By Pirkko Juntunen (London)
It is difficult not to fall quickly into clichés such as ‘superwoman’ when describing Laura Palomino de Forbes. In her mid-thirties, married and a mother to a 15-month old daughter, Palomino de Forbes heads up DIAM International’s business development and client services efforts in the EMEA Region from her London office. She has, through hard work and dedication, put DIAM on the map in Europe and Middle East by acquiring new assets of over $3bn in the past four years.
These business achievements, remarkable unto themselves, are made even more so when we consider the male-dominated corporate backdrop against which they have been made. DIAM is a joint venture asset management company between Mizuho Financial Group and Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company established in 1999 and the largest public pension manager in Japan with USD 32 billion invested in Japanese equities and close to USD 90 billion in total AUM.
Palomino de Forbes is a world citizen – Colombian-born, with a Kiwi husband, educated in London and Paris, and fluent in four languages. She worked all over the world even before beginning her career in finance, including her work in Guatemala for oil giant Shell. “I have always found diverse cultures and languages fascinating and I am pleased that this is something I can continue to explore both for business as well as pleasure,” she says.
Palomino de Forbes started her finance career in 1995 as an assistant fund manager for Investment Advisors Incorporated, a subsidiary of Hill Samuel, where she was reported to the CIO, making investment recommendations to the investment committee. She says “During my time there I developed a proprietary screening process for idea generation and valuation. I also implemented new analytical and research tools for use by all the fund managers.”
From IAI, she moved to investor relations at Citigate Dewe Rogerson, where she was project managing peer group comparisons of corporate governance. She also developed the Shareholder Intelligence Unit capability and established over 200 new relationships with asset managers in Europe.
In 2000, she moved to Nomura Asset Management where she headed the institutional business development for Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Luxemburg, Belgium, South Africa and other Eastern European countries. While in this role, her achievements included developing and implementing a strategic and partnership alliance, agreements for discretionary management and sub-management, advisory and white labeling and fund distribution. She also developed her role as spokesperson for the media and worked with brand awareness.
By 2004, Palomino de Forbes’ reputation as an excellent business developer had spread and she was head-hunted by Nomura’s rival DIAM International for their European push. She set up the business development operations from scratch and oversaw the restructuring of the team and their responsibilities, continuing to build on consultant relationships and increase brand awareness, while adding several billion dollars to DIAM’s assets under management.
It was in DIAM that she rose to prominence. She was named a “Rising Star” by Financial News for two years in a row, a feat that few have achieved. In 2006, she was in this category for her success in acquiring new assets for DIAM from pension funds; in 2007, she was again in the category because she was made the only female member and the youngest member of DIAM’s executive committee.
In her understated way she does not talk too loudly about her achievements, viewing them as just part of her daily work. At the same time, Palomino de Forbes recognizes that she is unusual in her position and credits the unique environment at DIAM. “I am sure if I was based in another Japanese company a lot of what I have achieved would not have been possible. This is because of the traditional Japanese conservative outlook in general and hierarchical way of operating with age being an important factor in promotions and positions.”
Palomino de Forbes believes that women should be at an advantage rather than a disadvantage when it comes to a role like hers. “It is the classical multitasking and at the same time it is to do with relating to people on a more personal level, rather than just business level. It can be very difficult to quantify but it is clear in sales or relationship management when you have someone who can relate to anyone about anything; it is this which is the most valuable attribute for these roles.” She added that her team is mixed and that she always looks at people’s qualities and qualification in general rather than gender as that is how she would herself expected to be judged.
On the infamous glass ceiling she says, “It definitely exists and it can be hard to break through. And it is definitely true that as a woman, particularly a young woman and mother, you have to work twice as hard. But as long as it is only hard work that is required, that is fine. Deliberate obstacles added in your way are another matter all together.”
Palomino de Forbes is definitely one who has smashed that glass ceiling and done so without much ado. She is proof that hard work pays and that you can achieve a work-life balance and still hold down a top job, while still remaining true to herself.