The Fondsfrauen visit Kenfo, the fund for financing the disposal of nuclear waste. Chairwoman of the board Anja Mikus talks about her career and gives practical tips to women from the financial sector.

On 1 September, Anja Mikus, Chairperson of the Board of Kenfo, invited the Fondsfrauen to a joint evening in the Kenfo building in Berlin. The Kenfo state fund is a foundation under public law that finances the disposal of German nuclear waste. In July 2017, the energy companies had transferred the amount of 24 billion euros to the Kenfo to buy themselves out of financing the radiating waste from their power plants. Anja Mikus and her team are responsible for investing these funds in the long term and with a suitable sustainability approach ("we do not invest in nuclear power plant operators").

To welcome the participants, Fondsfrauen founders Anne Connelly and Anke Dembowski briefly told about the activities of the Fondsfrauen and mentioned that the quota of women in the management levels of, for example, the BVI full member companies is unfortunately still not good at 13.7%.

Kenfo stands out pleasantly from this. It has an above-average quota of women in management positions (four out of nine of the management positions at KENFO are held by women). Anja Mikus introduced some of the women in her team:

Sandra Eppler (Head of Human Resources), Verena Kempe (Head of Investment Management), Clara Mokry, (Sustainability Expert), Sabrina Schiffels (Head of Project Management) and Birgit Steintjes (Head of Finance and Controlling).

Do what you do as well as possible!
Anja Mikus tells how her career of over 30 years unfolded. She sounds unagitated and you get the impression that her impressive career path "just happened". She never had a stringently planned career plan, but "I always did what I did with great joy, interest in the task and team spirit. That was the basis of success. It also includes seizing opportunities when they arise - with all the imponderables that go with them. I rather only had the next career stage in mind," says Mikus.

She started her career in 1988 as an analyst in the securities department of Allianz Lebensversicherung in Stuttgart. When the position of fund manager for the largest bond fund in Germany at the time, the "Allianz Rentenfonds", became vacant, she signalled to her boss that she would be interested in taking over the fund and that she felt confident in managing it. Apparently her boss also trusted her, because she got the job. "At that time, there were still 7% interest rates on 10-year Bunds," she recounts, "and almost the entire time after that, interest rates - contrary to general expectations - fell, which of course brought high price gains for bonds."

Of course, there would always have been difficult times in between, starting with two interest rate rises in 1994 and 1999, the Kuwait crisis and reunification, when the 1:1 currency exchange had to be coped with. "When the tech bubble burst in 2001, the DAX lost over 70% in three years, but after every painful market shakeout, things pick up again from a low level," Mikus reassures those who may be worried about the current market situation. "We must always look ahead in portfolio management!" says Mikus.

Family support was helpful when there was an offspring
She also tells how she managed to be a mother and work at the same time. "My son was born in 1993; at that time, the provision of crèches was not yet so developed." Nine months after the birth, she found a childminder herself and started working again, first part-time, then full-time. "It was also important to have the support of my husband, who also had a responsible job himself," she says, pointing out how important it is to have family support when you have children.

She notes that she of course had to organise a lot in the background, sometimes spontaneously, but that she would rarely have said in her professional environment that, for example, it was difficult to pick up the child from kindergarten in terms of time. "I didn't want to look like a desperate mother. I just kind of organised it and did it," she says. Anyone who has small children knows how challenging that can be at times.

She's on fire for the cause, and you can tell
Later she went to Union Investment, where she was head of portfolio management. "I had long working hours there and worked hard, but I always enjoyed it immensely - also with a view to working together in a good team," says Anja Mikus. She thinks asset management is very suitable for women. "It's incredibly creative. In asset management, we have to be able to think in a networked way, always analyse the current situation and be decisive. How do the markets react? And what do I make of it in the long term? This is both a varied and responsible challenge and - if successful - simply a lot of fun!"

Even though Anja Mikus already came into contact with the first sustainability funds at Union Investment, she really got to know the sustainability topic at her next stop, Arabesque Asset Management, in a start-up. "The colleagues there worked in a fully digitalised way and did data mining. We also had contact with the United Nations, the Global Compact. It was all very innovative at the time and just in its infancy in the asset management industry," Mikus recalls.

Simply said "I can help you"
Through her supervisory board position at Commerzbank, which she held at the same time, she had contacts with the Federal Ministry of Finance. When she heard at the beginning of 2017 that the Federal Republic wanted to take the financing of nuclear waste disposal into its own hands, she offered her help for the beginnings, if necessary also free of charge. It was not on her mind that she would then be offered the opportunity to head the Kenfo, but she gladly accepted the socially important challenge.

"In the beginning, there were three of us. The foundation had not yet been established. There were neither processes, nor people, nor a strategy," she recalls of the beginnings. Almost at the same time, the European Commission still had to decide whether the Kenfo was not a prohibited aid to the energy companies. Fortunately, it was soon confirmed that it was a permitted subsidy.

Afterwards, Anja Mikus must have been the most sought-after woman in the financial sector for a while, because every asset manager naturally wanted to inquire whether the Kenfo could not also consider her; assets of 24 billion euros to be freshly invested already arouse great business interest. However, she did not bask in the mega-attention she spontaneously received, but concentrated with her colleagues on strategy development and the systematic tendering and awarding of individual mandates. Some of the strategies offered were suitable, some were not.

At the end, the participants of the evening event were allowed to ask questions. What Anja Mikus conveyed to the women was the following:

  • Do your work with joy and focus!
  • Signal if you are interested in filling a certain position or job - even if there are still imponderables!
  • Trust yourself to do things. Have (realistic) confidence in your abilities, even when times are difficult. Hang in there. It will all work out in the end and you will make it!

Afterwards, there were great conversations on the roof terrace of the Lenz Haus in Kurfürstenstraße, with a view over the city of Berlin. It was nice that the weather also played along!

We would like to thank Kenfo and Anja Mikus for the open and interesting discussion!

Profilbild von Anke Dembowski

Anke Dembowski

Anke Dembowski is a financial journalist and author of various investment fund-related and other financial books. She is also a co-founder of the "Fondsfrauen" network.

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