Growing up in England, Ros Stephenson always intended to make her career in business. “Marketing or finance? Public relations? I just knew I wanted to work in a commercial enterprise,” she recalls. Today, Ros is Managing Director and Head of Global Corporate Finance for Barclays Capital. She manages a large team, serves as a trusted advisor to top-level clients, and still finds time to be “absolutely rigorous” about taking vacations with her husband and four children.
During her college years and post-graduation, Ros interned in law firms and accounting firms, propelled by an open mind and an appetite for travel. In Australia, she worked for Commonwealth Bank as a sovereign risk analyst, and then traveled in Asia for an extended period before setting out for New York. She landed a job at CBS as a financial analyst, where she got her first taste of deal making.
“I got to learn about mergers and acquisitions – buying and selling companies,” she says. At the same time, she pursued her MBA through New York University, attending part-time and finishing in two years. “I knew it would maximize my options,” she says, “and provide me with the flexibility to understand a lot of different businesses in the next stage of my career.”
Drawn by the intellectual stimulation of investment banking, Ros left CBS and joined the media group at Lehman. While her knowledge of the media industry served her well, she built her credibility by taking part in major transactions. “What you’re really selling is deal experience,” says Ros. Over the course of her career, she’s been involved in the high-profile merger of Time Inc. with Warner Communications, KKR’s buyout of TXU Corporation, and the buyout of directory publisher Dex Media for Welsh Carson, to name just a few. “As you do more deals, there are fewer situations where you haven’t experienced something similar. You develop an instinct about how things are going to go.”
In her role at Barclays, Ros draws on financial and social skills in equal measure. “Hardcore financial advisory is really what we do here: mergers, acquisitions, how to put capital structures together,” she explains. “There’s also a definite marketing and sales element. You want to be the person that a CEO or Board of Directors goes to for advice.”
“It’s very unusual in banking to be a one-man band,” she says. “You have to work well with your team, cultivate your clients’ confidence in you, and create strong relationships. When you’ve been doing this for twenty-plus years, as I have, you end up with a long list of contacts, people you’ve worked with on deals over the years. Those relationships are critical.”
Although she is frequently the only woman in the room, and supervises a mostly male team, Ros says that has never been a problem. “Some people will say it’s very hard to make it as a woman in banking. I’ve never really had a problem with that. One of the things you come to realize is that men feel all the same pressures we do.”
Gaining confidence and projecting competence come from doing your homework, according to Ros. “Make sure you understand all the facts, all the potential repercussions and implications of everything you recommend. Put yourself in the shoes of your client. I ask myself, what would I live with? What could I not live with?”
For women just starting out in investment banking, Ros advises that you choose an area where you are likely to see a lot of transactions. “Make sure you’re getting a lot of deal experience in whichever area you choose. That’s how you evolve through the business and get into a position where you really start interacting with clients in a leadership role.”
As for work/life balance, Ros points to her short commute. She lives in Manhattan, in part because being close to the office allows more flexibility to balance other parts of her life. “I’ve never missed a parent-teacher conference, and never missed a birthday!” she says with pride.
Part of the secret, she says, is having realistic expectations: “You can’t give 100% to everything all of the time, but you can give 100% to everything some of the time.” To those who worry about mapping out their lives in advance, searching for the exact equation to make it all work, Ros counsels “You just work it out. You have to know yourself really well and know what you want to do next. But you also have to be flexible. Take it as it comes and always be prepared to act on opportunities when they arise.”