I arrived at Travers Smith in 1992 via a northern grammar school at a time when education policy was marginally more aspirational than the Victorians. “Like to travel?” asked my careers advisor. Quick flick through careers cards. “Air hostess?”
Fortunately the boredom of a state boarding school galvanised me to follow my altogether more organised friend to extra lessons and ignoring the support of my maths teacher - “worse people have got in” - spent three wonderful years at Oxford studying the archaic sounding but intellectually fascinating jurisprudence.
BA’s loss, I like to think, and Travers Smith’s gain. I arrived in the City in 1992 with little or no idea what “the City” was or where “it” was.
Not in Smithfield was the answer. At least not then, when Travers Smith was less Clerkenwell trendsetter as it is now and more City outlier. Snow Hill was an out of the way bastion with little other than one of the first Corney and Barrow wine bars and the Fox and Anchor for post all night drafting sessions.
I’m often asked why I chose Travers Smith and why I stayed for six years working mostly with Chris Hale and the Private Equity team. With houses it may be location, location, location. But at Travers Smith it was always people, people, people.
My career after Travers Smith took me into the operational, investing and now advising side of private equity. First as the commercial director of an online retailer, then as an investing partner at Cazenove Private Equity where we led an MBO and international partnership with Silicon Valley-based Draper Fisher Jurvetson to become DFJ Esprit, one of the most significant European venture capital houses. I now enjoy the flexibility that a plural career brings as a non-executive director and coach for businesses and their management teams ranging from the very large - such as HM Land Registry and Mercer - to the fast growing FirstMile, a now PE-backed recycling business.
When I look back over my career, I still often smile at the fun I had in those early years as a lawyer.
From my first IPO, working alongside Ivan Gazidis (now Chief Executive of AC Milan), of a dog food company, the tombstone proudly declaring “with tasty gravy”, to the panic over the missing “bearer share”, to the private equity deal involving 3i and Millers where the previous management team had bought enough plaid-shirt stock to clothe one in two British males, life was an intense time fuelled by laughter, late night drafting over pizza and beers and trips to Corney and Barrow.
At all times it was the people, the camaraderie and the pursuit of pragmatic solution finding alongside intellectual excellence that stood Travers Smith apart.
The early noughties were a strange place to be a woman in the City. I am eternally grateful to my colleagues at Travers for providing me with an egalitarian platform that valued me for my abilities and gave me the confidence to tackle the move into the investing world.
In an era of “Me Too”, I hope we are finally seeing a change in the unconscious (to be generous) and sometimes conscious (to be realistic) bias that has held woman and other under-represented groups back. I encourage you to read Mercer’s (where I am now a non-executive) report When Women Thrive to see that unconscious bias is a reality backed by statistics and is no longer an anecdotal issue that can be blamed on women’s choices.
When I arrived in the City, we were expected to wear skirts. We were expected to turn a blind eye and graciously retreat home when completion celebrations moved on to a certain bar on Farringdon Road. And we were expected to understand that having children was our decision and it came with career consequences.
At one completion dinner, a successful CEO who had just sold out to private equity, lent over to me in my buttoned to the chin, green shirt and then ‘rebellious’ trouser suit and offered me a piece of advice that has shaped me since. Pointing to the female accountant across the table wearing an elegant (but rather short) dress, he said: “That’s how you get on in business.”
If I ever needed an incentive to become a vocal advocate for equality, it was that moment. In my roles on the boards of major companies, I continue to speak out on the subject and shine a light on the need to address any remaining unconscious bias.
And Travers Smith? They may not always have got it right, and I am sure there are still wrinkles, but they have always openly championed diversity. I was incredibly proud to see them presenting at the recent Stonewall conference about their journey to being ranked 26th in the Stonewall Top 100 Employers List 2018. They should be justly proud of that, as I still am to be associated, through the alumni, with the Travers organisation. It is not about the money, money money - at Travers it is all about the people, people, people.