Carolyn is an experienced executive and non-executive director, entrepreneur and committee member. Within financial services, she has mostly worked in investment banking with UBS and Bank of America, but also in private equity with Anacap FP, and she is now in investment management with AIG Asset Management Europe as the Head of Portfolio Services, where she is responsible for the on-going management of their investments in structured products and commercial real estate loans.
Carolyn Porretta
Carolyn Porretta
AIG Asset Management

She spends much of her free time volunteering with small local charities such as The Girls’ Network who aims to inspire and empower girls from the least advantaged communities by connecting them with a network of positive female role models. Carolyn spends time taking her mentee to various places in London and introduce her to a broad range of people, from the Arts community to the City, taking a seed-and-water approach. She also discusses in length about subjects such as resilience, or more concrete ideas such as the importance of having hobbies or what a job interview entails for instance.

She also volunteers with the Junior League of London, a charity that aims to promote voluntary service, develop the potential of women and improve the community through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. She both does volunteer shifts on the ground and is part of the Leadership team of the organisation.

Carolyn is contributing at strategic level too by sitting on the board of Housing for Women, an award-winning Housing Association that provides safe homes and social services to women in London. Finally, she acts as an independent committee member of the Audit, Risk and Investment committee of Engineering UK, which promotes engineering to 11-14 years old.

Carolyn has been shortlisted for WIBF’s Award for Achievement after being nominated by Emma Williamson from M&G.

We had a few questions for Carolyn to find out more…

Tell us about your day to day role

AIG Asset Management Europe is the Investment Management arm in Europe of the wider insurance group. It invests its balance sheet carefully across various asset classes, and I am lucky to be working on some of the most bespoke and complex type of assets one can take risk on. No deal is the same nor straight forward, the situations very much require a logical approach rather than a well-oiled process and this is what is exciting. We are getting constantly challenged with new situations, new problems to solve, new opportunities, a different environment, and not being able to sit back. Many of my colleagues have been here for a long time and I want to believe this is because the roles evolves constantly.

Further, as the Head of Portfolio Services, my mandate covers four aspects of the investments management. For instance, I can be reviewing and approving the purchase of a CLO or ABS bond for one of the internal vehicles that I have responsibility for. You can find me structuring a new securitisation vehicle, which means designing the corporate structure and all the mechanisms and rules, and also working with lawyers, service providers and my colleagues. As this is quite complex, we need a few brains at work for a few months and I love working with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met! It does keep me abreath.
For our commercial real estate loans investments, I also approve borrower’s waiver requests Some of those loans are backed by multiple assets, in multiple jurisdictions, and we are lucky to be working with the best names in the Real Estate world, getting involved with the most complex and cutting edge transactions.

Finally, I am a manager, a role that I enjoy greatly, so I am also busy with all that entails and am often setting up internal knowledge sharing sessions for my team for instance.

My day doesn’t always start nor stop with work. It sometimes starts with early breakfast meetings with the charities I work with and finishes at various times depending if I have board meetings, events or charity commitments that I am attending after work. I try to see my young daughter (and husband!) at least three nights per week.

Your nominator, Emma Williamson, told us that you ‘challenged conventions by applying for a financial director role being openly pregnant’ Was that a difficult decision to make and what advice would you give to women in the same position?

I have been made redundant whilst pregnant (the company did not know about it at that point) and I wanted to get another job immediately as I do not like staying at home and the prospect of spending months “waiting to return to work” sounded like a nightmare for me. It was not a case for me to say “I will go back to work after the baby is born or when she turns one”.

Apart from my husband and best friend, nobody supported this idea, and I was disappointed to hear even my most feminist friends say that I should stay at home instead of looking for a job. From that angle, it was difficult. Nobody likes being rejected and when applying for a job whilst pregnant, one knows that this will put off a lot of employers.

When you don’t get support from your own friends, who are on your side, it is really demotivating. That said, I do not take no for an answer and I really wanted to get back to work so I did it nevertheless!
I would advise women to go for it if this is what they want. To quote Merryn Somerset Webb’s book Love is not enough, “For every friend I have who revelled up in nappies and milky smiles I have another who couldn’t get back to work fast enough.”

My advice would be to put yourself in the employer’s shoes and discuss their concerns and give them assurance that you have a realistic and well researched plan. Tell them how long you intend to be off after the birth, what arrangements you have for childcare for when you return, how much support you have from your husband and relatives, whether you intend to breastfeed and what it means practically. I would remember that they are also probably scared to ask some questions, which by law they should not, so I’d pre-empt this and be extremely open with them. Finally, I would acknowledge that there is still a very tiny risk for them because if anything goes wrong when you give birth, with all the best intention in the world, yes you might not come back as early as expected or at all. But, I would mitigate this with the fact that should they trust you and decide to still offer you the job, you will probably be the most faithful employee they will ever have.

Tell us about the very first WIBF event you attended.

I think my very first event was a PEP workshop on the theme of the imposter syndrome a few years ago. I loved it because it was not just someone talking about theoretical ideas on the subject, but instead I walked away with practical tips that I could immediately draw on. This talk was not about highlighting what one should achieve, but instead, how one can achieve it.

Who has been the most influential person in your career and why?

When I started my career at Bank of America in 2006, I was pretty rough around the edges, having come from an extremely modest background where I was the first in my family to go to University and also work in an “office”, not knowing what I was going into and and badly lacking confidence. A female colleague of mine who was a few grades above me, in her early thirties, had a strong impact on me and I am grateful I had someone to look up to. She was smiley and calm and people liked her, she was smart and determined. She had been working for another investment bank in New York for a few years, she was well dressed, successful and unsurprisingly she was engaged to the nicest guy on the trading floor too! She was very eloquent and spoke in a way that I had not learnt. For example, I could hear her decline politely, and kindly, but firmly. It is easy to see why I was impressed and wanted to become “like her”. Today, I have grown thanks to her and others, and I have defined what a great role mode and success means for me, personally.

How can we get the biggest shift towards diverse and inclusive workplaces?

Inclusiveness is extremely hard to quantify and I am still on the hunt for a good way to measure this. At the moment, I am preparing a business plan to set up a network to help women within AIG Investment Management globally. I have taken the stance to make it a network offering support for all, and in particular men. In my opinion, we will only see diverse and inclusive workplaces when people understand that other groups of workers are not a threat and that it is not a zero-sum game, and when the majority (ie men) buy into it.

At the moment, I think some men are fed up with hearing about gender parity, and by extension, D&I, and some “white men” are saying that they are frightened that they will lose out if other groups are helped for the sake or it rather than on pure merit. I hear some pretty angry and even nasty comments from men about the recent focus on gender parity and I am extremely worried that they are not willing to be part of the solution. We have seen that they don’t take the shared parental leave, so it is clear that there is a fundamental issue with some men on the subject, and this is what we need to tackle urgently or there will be a huge backlash.

I have heard of stay-at-home men who don’t know what to say when asked what they do for a living. We need to help those early-adopters feel comfortable promoting their status. For every working women role model there is out there, we need a non-patriarchal man role model too. We badly need male managers to understand diversity and embrace it. For that, they need to see what’s in it for them and they need help picturing it. If we can help them with that, I think there won’t be such a big barrier to changing the culture.

What was the first album you bought, and do you still listen to it?

I think it must have been Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. Yes I still do sometimes, alongside a few other classics I can never get tired of such as Depeche Mode. When I work long hours in the evening I find that listening to music in the background helps: it is uplifting yet not too distracting, it keeps you going!