“Sales is so much tailored to individuals”
In March 2021, Michaela Collet Jackson, mother of three, became Head of Distribution EMEA at Columbia Threadneedle. Fondsfrauen with her about what this means, and her priorities. We also find out how Columbia Threadneedle is supporting women in the fund industry.
Michaela, you are Head of Distribution EMEA at Columbia Threadneedle. Can you tell us what that means in detail? Können Sie uns sagen, was das genau bedeutet?
In March 2021, I have taken over my new role as head of sales EMEA which also includes Latin America. Here, I am looking after institutional, i.e. life insurance and pension funds as well as wholesale clients. In my position, I also take care of client servicing, RFP, and I am also responsible for our risk management with clients. Moreover, I was heavily involved in the acquisition and integration of BMO GAM (EMEA), which took place in November 2021 – through bringing together our two sales and client teams, and where we have just implemented the rebrand of BMO to Columbia Threadneedle Investments.
What sales priorities are you setting for the year 2022?
With our recent acquisition, integration is critical. The strategic nature of the deal was to complement and upgrade our product capabilities, for example by adding European real estate and private equity into our alternatives portfolio. It also adds to our responsible investment capabilities and our engagement overlay service, as well as to our portfolio of solutions. This shows how complementary our service are, and the acquisition brought us all these key diversifiers. The good thing is that our two companies had quite similar cultures. So, we can continue to focus on a consistent performance and offer our clients the best of both. A lot of our global business growth comes from Europe. We want to be local in every market where we operate and we now have a significant presence across continental Europe, including Austria, Germany, Switzerland, the Benelux, Italy, France, Spain and the Nordics. However, we also recognise that we cannot grow everywhere at the same time. Our priority is to build on our strong presence in our German, Dutch, and Swiss part of the business.
In general, there are not many women working in fund sales. Do you have an idea why this is the case?
Actually, this is currently changing. But we are starting from a low base, especially in sales. What we can see now is that the more junior the level, the richer diversity is. In senior levels, however, we still have a way to go. As an industry, we need to draw the attention to this. At Columbia Threadneedle, we are on a journey as well. We have Alexandra Frania in Austria, Eva-Maria Hintner in Switzerland, and Katherine Haesaerts in Belgium. They are role models for our more junior employees.
Did the sales process change also?
I think, it did. Nowadays, in sales there is another skill set required than 10 or 15 years ago. In the old days, the focus was on product sales. Now, the sales process is more client centred. We ask: What does the client need? How can we help our clients to become successful? It is more about building trusted relationships. This uses a more diverse set of skills. Some of the shift has come through MiFID.
From your experience as Head of Distribution at Columbia Threadneedle, can you observe that women work differently in sales than men do?
Both genders can succeed. It is more about the DNA of the individual, and there are lots of ways to sell. It is important to level the playing field. Today, there is more professionalism than some years ago, in terms of documentation and due diligence. The sales process is more rigorous than it has been in the past. It is less relationship, and more knowledge based sale. Look for example at wealth managers: They had to centralise a lot of their decision making process, which means less freedom for the individual wealth manager. A lot of the decision making is centralised on head office level. An advisor in the past had much more freedom. It has pivoted away from just going for a drink.
As a female executive, are you promoting women in a special way, or are you making them somehow more visible?
We need to remember: When I entered the industry, I did not feel the male / female thing. Consequently, I didn’t understand how the differences are. I have to reflect: What is holding women back? We want to support women in their career journey. For this, we have to be as inclusive and diverse as possible and make sure the environment is right for women. We do this by presenting role models and offering mentoring and coaching. Also, we have a strong feedback culture. We have regular appraisals: What have you delivered? How did you reach your goal? The “How” is really important. With this, we are helping people to take ownership on key initiatives. This is also supporting a more inclusive approach.
Motherhood and career sometimes are difficult to combine, especially in a sales position, which usually involves a lot of travelling. You have children, how did you solve this challenge yourself?
I have three boys, they are 11, 9, and 6 years old. It is right: A sales career is challenging. You have to ask yourself “am I getting the balance right?” If not, you need to find a way to solve it. My situation at the moment is that my husband is not working and is doing a lot of the family work. I can give mothers the advice: Create a support network around yourself! Be flexible, and be okay with that! My career has gone in phases. There were some times where I only worked four days a week. I think that you have to think in phases, and you can always come back.
The good thing is that sales is getting more local, so that the focus is on smaller parts of the market. That is positive for clients, as well as for the sales persons. This is opening up an opportunity set, as it is limiting the travelling.
What do you suggest to women that want to make a career in fund business?
Go for it! The industry is crying out for women and for diverse candidates. Encourage people! Use networks, role models! Sales is broad. Find out what is energising you! Be targeted! Use your network, and do reach out! People want to help. The good thing in sales is: There is not a lot of tick boxes, as a lot of skills are learned on the job. And if something should be missing: The rest can be learned. Look at Alex in Austria: She joined us from a client.
Thanks a lot for this inspiring interview!