The Globe-Trotting Hustler: How She Made the World her Oyster
“When I travelled from Jersey to Switzerland, the local cultural exposure was amazing; my move to Singapore taught me about the group community mentality that the locals have; food was amazing in Singapore, I miss Mustafa shopping centre and prata! Then when I moved to the BVI, I could see the stark difference between Singapore and the Caribbean!” In this exclusive interview by Funds Partnership Asia, be inspired by globe-trotting hustler, Michelle Le Herissier, Managing Director at JTC Trustees, in this series of #GirlsJustWannaHaveFunds as she shares on her unconventional career trajectory, from entering the trustee industry and working her way up. What does it mean to be a woman in this cut-throat industry? Has she ever experienced discrimination? What were the most important lessons she held onto?
Find out how this courageous lady never let anyone push her down.
Can you share with us your career trajectory in a nutshell?
I love poetry, drama and acting and so I got my Diploma in Acting & Musical Theatre, but acting was a tough industry then and at that time, no one was interested so I made the decision to switch into the trustee industry as my father was a trustee then and I never once looked back!
I built my way up the good old fashion way; I worked hard and studied and put over and above what was expected. I landed my first job as a Junior Trust Administrator with Cititrust in Jersey; then a Trust Administrator role came up in Switzerland and I took it! Opportunities had presented themselves then I moved to Credit Suisse as Head of Trust Administration for 18 months before my best friend from Cititrust told me that they needed a Head of Trust Administration in their Singapore office, naturally I went for it! I progressed my career with Barclays as a Director for the Singapore and Hong Kong offices, until it was time to explore the world again.
That’s when an opportunity with JTC Group came up in their BVI office – so I packed my bags and was there for 2 years. After that, I was on an offsite project in South Dakota and with the volume of the domestic and international trust work in this new jurisdiction, I plunged into JTC Group’s South Dakota office as Managing Director!
What inspired you to enter the Trust industry?
My father did a stint in the Cayman Islands back in the 80s, and my parents packed up their home in Jersey and moved to the Caribbean. It was a very bold move in those days without smartphones and the internet and the advanced technologies we have today – but they took a risk and spent 2 years in the Channel Islands. As they showed me and my sister pictures of their adventures, I was so inspired by them and their travels.
At the age of ten, my parents showed me that the world was my oyster – and I knew then that I wanted to travel the globe to experience new cultures.
With that, I came to realise this same reality in every step of my career. I believe that a career move is strategic when it keeps me moving forward and gives me more with each step I take. So I followed my father’s footsteps, switched from acting to the Trustee field and worked hard.
I never expected promotions to land in front of me, I hustled and reached for everything I could. Like I said, I never looked back but just kept moving forward.
My career has always been important to me and what fuels my inspiration to give my best was the various cultures I get to experience along the way.
The culture of the Trust industry was eye-opening – I enjoyed the fast pace of the industry, I enjoyed the pressure and challenges the industry gave me and that feeling that my inbox was always full! I was very ambitious, and still am!
When I travelled from Jersey to Switzerland, the local cultural exposure was amazing; my move to Singapore taught me about the group community mentality that the locals have; food was amazing in Singapore, I miss Mustafa shopping centre and prata! Then when I moved to the BVI, I could see the stark difference between Singapore and the Caribbean! The visa process was way more efficient in Singapore as compared to the Caribbean, the Caribbean has a gentle and natural way of life as compared to Singapore’s fast pace of life.
Finally, I also experienced change from big, global banks like Cititrust, Credit Suisse and Barclays to my first independent trust company, JTC Group. I took the change like a duck to water – I was given autonomy, I was able to positively influence, I made sure I proved my worth and was given regional responsibilities and exercised my team building skills. The skills that I have gathered over the years all culminated to this point and it gave me the opportunity to build and develop a team when first I started out with JTC.
As a veteran in the industry, can you share with us how the Trust industry has evolved over the years?
The world has become far more transparent and that is how the industry evolves along with it – instances like FATCA reporting, CRS reporting, the need to have greater regulatory oversight, etc. Offshore jurisdictions that were once labelled as tax havens and shelters, and any illegitimate structures are now all things of the past. Technology has also definitely changed and further equipped the industry; for example by granting quicker response times to clients! Because the world is much more connected now, incidents and films like the Panama papers and The Laundromat on Netflix respectively can leave negative impressions of the industry. But it is also because the world is more transparent and connected, that it allows offshore centres to better position themselves; and get rid of the idea that these centres are dodgy places.
I believe that the need for a trust structure will never go away! As the industry evolves and increases transparency, this will only better assist clients to make better wealth management decisions, make the passing of assets and easier process for those left behind, or preserving wealth for their families’ generations to come.
As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career? How did you overcome it?
Instead of barriers, my perspective is to see such incidences as opportunities to grow and not a barrier that obstructs – simply because I want to be the best that I can be! I think that I have been very lucky in my career. I once had a female boss who put me down and made me feel less than what I was capable of. From there, I have adapted my mentality and approach by remembering Harvey Specter’s (See the image i sent to you girls by Michelle) words from the series Suits:
“When you’re backed against the wall, break the goddamn thing down.”
From then on, I never let anyone stand in my way, I never let anyone push me to a corner. I will go around and manoeuvre around till I reach my goal.
As a senior leader, I have learnt much in my career: Patience, Humility, Gratefulness, Tenacity, and showing Vulnerability even! I met Hurricane Irma in 2017 when I was with JTC but I was VERY focused on staying on for the team, and I did. This disaster showed me that the vulnerability of a leader is the best thing one can learn. Even though I appear strong, I can crumble because we are human too. I managed to make everyone hustle together to build the BVI office (literally!) from scratch and also managed to keep everyone’s jobs – not one was lost!
It was those trying times that created the biggest growth for me as an individual and as a female leader.
Do women in your profession have a harder time getting promoted as compared to men?
To be honest, I have seen many women in senior positions in our space on a global level and that makes me proud! My stint with Singapore has shown me that there are quite a few strong women in the wealth space and the dynamics and diversity between men and women in the Singapore’s wealth space is very encouraging, though I have noticed that women are slightly more conservative as compared to the men. In the wealth industry, the men predominantly are seated in the boardroom while I have heard a couple stories of women having to try to be part of the ‘boys’ club’; and I never bought into this. In fact, I find that sometimes the men must keep up with me!
As women, we may feel the pressure to behave in a certain way due to societal norms, but my experience with the women living in the Caribbean was very eye-opening- they were not afraid to give their opinion and openly harness their positive energy into achieving company goals!
Has there been any time you have experienced resistance when you are leading men?
I don’t specifically remember feeling any form of resistance to be very honest! I am currently leading men in my team, but they do not typically challenge my work in a negative way. Perhaps one thing that as a woman I often get labelled for is being “too emotional”. But I believe that as a leader, I should be emotionally available for my team! Emotional intelligence has greatly contributed to my 25 years in this field and it has got me to where I am today.
Being “emotional” to me means bringing my drive to work every day. I’m bringing me to work. Some men are not as transparent with their emotions and that makes it a slight challenge for me to help my own colleague when there are no cues to read. Funnily enough, I do remember an instance where a male colleague challenged my work. He started getting frustrated despite me repeating my answer to him for the umpteenth time… the irony isn’t it? Who is the emotional one now?
This label of “being too emotional” just proves that I can do the job just as well as a man, maybe even better! Because of that, I do believe that I am in my position because of my ability to do the job, not because of my gender!
What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
I saw this quote by The Female Lead on LinkedIn and it spoke to me – and I believe it will also encourage you as well:
It’s so important to be constantly encouraging others because we rise by lifting others! I would personally want to advise the next generation of female leaders to not step on other women to climb the corporate ladder, but instead to SUPPORT each other. Surround yourself with capable, courageous women and be each other’s greatest cheerleader. If you do not have one now, build your own tribe! Trust the flow and trust it will come good!