By Cleo Thompson (London), Founder of The Gender Blog
A self confessed “start-up junkie”, Tamara Box always wanted to be a lawyer and was told from a young age that she was too argumentative – an ambition and a personality trait which has subsequently stood her in good stead in her career as an award-winning structured finance lawyer and steering committee member of the 30% Club.
“I grew up in Texas and had a great role model in my mother, who worked in the telecoms industry at a senior level. My first international move came when I relocated to London to study at the London School of Economics. Then I returned to the USA and did law at Georgetown. After graduation, I joined Coudert Brothers, first in New York and then in Singapore where I worked for four years and met my English husband. My first “start up” opportunity came early as a founding member of the first overseas office (in Singapore) of US law firm Orrick. In 1997, I moved back to the UK to open Orrick’s London office and I made Partner in 2000.”
After stints at top London firms Tite & Lewis and Lovells, Box landed at Berwin Leighton Paisner in 2006 – the same year in which her son Hugo was born – in order to build their structured finance business from scratch.
“There was a real impetus to have this business. I’m a broad based structured finance lawyer and I love to build businesses. It’s gone from strength to strength and I now have more than 19 years’ experience in advising arrangers, dealers, issuers and trustees in connection with a wide range of debt instruments, including bonds (securitisations, project bonds, high yield, convertible and exchangeable bonds and Islamic bond issuances), the establishment of debt programmes, liability management and private placements. I also regularly advise trustees, issuers, arrangers, investors and servicers in connection with securitisations, high yield bonds, structured debt restructurings and workouts and I have significant experience of derivatives and structured products.”
Box has always worked full time and credits her husband for “making my career possible. He stopped work for five years to take care of our son and is an amazing father. He’s now returned to work and works on a flexible basis, which works very well for us – we’re a great team and a partnership.”
Box is a recognised expert in the area of securitisation, having been regularly named a leading practitioner by each of the International Financial Law Review’s Guide to the World’s Leading Structured Finance and Securitisation Lawyers, The Legal 500’s Legal Experts, Chambers’ UK Guide and The International Who’s Who of Business Lawyers. In June 2011 she was named “Best in Securitisation and Structured Finance” in Euromoney’s first Women in Business Law Awards, which she cites as a particular career highlight.
“It meant a lot to me to be acknowledged by my female peers in the legal world. I’m also very proud of the team that I have around me; it’s now eight partners and thirty associates and I’ve built that. We have a great reputation in the market and have acted on many high profile matters. It’s exciting to see the younger associates come through and many of my clients are former associates. One of them has built an incredible real estate business and done phenomenally well. I’m proud to be a part of that and I feel lucky to have been able to build a legacy.
“As for where next – the financial crisis has thrown up many new cases and novelty in my industry. I need to be stretched and find new challenges and opportunities; I’m a builder, not a maintainer and I’m always looking for new experiences.”
Looking back and the importance of choice
With the benefit of hindsight, what does Box wish that she’d known at the start of her career?
“I truly know now that you cannot have it all. You must make choices and careful ones! Choose your life partner carefully; accept that you can’t both have everything at the same time, own your compromises and choices. You can’t sit back and say “I must be superwoman” – you need to have conversations about choices. Think about these things and talk about them openly – consider expectations and deeply held views and biases.”
She continued, “I tell the women I work with – “we’re not yet done – make your choices carefully, they will count and you’ll have to live with them”. Recognise that life – and careers – have natural plateaus. Women’s careers have a different path and you need to consider how you’ll move forward.”
Barriers and challenges
Box is clear as to the barriers she sees in the legal profession for women.
“Unconscious bias, group think, hiring in your own image. The messages that girls get can be damaging and limiting. Fifty percent of law graduates are female, they perform better at assessments and tests, they perform better in the workplace, are more conscientious and yet by five years Post Qualified Experience, they leave and make different career choices. A lot of what’s happening is unconscious; if a young woman shows initiative, it can change a relationship and the senior men are less comfortable with that. It has a huge impact on retention of talent.”
“I believe in changing behaviours at the top – hence my involvement with the 30% Club. We need to get more used to seeing women in these roles. Organisations become more women friendly the more women they have. The more you can diversify the workforce, the more diversity you will attract.”
“Choose your role models well. Use your networks to help you to tackle these challenges. In 2001, I founded a network called Women in Structured Finance (now with 400 members) to help young women see that women were succeeding in our business and to allow them access to those successful female role models. We need to mentor younger women as part of making the industry more accessible. We try to do a number of events each year and to bring women together. We hold panels around career progression and building a career plan. It’s important to broaden the pool of women who are both qualified and in the line of sight.
“Build your network – I often advise women to never eat lunch alone (a great piece of advice I got from one of my role models). Find someone from whom you can learn. And always pay it forward. We worry too much about appointing incompetent women when we’re ok with incompetent men – let’s try and change that attitude.”
Outside work, Box is frank that she likes “the idea of golf and sailing, I but don’t do it much. I also love to travel. I work very hard and do my best to spend my free time with my family. Enjoying what I do on a daily basis both professionally and personally is very important to me.”