The Fold Woman: Kelly Birt

The Fold Woman: Kelly Birt
September 8, 2014 The Fold

Can you give us a brief bio about your career background and how it has led to your current job ?

I knew I wanted to work in Banking from the age of 15. I remember my first careers advice class during which we were given ‘professions’ factsheets to read. I skipped over the Lawyer, Doctor and Teacher sheets before arriving at Merchant Banking. I remember thinking that’s what I want to do, I want to be a Merchant Banker. I had absolutely no idea what that actually meant, however, I knew that was the career path for me. Nearly 20 years later I have worked for three of the largest Global Investment Banks, have held a variety of management, project management, business development, sales, marketing & relationship management roles which have required me to travel extensively and work globally.

I was on the Management Development Programme (“MDP”) at JP Morgan in London when I was head-hunted by Goldman Sachs in 1997. I stayed at Goldman Sachs for nearly 15 years before moving to the European Bank I currently work for in 2012 to establish a new global client facing team within the Business I am part of. Nurturing key client relationships, managing global projects & teams and driving through change continues to be what I love doing. My passion and energy for the client facing element of my roles over the years, especially during and post the Lehman demise in 2008, has not diminished in the slightest. I have had the privilege of being able to cultivate strong client relationships with prominent FTSE 100 companies and other well known industry institutions.

 

The Fold Woman Kelly Birt

 Kelly wears Le Marais straight trousers and tunic top in navy

You work in a male-dominated industry. What would be your advice for women who want to work in a similar environment ?

I have received sound advice from male and female peers, leading industry figures, mentors and sponsors over the years, all of which has proved invaluable to me at different points on my career curve. Some of the advice, tips and pointers that have worked for me personally are as below.

Networking. It’s important to build and maintain strong relationships within and outside of your organisation. Industry contacts will be key throughout your career – both old and new connections.

Sponsor/Mentor. Seek out a mentor(s) early on in your career. Each will provide you with a different perspective – embrace those differences wisely. Ask questions and learn as much as you can.

Hard work. The quality of the work you produce is a reflection of what you are capable of. It’s your ‘credibility’ badge. Hard work alone will only get you so far. A good amount of luck, timing, a strong network and key sponsors are all vitally important. Carefully balanced self-promotion must not be ignored or over used. Surround yourself with smart, hard working, ambitious, team orientated colleagues. Smartness breeds smartness – this gives rise to all round personal and team success.

Stay true to yourself. It’s very easy to lose sight of who you are, what you stand for, the value you bring to your role and team along the way. It’s important to regularly take stock of your performance, behaviour, contribution and attitude. You and you only represent yourself – don’t let yourself down. Your reputation takes an enormous amount of time, thought and effort to build – it’s takes a split second to lose.

Trust your instincts. Your first gut reaction/instinct is usually the right one. Instincts have an important role to play in decision making. Don’t block them out – use them to your advantage when the moment is right.

Seize opportunities. Be measured as well as courageous. “You do things when the opportunities come along. I’ve had periods in my life when I’ve had a bundle of ideas come along, and I’ve had long dry spells. If I get an idea next week, I’ll do something. If not, I won’t do a damn thing.” Warren Buffett “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston Churchill

Curiosity. Never stop asking questions and writing things down. Don’t be afraid to ask, even if you think it’s a silly question. I carry and pen and pad everywhere I go and I’m constantly scribbling notes down.

Finally, do not take things personally and never forget who helped you along the way.

 

Who would you consider a significant role model for you and why ?

I am so fortunate to be surrounded by so many role models – all inspirational people in different ways.

My father has been the most influential figure in my life. Not only did I respect, admire and aspire to be like him from a very young age, I loved him enormously. He taught my sister and I the importance of grace, humility, hard work, respect, perseverance, discipline and strength in our personal and professional lives – always leading by example. He has been the catalyst behind every success we have gone on to realise in our lives. He had the unique skill of being able to sincerely converse with everybody he came into contact with. He was acutely self-aware, purposely inclusive, and radiated warmth and positivity in abundance. His unwavering encouragement and guidance over the years acted as supportive crash barriers during challenging times in my career. Looking back, he was consciously helping us to build characteristics that would go on to largely shape our personalities.

I envy Hilary Clintons ‘endurance’. How does she do it? I get tired just watching her.

I have worked for/with three senior females in the industry over the past 20 years who still today continue to amaze me. They have each invested time in my development, have encouraged me to pursue my career, and have imparted pearls of wisdom whilst showing me that anything is possible if you plan and prioritise well. These women walk-the-talk, they do as they say. Their ability to juggle physically and mentally demanding schedules around their families, children, work travel, public speaking events, board duties and of course their full time day jobs is admirable. They do so with grace and femininity – they do indeed walk-the-talk.

I have also worked for two men I deeply respect – both have been my manager at different times during my career. Both have been long standing mentors (one knowingly, one unknowingly) and I would consider them both very strong and trustworthy friends. Their common characteristics are undeniable smartness (they both just ‘get it’), outstanding business acumen, consistent hard work and focus, and natural ability to lead and inspire teams – you always want to work exceptionally hard for them and produce outstanding work (my perfectionism has driven them both to despair at times!). I would summarise them as harsh but fair forward thinking leaders.

 

The Fold Woman Kelly Birt

Kelly Wears the Harley dress

What are your personal and professional goals for 2014?

My personal goal for 2013 was to conquer Mount Kilimanjaro with 29 strangers (who became friends) in support of the Alzheimer’s Society. We collectively raised over £150,000.00 for our efforts. Standing on the top of the summit was a surreal moment – simply breath-taking. When I returned from Africa I decided my next challenge of a similar magnitude would be in 2015 – so watch this space!

As for my professional goals, in May 2014 I was nominated for the Brummell ‘Ones to Watch in 2014’. Brummell is a lifestyle magazine for readers of financial news who are largely city professionals. The panel were looking for under-40s who have outperformed their peers/market and have the potential to rise to the top.  I was absolutely delighted and honoured to be one of the 30 ‘Ones to Watch 2014’ selected.

One of the motives behind my Brummell nomination was in relation to my work with ‘WILD’ (Women in Listed Derivatives). I’m a founding member of WILD London and occupy a Board seat alongside 12 other very talented women from derivatives exchanges, clearing firms, investment banks, brokerage firms, technology firms, and industry organizations. WILD promotes networking and relationship building among women in the listed and over the counter derivatives markets through mentoring programs as well as social and educational events.  I have more recently been able to take on a more prominent role in connection with our Mentoring Programme.

Furthermore, in July 2014 I became involved in a new Deutsche Bank Born to Be initiative in partnership with STEMettes which is aiming to address falling numbers of women working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Along with 39 other ladies, I have been matched with a student aged 16+ to mentor for the next 4 months, and will share experiences such as industry knowledge, routes into employment and personal networks. My Dad was a firm believer in fairness and equality. He believed that everybody should be given the same chance and opportunity in life and that hard work, persistence and discipline, amongst other characteristics, are what set us apart – not where we were born or who we were born to.

 

How do you maintain a good work/life balance ?

It has taken me the majority of my working life to finally get to a point where I feel I have a good balance between my work and life. There have been many successful and unsuccessful tweaks and adjustments along the way. I threw myself into my work and career in my early 20’s and never really came up for air until my early thirties. Since my mid-thirties I have been more disciplined, I have greater confidence and conviction in my ability and judgement to draw a line between home and work.

The key is flexibility, meticulous planning and the ability to prioritise effectively. These all sound like clichés, however, this recipe works very well for me. I have multiple to-do lists on the go every day of the week. I live by my e-calendar (on my mobile phone), and have coloured ‘post-it notes’ dotted around my house. It drives my family crazy !

 

The Fold Woman Kelly Birt

 Kelly wears Le Marais straight trousers and tunic top in navy

 What are some of the ways you take time out of your busy schedule and unwind from work ?

My fiancé, Thierry, lives in Geneva. He and I both love the outdoors and so when we’re together in Geneva at weekends we make time to walk, hike, ski and travel as much as we possibly can. I have had a love/hate relationship with gyms over the past 20 years and I’m now resolved to the fact that exercising outdoors works much better for me. I’m also a qualified classical dance teacher of ballet, tap and jazz and so when the opportunity arises to go along to a dance class I try my very best to make the time.

 

As a women in business, how important is it to dress well for work ?

The way you dress is a visual statement, it’s the first message you unknowingly/knowingly communicate when you meet somebody. Your style and personal appearance represents you, your personal brand and what you stand for. It’s incredibly important to be thoughtful about your choices from colours to patterns, accessories to hem lines, how much flesh is on display, the type of shoes you wear and how the ‘overall look’ comes together. Never underestimate the importance of taking pride in your appearance. I can assure you the people you assume have not noticed, already have.

“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.” CoCo Chanel

Look around at how successful women who are senior managers and leaders, across all industries and sectors, dress.  For me personally, they play an influential role in my decision making process.

 

What are your ultimate workwear wardrobe staples ?

I love clothes, heels, accessories and bags; my Mulberry handbags are firm workwear staples. I love to mix high street pieces with designer pieces.

I typically buy items of clothing that catch my eye rather than what’s necessarily in-vogue at that particular moment in time. I stay true to colours and styles that suit me having gone off-piste a couple of times and failed miserably !

I love clean, simple, elegant pieces that can speak for themselves with or without accessories. More importantly, the quality and comfort of the material needs to be able to hold its own, given I spend a large proportion of my time travelling, packing and unpacking. The need to ‘travel well’ is a must as opposed to a nice to have. My Fold dresses fit the bill perfectly – they impress in every respect.

 

The Fold Woman Kelly Birt

 Kelly Wears the Harley dress

 

Which is your favourite style from the collection?

I absolutely love the Camelot dress; I have it in navy blue and black/white tweed. I wore the Navy Camelot dress to the Brummell ‘Ones to Watch 2014 Celebration Evening’ in July 2014. I also love the Le Marais navy blue trousers and Le Marais navy blue tunic top. I could go on. Needless to say I am very excited for the new winter collection.

 

Photos from Amelia Allen Photography.

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