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Voice of Experience: Ayesha K. Farooqi, Head of Debt Capital Markets, Commitments & Risk; Macquarie Capital

Ayesha K Farooqi
Women need to focus on building professional relationships within their companies as well as their industries as a whole, which can be a huge benefit considering how narrow most industries tend to be — and how small the world is, says Ayesha K. Farooqi of Macquarie Capital.

“It’s vital to build relationships with your colleagues, both junior and senior, and one way to accomplish that, in addition to social interaction, is by taking on as much responsibility as you can handle, being proactive but also reliable so you can earn stretch assignments that will help you grow,” she says.

Proactively Finding Opportunities to Grow Her Skills and Reputation

Farooqi began her career as a tax attorney specializing in cross-border transactions, but realized there was a lack of such work during the economic downturn caused by the dot.com bubble burst. She proactively visited her managing partner’s office and said that she wasn’t in an area where she was learning and growing as much as she would like and asked to switch to, at the time, the more dynamic bankruptcy practice. He complied, as the bankruptcy group was expanding, and this request fit a need where the firm was looking to hire an additional bankruptcy associate. She began splitting her time between her tax practice and doing litigation and transactional bankruptcy work, which quickly evolved into financing companies that were entering or exiting bankruptcy, that further segued into leveraged finance.

She worked for a number of leading law firms over several years until an opportunity to move into a new role being created at Macquarie Capital presented itself. Farooqi saw the new role that would sit within the debt capital markets business requiring a mix of legal, business and risk management acumen as a challenging yet exciting opportunity that would add further depth and breadth to her diverse background. The self-described adventurous Farooqi said “Sign me up.” It proved to be a smart move, as she just marked her fifth anniversary there and has organized a team within the debt capital markets business that is thriving and has become an integral part of the business.

“The fact that I am open to opportunities and have been able to fluidly transition from one practice area to another, allowing me to build on my expertise and gain valuable experience, has been a boon to my career,” she notes. However, she says that while she has been proactive in acquiring diverse work, she sees now that things that she felt stress over as she went along, particularly those outside her control, tended to work out over time. “I could have worked more strategically,” she says, adding that along the way she has learned that hard work alone is not enough to help you climb the corporate ladder — equal consideration has to be given to building lasting relationships.

Right now she is enjoying her work on a number of exciting transactions as she helps the business operate in a nimble fashion. “I can work at multiple levels of a transaction focusing on both the commercial and legal perspective of a deal,” she says.

“Over time, I’ve learned that the transactions that were the most complex were the ones where I learned the most and still draw upon,” she adds.

A Company That Embraces Diversity

Farooqi is proud to work for a company that maintains a focus on gender equity; in fact, while investment banking as a whole is having a relatively challenging time attracting women, the new class of analysts who just finished their summer internships in the debt capital markets group at Macquarie Capital were all women, but one. In addition, roughly one-third of the managing directors in the debt capital markets group are women, and Macquarie Group recently promoted Shemara Wikramanayake as its next CEO, hardly the typical investment banking CEO mold. Wikramanayake was recently named the fifth-most powerful woman in business outside the U.S. by Fortune International.

The company encourages gender success at multiple levels; for example, the Lean In circles that were established four years ago have evolved into a formal Women at Macquarie group. The firm-wide initiative has a budget aimed at promoting gender quality and attracting and retaining women. “I am proud to have seen the Women at Macquarie group grow so rapidly,” she says.

The company also offers a variety of work/life tools to employees, such as guidance for healthy balance regarding flexibility in the workplace, and even financial and other advisory information, such as a recent session to help employees learn the ins and outs of getting a child into a private school or some of the most competitive public schools in New York City.

She says she’s seen a positive trend of more women entering the legal and investment banking fields, which means there needs to be hyper vigilance on retaining them. “We have to build the pipeline, and mentorship is a key way to do that. Women need to build relationships from both sides: Those in the junior ranks should concentrate on doing good work and building relationships with senior folks so others on the team can vouch for you when needed; senior women should seek out promising junior women on the team and help groom them to become leaders in their chosen field.”

In her free time, Farooqi loves to travel, the more adventurous the better, including hiking the Inca Trail and Patagonia, trekking in Chile and scaling Kilimanjaro in just five days. Always looking for a new challenge, she expands her hobbies regularly, and recently has taken up golf and bird hunting.