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EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: On Leadership from Lucy Demery, finance executive

“Focus on work and relationships that inspire you …be brave enough to change course where necessary… If the world starts looking too messy, don’t be disillusioned – be even more determined to make a difference.”

Lucy Demery, Executive Director at Standard Chartered Bank in London, shares her journey from Hong Kong, to New York, to Hanoi, to London. In conversation with Sherah Beckley, Thomson Reuters Sustainability Editor, she discusses the role women play towards achieving sustainable development, finding a balance between finance and social impact, and advice for young leaders. [5 minute read]


Sherah Beckley: Could you tell us a bit about your journey? 

Lucy Demery: I grew up in Hong Kong, under both Britain and China. It was a great childhood – very international, hardworking, but a really fun adventure. I then studied on a double degree programme between the London School of Economics and Columbia Law School. I graduated about five years younger than most of my peers in New York, so I was pushed to grow up quite quickly when I started work on Wall Street, for better or worse.

I started as an associate at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, which was known as perhaps the most intense law firm in the country. So I learned a lot, advising tech and healthcare clients on corporate governance and M&A law. I then taught myself financial modeling on the side and transitioned into investment banking at J.P. Morgan, where I covered the energy sector – power, utilities and clean tech.

Steep learning curve, great exposure, lots of 100-hour weeks and then I hit a quarter-life crisis. In 2015, I took a leap of faith, left New York and moved to Hanoi to work on a government project.

I was part of a small team advising Vietnamese ministers on market liberalisation and sustainable economic development.

Sherah: Moving to your current role, how does it contribute to sustainability?  

Lucy: After we finished that project, I moved back to London to join Standard Chartered Bank (SCB), where I’m currently an Executive Director in the Financial & Strategic Investors Group. SCB is really interesting because it’s focused on dynamic markets across Asia, Africa and the Middle East. I spend much of my time encouraging European and American investors to make strategic acquisitions in emerging markets. I take a particular interest in the tech sector and impact investing.

Outside of finance, I volunteer as a mentor and judge for Pitch@Palace, which Prince Andrew founded to promote social entrepreneurship – initially in the UK, but now we’re going global. I’m also a trustee on the UK Board of Ace Africa, an incredible charity which advances education, health and livelihoods in rural Kenya and Tanzania. So now I feel I’ve found a decent balance between finance and social impact.

Sherah: Looking at economic development through a gendered lens, why is empowering women as leaders crucial to achieving sustainable development?

Lucy: Because otherwise we miss out on half the world’s potential. Empowering women together with men means more people are able to contribute to economic life. Women also bring different perspectives to the table, which strengthens collective decision making. Female entrepreneurs also tend to be relatively reliable counterparties for investors and lenders, which is why microfinance has been effective by targeting women. There is a social ripple effect too – because women generally look out for their families and communities. And finally, of course, equal access to opportunity is a fundamentally moral imperative.

Sherah: How can men in particular lead on the empowerment of women as leaders?

Lucy: I think it’s up to everyone. Men are particularly well positioned to lead on this important issue because, quite simply, there are more men in leadership positions.

Empowering women – or any other disenfranchised group – requires thoughtful systemic and cultural change. That’s a hard task. It demands careful attention to structural and cognitive barriers which might appear neutral on the surface, but in practice prejudice women in day-to-day life.

Because men are not affected in the same way, I hope they challenge themselves to be even more empathetic and alive to these issues. I hope they are determined to resolve them, not only for their daughters, but for their female peers and for themselves.

We’re all beneficiaries of a more inclusive and productive society.

Sherah: What is your message to young and future leaders?

Lucy: 

Be resilient, principled and pragmatic.

Focus on work and relationships that inspire you – but don’t shut yourself off from everything and everyone else. Take time to periodically reflect, challenge yourself and be brave enough to change course where necessary. Be hopeful, confident and kind. If the world starts looking too messy, don’t be disillusioned – be even more determined to make a difference.

Sherah: What gives you hope?

Lucy: We live in interesting and challenging times. Globalisation and technology have supercharged growth in so many sectors around the world. This has been a powerful driver of prosperity, but also led to new forms of social dislocation. We’re currently living through the fall-out. People and governments are struggling to reconcile their values with this new feeling of insecurity. Hopeful, confident and coherent leadership is hard to find right now.

What gives me hope is that individuals can clearly still make a difference. Often we’re seeing this in the negative. One or two noisy, reactionary voices have proven capable of carrying over the chaos to push popular opinion in a certain direction. That direction might be dangerous, but it makes me feel more motivated that individuals can have real effect, so we just need other people to step forward to push us in a more positive direction.

In the early hours of New Year’s 2015, I was jetlagged in Bali watching the sunrise. In that moment, I decided the world was too beautiful to spend my life unhappy and uninspired in my cubicle on Wall Street.

The world is certainly chaotic, but it’s also a privilege to experience. So I think we owe it to ourselves to try to make sense of it all and work hard to create a more positive future.

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