bennett. It was a commissioned based role and I absolutely loved having sales targets! I was economically driven from a young age. I learnt that the key to success was having repeat clients, this meant that I had to understand what they wanted from the get go. This job also taught me not to judge a book by its cover. Some of my biggest clients were shy and modest.

These lessons have taught me a lot about what I do now. Don’t take things on face value, spend time with your clients, listen and you’ll find a great foundation for a partnership going forward.

If you weren’t working in finance, what would you be doing?

I think I’d be an interior designer. That’s always something that I’ve wanted to do. It speaks to the creative part of me. I’m fascinated by houses, I love textures, colours and symmetry. In some ways, it does have similarities to what I do today. As a designer, you’ve got to understand what your client wants and you have to provide a solution in a very constrained environment.

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