Voice of Experience: Deborah Hazell, CEO and Regional Head of HSBC Global Asset Management, North America

Deborah HazellBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

Reflecting on her career, Deborah Hazell said one thing she wishes she had learned earlier is the importance of being heard. “Speak up if you want something,” she said. “My key promotions have largely been because managers only realized I was the right person when I put my hand up and stood right in front of them.”

Hazell began her career as a door-to-door salesperson, climbing through the ranks of the asset management industry to arrive at her current role, CEO of HSBC Global Asset Management, North America. Today she is passionately involved in leveling the playing field for women in the industry.

She added, “Believe in yourself, that you can do things, and speak up if you want something.”

An Unconventional Career Pat

“I’ve had an unconventional career path,” Hazell began. “It began at the age of 17 as a door-to-door sales person and started in the financial industry at the age of 19. I had an entry level job in the City of London as a junior administrator, at the lowest level on the totem pole. But I was wildly enthusiastic.”

Hazell said she was given many opportunities early in her career and moved into a young investment team at an asset manager when she was 21. “I soon became a fully fledged portfolio manager, managing fixed income for institutional clients.”

In 1990, Hazell joined Chase Investors, and shortly thereafter the company sold its asset management department to UBS. “They said I could work in New York or London, and I had been desperately keen to work in New York, so that’s what I did.”

She worked as a portfolio manager at UBS for a number of years, gaining a degree at NYU along the way, and after the firm’s merger with Swiss Bank, she joined the fixed income asset management firm FFTW. “I moved from managing portfolios to the client service and business development side, taking on more responsibilities along the way, until 2008 when I became CEO of FFTW.”

In 2011, she joined HSBC as CEO of its Asset Management business in North America. “The pinnacle of my career is right now, and when I think about my achievements, it’s not so much what I’ve become, but that I’ve managed to stay true to myself that makes me proud,” she said.

“It’s being fair and doing what’s right. I haven’t lost myself in the industry. I’ve retained my personal integrity along the way. It really informs who I am as a leader. It’s never been any other way for me.”

Currently, Hazell is engaged in building out the firm’s business in the US. “It’s a very competitive market,” she said. “I love my job – I only joined HSBC last year and I love coming to work every day.”

“There are loads of issues out there right now,” she continued. “Just open the newspaper. When it comes to wealth accumulation, the responsibility of the financial industry is to help people invest appropriately. I don’t think that everyone sees it as a responsibility, and I think it is.”

The other issue Hazell is concerned about is diversity in the industry. “My goal is one day for the team to reflect diversity in society. We have to hire based on skill sets, but we have to work on interviewing a broad range of people in the financial services. We need diversity on the bench from the start – and that’s a real challenge in our industry.”

Creating a Legacy of Change

“First of all, there are a lot of challenges. We are trying to create an environment where people are judged by what they do, rather than who they are,” Hazell said. “There are a lot of unconscious biases in place, that people don’t realize are there. In a big company like ours, we have made a commitment to diversity, but there is a lot more to do, not just with regard to gender, but all differences – people with disabilities, the LGBT community, and racial diversity, to name a few.”

“Organizations in our industry have been created by men and for men, but men are different than women. We have to understand and create a working environment that allows women to be women and men to be men.”

Hazell advised women who are new to the industry to be confident. “Put your hand up,” she said.

She also suggested that young people keep an open mind. “A lot of young people have their whole career path planned out by the end of college. It’s not going to happen that way. Keep your eye out for opportunities and take risks. In a 30-year career, you spend the first ten learning, the next ten doing, and the next ten giving back.”

She added, “Don’t think you can compromise what you believe in for what you do.”

Hazell encouraged experienced women to reach out to the next generation. “Senior women have a responsibility to help bring about this culture change. Give back, mentor, and help change that imbalance. I hope that continuing this work will be part of my legacy,” she said.

HSBC has a very active women’s network and mentoring initiative, which hosts events featuring inspirational women leaders. Hazell said she was particularly moved by a talk by Lilly Ledbetter. “She showed that it doesn’t matter how hard it is, you have to do the right thing,” she explained.

In Her Personal Time

Hazell said she is passionate about education. “Education is what gets people out of poverty, brings people forward, and creates broader diversity,” she said.

She is on the board of Greenwich Village Youth Council, a youth development agency for at risk children in New York City. “A lot of people give up on these kids. The organization creates emotional support and family support and educational support to help them become productive and empowered adults, rather than see themselves as victims,” Hazell explained.