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International Women's Day 2020

In celebration of this year’s International Women’s Day, we spoke to some inspirational female directors from across the Aztec Group about their childhood hopes and dreams, their career paths and what drives them in day-to-day life.

Each year, on the 8 March, International Woman’s Day is celebrated around the world to honour the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It is a day to reflect on progress made towards gender equality, to call for change where it’s needed and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who play an extraordinary role in their countries and communities.

Marking the occasion at the Aztec Group, we spoke to a handful of our female directors about their early aspirations, their own female role models, how they shaped their careers – or had them shaped – and what they consider their greatest achievements to date.

 

Reshentha Beeby – Associate Director, Private Equity Fund Services
Jersey office

When you were growing up what did you want to be?

I grew up in South Africa and always enjoyed school. The majority of my family were teachers, lecturers and professors (my parents actually met at teaching college) so education was a huge focus in our home.

We had a mantra of “knowledge is power” which meant there was no option but to always do your absolute best. My younger sister and I were encouraged from a young age not just to excel in academics, but to take advantage of the opportunities presented to us.

Two formative experiences come to mind. As a student, I took part in a young entrepreneur’s programme where we started and ran a business. I also took part in a Junior City Council which was effectively a young leaders’ forum tasked with issues faced by the Mayor and the City Council. These were both stand-out experiences at an early age.

Did you have any female role models?

I was lucky enough to be surrounded by incredibly strong women growing up, but my mum has always been the most incredible and constant role model in my life.

She always set a very high standard to aspire to, raising my sister and I as a single parent after my dad passed away when I was 12. I have huge respect for her ability to multitask and create lasting friendships and relationships wherever she goes. She also instilled in me a love of good food (and wine!).

Would you say your career to date has been totally mapped out or more of a journey with twists and turns?

It’s been very much unmapped. When I finished high school in South Africa I took a gap year to travel, intending to return and train to be a doctor. However, within a month or so of being in the UK I met my future husband, fell in love and decided to stay.

We moved to Jersey with his work, and I took a job in finance; having studied accounting and business at school it was a good fit. I was keen to take professional qualifications, and began studying towards my ACCA.

I worked for a brand-new Fund Administration business for the following several years. It was so small that we all got involved in everything, from client meetings, to recruitment, even to ordering the office flowers. I learned a huge amount about every area of the business, especially how support roles feed into the client facing side.

I then joined a gold exploration company which, while based in Jersey, operated in Liberia. This was a fascinating two years!

And six years ago, I was approached by a former colleague who was already with the Aztec Group – they were looking for someone to head up the administration activities of a new team established for a major new client.

I’d never worked in the admin side before but as I am always up for a challenge and keen to learn new skills, I said yes.

Six years later, I’m still here and relishing my role as an Associate Director. I lead a brilliant team and I’m immensely proud of them.

What would you say your greatest achievement is?

Becoming ACCA qualified was a huge achievement for me. It was an incredibly challenging few years as I was in my early twenties, had two very young children, as well as a full-time job.

Like all working students, I had times where it seemed overwhelming and almost impossible to balance working in a demanding, time pressured environment like Private Equity and smash through 14 exams. I knew that if I wanted to progress in my career and give my young family the best opportunities, I had to stay focused, be disciplined and committed.

With the support of my husband and my mum, I qualified in 2007 when my son was five years old and my daughter was just three. This experience gave me the best grounding to start my career, and I am thankful for that opportunity. In more recent years, becoming part of the leadership team at the Aztec Group has been very rewarding. I am fortunate to be surrounded by a diverse group of talented individuals. Personally, my family is definitely my greatest achievement. I am so proud of the young adults my beautiful children Alex and Hannah have become.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be brave! Trust your judgement. You’ve got this!

What inspires you to strive in your career?

I love working directly with clients – we work incredibly hard to provide the very best service and it’s very rewarding when you get great feedback from them on a job well done.

I also get a lot of satisfaction from helping my team develop and seeing them forging forward in their careers.

Having built my team from scratch, it’s lovely to see them grow in skills and confidence and really succeed.

Anne-Cecile Jourdren – Associate Director, Tax
Luxembourg office

When you were growing up what did you want to be? 

I grew up in France where the emphasis was very much on being good at studying, good at school. It was expected that you would go to university. Probably my earliest childhood ambition was to be president, so I set my sights high from a young age! As I grew up I narrowed my ambitions to a career either in politics or an audit firm and by the time I went to university I was very sure that I wanted to work for one of the Big Five. With this goal in mind I specialised in tax at university, followed by law school in order to pass my bar exams, and then went straight into my first job with Deloitte France.

 

Did you have any female role models?

Growing up I always admired Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999), a famous French designer and architect. In the 1930s, during the first wave of feminism, she had a real influence on interior design, innovating furniture design with creativity and a fresh approach to functionality. She was able to impact the profession even though progress towards gender equality was at an early stage.

Would you say your career to date has been totally mapped out or more of a journey with twists and turns?

I feel fortunate that I have known what I wanted to do from a young age, and I planned my career and studies carefully to achieve my aims. As time has gone on, I’ve learned more about myself and about what is important to me aside from the mechanics of the job. It’s important for me to be happy in order to work effectively, and it’s very important that the company I work for has values that align to my own, as the Aztec Group does.

What would you say your greatest achievement is?

My children are my greatest achievements. I have a young son and daughter and am committed to raising them valuing equality and diversity. My daughter would like to go to Mars – I will support her dream and we will see what happens as she grows up!

Professionally, when I first joined the Aztec Group in Luxembourg, people were reluctant to approach the tax department and tried to keep interactions with us to the bare minimum. Two years later, we’ve built relationships, trust, and understanding with the business; now people are more than happy to work with us.

I’m very proud of the team I’ve built from scratch and our fantastic team spirit.

What advice would you give your younger self?

It is possible to combine your professional and personal lives, and for them both to be successful, happy, and fulfilling. You need the support of everyone around you in order to succeed in your career. You need the support of your peers, your team, line managers, and company. Search for the right organisation; one that aligns with your values, will support you with training and development, and above all, where you can be happy.

The Aztec Group provides opportunities for everyone to succeed, and it’s inspiring to work with so many other strong women on our leadership team and throughout our business.

What inspires you to strive in your career?

I’m very much inspired by my team and the role I am able to play in helping them to develop their careers. It’s very satisfying to be able to support others in their professional development and see their careers progress.

Charlotte Bentley – Associate Director
Jersey office

When you were growing up what did you want to be? 

I grew up in Jersey and always did pretty well at school, winning a scholarship to go to secondary school. I considered a few different careers growing up, from travelling the world as a flight attendant, to teaching (I was put off this idea after doing work experience with my little sister’s primary school class!).

I have always been arty and would probably have done something creative at university but at the last minute I had second thoughts and swapped art for economics. I knew I wanted to return to Jersey and the career opportunities are far better in the finance industry.

Did you have any female role models?

I discovered J.K. Rowling through my daughter’s enjoyment of the Harry Potter series and I love how, as a strong female role model, she has inspired the younger generation by highlighting the values of friendship, equality and the power of sheer perseverance. I love to cook and have great admiration for the ultimate domestic goddess Nigella Lawson – for her style and attitude to food and life in general. Professionally, our Head of Corporate and Depositary Services, Geraldine O’Rourke, is a fantastic role model for professional women, balancing a highly successful career with being a mother and foster carer whilst also being a really warm and supportive person. Geraldine was my boss in my first job out of university, and it is fantastic to be working with her again here some 20 years later.

Would you say your career to date has been totally mapped out or more of a journey with twists and turns?

My career certainly hasn’t been mapped out from the start, although I suppose my decision to study economics at university rather than art shows that I was thinking along the lines of a career in finance. After finishing university, I came back to Jersey and got a job at a local trust company. In 2001 I took a leap of faith by joining a brand new company called Private Equity Fund Services Limited (now known as the Aztec Group!). I had previously worked with the wife of our CEO Edward Moore and probably only got an interview as I was in the right place at the right time (walking past the local eatery Mange Tout on a rainy January morning). I had no idea I would still be here some 19 years later!

What would you say your greatest achievement is?

I would say just being a part of the Aztec Group story from the very beginning. Our values have been in place from the very first day – we’re bright, we’re passionate about the work we do, we’re caring, responsible, and unified. I’m passionate about preserving our unique culture; it really differentiates us from our peers and we stand out as the bright alternative.

Personally, I’ve completed over 15 “MoonWalk” events, raising money for “Walk the Walk” (the UK’s biggest grant making breast cancer charity). On a MoonWalk you power walk 26.2 miles through the night. It is tough, probably as much mentally as physically, but I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a challenge. I have done MoonWalks in London, New York and Iceland with friends, on my own, and even with my daughter who was only 14 at the time.

What advice would you give your younger self?

To have a good circle of friends and to look out for each other. With social media there is a lot of pressure on young people to conform and I think it is important to remember that having a small group of true friends is more important than how many followers you have on social media.

I am still really close to friends I have had since starting secondary school and their friendship and support over the years has been invaluable.

What inspires you to strive in your career?  

Job satisfaction and teamwork are really important to me. It is tremendously satisfying to have seen the Aztec Group grow from five people to over 950 now and to know I have played a part in that. The morale of a team is everything for a people business such as ours. I am a firm believer that leading by example is the best way to inspire others and don’t have any problem rolling up my sleeves when a job needs to be done.

Emily Sturgess – Director, Operational Resilience
Jersey office

When you were growing up what did you want to be? 

I imagined myself as a princess when I was very young and had a love of all things pink! Growing up, I wasn’t particularly studious and was more into my sports and being with my friends, but I did make a conscious decision to take business studies at GCSE because I knew that would open up more options in the future. I didn’t get particularly good grades and left school at 16 to join Ernst & Young as a trainee administrator. It wasn’t until I started studying for my ICSA professional qualifications that I finally found my groove – all of a sudden the things I was studying became relevant and I could apply them to my everyday job. When I found my passion, I flew through my exams.

Did you have any female role models?

My mum had always been a role model for me. She was the kindest person I ever knew. From her I learnt kindness, warmth and generosity, and I can balance that with the assertiveness and toughness I learnt from my dad. Professionally, I’ve been lucky to have always been surrounded by a very supportive peer network of both women and men. There is a more equal balance in the workplace now than earlier on in my career, and you can see clearly how businesses are benefitting as a result.

Would you say your career to date has been totally mapped out or more of a journey with twists and turns?

My career has been a journey and I have forged my own path. I’ve always approached it with the philosophy that if I’m not happy with something, or if I needed more challenge, then I need to make the change myself. I joined the Aztec Group ten years ago as a manager on the fund administration side. After 20 years in client facing roles, I recently decided to make the switch over to the operational side of the business and have discovered a real passion for my new operational resilience role. It’s a brand-new role which I have the privilege of being able to shape. I’m relishing the opportunity to use my knowledge accumulated over two decades on the client side, whilst also learning new skills.

What would you say your greatest achievement is?

Professionally my greatest achievements are almost all my most recent ones, so it would have to be building my new role, function and team in operational resilience. Personally, I am at a stage in my life where I feel happy, comfortable and secure. I’m very content in all aspects of my life and I believe this is an achievement in itself.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Study hard – whilst exam results aren’t the be all and end all, they do matter and will be referred back to throughout your life although hard work on the job shines through in the end. More importantly don’t worry about things you can’t control and if something doesn’t make you happy then just move on.

What inspires you to strive in your career?

My real driving force is a desire to make things better. Perhaps it stems from my mother’s lessons in kindness, but I want to make people’s jobs easier, and this inspires me every day in my role. I also get real satisfaction from seeing my team develop, and just to see that they are happy and confident at work. That’s how I know I’m doing a good job!

Vanessa Mahy – Associate Director, Private Equity Fund Services
Guernsey office

When you were growing up what did you want to be? 

A hairdresser by day and a singer by night! I was very involved in amateur dramatics and dancing but unfortunately things didn’t quite go to plan and I went into finance straight from school. I was always very studious and determined to do well in everything I tackled. Everyone who knows me can tell you I have a very competitive nature and this is what drives me on a day to day basis

 

Did you have any female role models?

My mum, who passed away 25 years ago.

Would you say your career to date has been totally mapped out or more of a journey with twists and turns?

We didn’t have the same opportunities in the 80s that we have now and pursuing a career in finance was the obvious option. However, even though I didn’t go into finance out of choice, it has taken me places I never dreamt of (with a few bumps along the way) and I’ve stuck to this same path ever since.

What would you say your greatest achievement is?

Personally: seeing my daughters grow into wonderful, caring and ambitious young ladies.

Professionally: getting to the position I am in today through sheer hard work and determination.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I always tell my girls “go for it, and we’ll worry about the consequences later”. Dream big and reach for the stars – you never know what’s around the corner.

What inspires you to strive in your career?

My family. Doing the best for them is my number one priority and making them proud in any way I can.

Denisa Dellevaux – Head of Human Resources, EU
Luxembourg office

When you were growing up what did you want to be? 

As a young child I wanted to be a scientist. My father was an accomplished Chemical Engineer with five global inventions in chemistry to his name. His lab, experiments, formulas, and the poster of the periodic table in my room, were part of my daily life. This childhood world was fascinating and taught me how to think in an analytical and logical way from a very young age.

In high school I considered either becoming a lawyer or working in embassies around the world as a lawmaker. At university I started focusing on business, and on graduation I applied for a role in the finance industry, which was booming in Tokyo at that time. I was very passionate about my work, always asking a lot of questions and remaining curious about the big picture of each company I worked with and how I could contribute and learn. Continuing my studies was always very important to me, even after graduating I continued updating my skills studying in Tokyo and Boston.

Did you have any female role models?

My mother and my grandmothers (my mother was a university professor, my maternal grandmother a hospital director and my paternal grandmother an accountant). They instilled a strong work ethic in me from an early age and taught me about the importance of hard work and dedication.

When I started my career I was impressed by Kathy Matsui in Tokyo and her impact on women in leadership in the financial sector. I was also taken with Michelle Obama before she became first lady. The determination she needed to succeed as a lawyer and her impact on implementing new educational programmes for women really impressed me. I have been, and still am, fortunate to work with fantastic female managers, mentors and colleagues who inspire me on a daily basis.

Would you say your career to date has been totally mapped out or more of a journey with twists and turns?

I would say a combination of both. As a young graduate in my first finance job in Tokyo, I made sure I stayed open and curious and tried to understand what the different departments in an organisation do, and where I would fit in. I made sure to get to know colleagues from other departments, which helped me plan my career. I understood early on that people are the greatest asset of a company and started looking into the importance of the HR department and how it can strategically help in shaping the people agenda.

What would you say your greatest achievement is?

Seeing my teams succeed. It is very satisfying to mentor my teams and see my team members grow into confident, knowledgeable professionals that the business fully trusts.

My greatest personal achievement is my family. I have two young children and a large extended family. I’m very proud of the close bonds we have, and that we laugh together a lot. Rediscovering the world through our children’s eyes, creating new family traditions, and just laughing with them is unbelievably fulfilling.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I’ve got plenty! Always listen carefully, and if you meet someone that inspires you, pay attention and remember.

Keep laughing and don’t stress about relationships; if it works it works, if it doesn’t it doesn’t.

Tell your parents and grandparents you love them and spend more time with them. Spend time with good friends. Never stop learning. Strive to understand the ‘why’, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Always remember that failure means new opportunities to begin again.

Accept change; it’s part of life and will happen throughout your life, personally and professionally. Don’t be the person that says ‘I’ll be happy when…’’; happiness is found in the present.

Set life goals, don’t give up, and enjoy the journey!

What inspires you to strive in your career?

Hearing employees say that my team and I have helped them and that they can rely on us is very motivating. I am also continually inspired by the fact that my managers trust my leadership and that I’m able to contribute to the business in a truly positive way. Seeing my ideas develop into intelligent and successful strategies is what keeps me moving forward.

Dalia Bleyer – Associate Director, Private Equity Fund Services
Luxembourg office

When you were growing up what did you want to be? 

I grew up in Lithuania and I remember dreaming of becoming a singer; like most of my friends, singing in front of the mirror while wearing my mum’s high heels was one my favorite pastimes! By the time I finished high school I had developed a keen desire to study law and become an attorney in court. However, my exam results revealed that my true talent was with numbers, so I decided to play to my strengths and opted to study economics.

Did you have any female role models?

I didn’t have a specific role model but I always admired (and still admire) successful female attorneys. It’s still a profession typically associated with men, and I feel that women still need to counter bias and prove themselves more than in many other professions.

Would you say your career to date has been totally mapped out or more of a journey with twists and turns?

I started my career in private banking but it didn’t feel right for me, so I looked at other roles in finance.

In 2008 I applied for a junior fund administrator position at the Aztec Group’s Luxembourg office. At that stage there were only three of us and now there are over 320 people there! I didn’t know what to expect but I was keen to learn. When I first joined I didn’t expect to progress to my current position, but I was always supported and given opportunities to grow professionally. Eleven years later, I’m an ‘Associate Director’, and the team seems to be growing each and every week! I feel very proud to have been a part of that success.

What would you say your greatest achievement is?

Family has always been the driving force in my life. My family continually motivates me. They are the reason I continue to shine. I’m also immensely proud of my professional achievements. I came to Luxembourg on my own, wanting to test myself in a completely different environment. It wasn’t always an easy path, but challenges in life are an invitation to grow.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Believe in yourself, work hard and you will achieve!
Step out of your comfort zone often – it’s the best way to learn and develop.

My parents taught me that whatever you choose to do, you should strive to do so to the best of your ability and be responsible. Those values have really helped me to advance in my career.

What inspires you to strive in your career?

It’s very important for me to have opportunities to learn new things and develop new skills – this is something the Aztec Group have provided throughout my time. I’ve always learnt most when I’ve had to go beyond my comfort zone.

Kim Anthony – Head of Business Improvement
Jersey office

When you were growing up what did you want to be

I grew up in Jersey and have always had a lot of drive and passion. From a young age I wanted to become a leader in business, complete with a power suit and heels!

My dad worked hard to climb to the top of the ladder in his career and I always wanted to follow in his footsteps professionally. I used to sit in his office after school and think “I would like an office one day”, and I remember saying “one day I’m going to be a COO”! I always gravitated towards leadership roles, whether that was captain of the netball team or captain of my Brownies pack!

Did you have any female role models?

I look up to many women in history, social media and also here at the Aztec Group, but most of all my mum who has the biggest heart and always puts family first. One of my main professional female role models is someone I worked with early on in my career: Norma O’Sullivan. She was in a senior role and was so measured, fair, likeable, busy, and yet always made time for people. She really cared but she was also a pocket rocket with some power! She progressed through her career and became the MD of Capita. To this day we are still in touch and she still inspires me to strive.

Would you say your career to date has been totally mapped out or more of a journey with twists and turns?

There have been a lot of twists and turns with my career journey! I started working for a trust company in Jersey when I was 19 years old. I worked my way up to the position of ‘Senior Trust Administrator’. One summer I decided I needed some experience outside the industry and did a couple of seasons as a holiday rep for First Choice Holidays. This was a great experience, teaching me how to deal with different people and variety of sometimes difficult situations.

On returning to Jersey, I gained further experience across compliance, fund administration and then moved to London to work as a ‘Trust and Estate Manager’.

Whilst there, I discovered a passion for project work when I became part of the project team for an important acquisition in Luxembourg. I worked on projects and programmes full time gaining experience in acquisitions, integrations, business transformation, IT and system upgrades.

In 2011 I took a three-month sabbatical and travelled before moving to Australia for six years to work in a completely different industry – supply chain for grain! A major part of this involved setting up a new office in the US and a joint venture in Russia, and this experience revealed to me that people change management was my true calling. I undertook various qualifications and these, coupled with my experience, helped me land my dream role as Head of Business Improvement with the Aztec Group.

What would you say your greatest achievement is?

Professionally, I’d say it was my work in Russia, where I led the implementation of a brand-new office in a new jurisdiction for the business. Working in different cultures has given me the ability to see things from a different perspective, and I’ve learned to adapt my skillset to work on a variety of projects and change initiatives.

Personally, I don’ t let my fear of flying prevent me from travelling! I have been fortunate to travel and work in many other jurisdictions and not letting my fear of flying impact this is really a key achievement.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Things don’t always have to be perfect. Earlier in my career, I was a perfectionist. This approach took a lot of time and resilience until I realised that nothing is ever perfect. If you make a mistake, learn from it and it will become second nature the next time around.

Being productive doesn’t mean working 24 hours a day – you need to focus on your wellbeing. I learned this a little late in my career and wish I had realised the importance of self-care earlier.

Progression is hard work and you will face knock backs, but don’t see these as bad; learn your mistakes and put them down to experience. You may change course a few times but trust the journey and you will get there!

Finally, I always remember the advice a teacher gave me: “Keep smiling, always rise above life’s difficulties, learn from them and remember happiness is not having what you want, it’s wanting what you have!”

What inspires you to strive in your career?

I have always wanted to make things better, whether that’s helping my friends and family or by working in a role where we are implementing change to improve things.

I love a challenge! Fresh challenges inspire me every day. Projects may seem like a lot of additional work, and sometimes can add a lot of pressure, but when change becomes the norm things do get better. I live by these values and that has helped me get to where I am today. I have often been told I’m resilient and tenacious. I think that’s a good thing!


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