Camila Penna, Head of EMEA Cash Equities Sales and Execution Services Sales and Head of Latin America Cash Equities Sales and Execution Services Sales at J.P. Morgan talks to Lynn Strongin Dodds about career, culture and change.
There are some people who say they like to be tested and then there is Camila Penna, who has seized opportunities to develop her career. Having started as an intern at J.P. Morgan in the Summers of 2002 and 2003, Penna joined as an analyst in the Latin America mergers and acquisitions team in 2004 and six years later at the age of 27 was given her first management role in Brazil. She now lives in London as Head of EMEA Cash Equities Sales and Execution Services Sales, and Head of Latin America Cash Equities Sales and Execution Services Sales.
Penna though was already in tune with different cultures having been born in Rio de Janeiro and growing up between Brazil, Venezuela and Mexico. Working across various continents has only deepened her appreciation of local practices and regional viewpoints. The lessons learnt have been invaluable, not only in managing people but also in creating products and services to meet the needs of clients.
“It is very important that the corporate culture and core values of the company are in line and upheld irrespective of the location, but the business model should have some flexibility and dynamism” she says. “You cannot just set the model and forget about it.”
This was particularly the case during this unprecedented Covid-19 period. Instead of hopping on a plane to meet her 130 strong team scattered across 13 countries, Penna had to connect with them, as well as her 500 plus client base, through a computer screen.
“I used to travel to different parts of the world and attend in-person events, but that all changed in a virtual world,” she says. “Client challenges evolved throughout the year, but access to liquidity continues to be one of their biggest concerns, which can be compounded by industry challenges such as Brexit. Our job is to help clients navigate through these market situations.”
Penna notes that while the firm’s investments in technology, data analytics, sophisticated tools, electronic execution and greater automation paid dividends, the human element should not be underestimated. The internal and external relationships carefully developed and nurtured throughout the years has also been invaluable during Covid-19.
“People are the secret sauce of any organisation, and it is essential if you are managing teams around the world, to encourage diversity of thought and to be transparent and honest,” she says. “It is also key to not only keep the lines of communication open but also be open to suggestions and understand what motivates people. This will make you a better leader and help empower and develop people.”
Penna has acted on her own advice and has kept an ongoing dialogue with her own bosses, so they know her aspirations and ambitions. This is why she jumped at the chance, albeit pregnant, of taking on a new role which involved moving from New York to London. The job was the next step up – Head of International Cash Equities Sales in EMEA; Head of Latin America and CEEMEA (Central Europe, Middle East and Africa) Equities Sales. The UK was added to her remit the following year.”
“I was four months pregnant when J.P. Morgan offered me the job in London, and I did not want to move in the middle of the pregnancy so I said I really wanted the job but asked if I could have my son in New York,” she says. “They were very flexible and so I did the job remotely before I had my son and then commuted to London for a few months after my maternity leave before officially moving with my family to London after around 18 months of being offered the job. Having that flexibility made a huge difference to my career development.”
Although J.P. Morgan is a supportive employer, Penna believes that overall, in the industry, work during Covid-19, “became more human. It was important to understand the needs and be empathic to people. There were no one-size-fits-all solutions because people had different situations – for example, some had a lack of childcare, while others were involved in remote learning with their kids. Irrespective of the situation, the teams stepped up and there was greater collaboration, communication and adaption.”
She also thinks that work/life balance has come into sharper focus. “I think there will be greater flexibility and more of a hybrid model in several businesses post Covid,” she adds. “But ultimately, I think a healthy work/life balance is very personal. It means different things to different people, and it is difficult to generalise on the right and wrong way to approach it. And in that light, there is a common misconception of women not being able to ‘have it all’, since the definition of ‘all’ represents something different for every individual. Companies need to support women to thrive whatever their personality, drivers or personal circumstances and I’m delighted that J.P. Morgan does that for so many women”.
Although banking may not have been first on the career list, it was not a completely surprising choice as her father was a banker. “I studied engineering & economics because I love maths and science,” she says. “I did not expect to work in a bank, but I interviewed with J.P. Morgan and liked the ‘client first’ culture. I also learned a lot in school about structure and process and that has proved to be very helpful.”
While her career has progressed on an upwards trajectory, there have been challenges along the way. “Since my studies, I have experienced stereotyping and for some, it’s easy to get lost in these situations,” she says. “However, I have not changed who I am or my style. In the end I love what I do and continue to learn, listen and want different experiences.”
She adds that today, “there is a lot more awareness than when I first started in the industry. Progress has definitely been made and we are going in the right direction. However, there is much to be done and the industry has some way to go. It is important to look at what can be improved.”
J.P. Morgan has a host of initiatives, committees and executive leadership teams focusing on fostering a much greater inclusive environment. For example, one of its flagship programmes – Women on the Move – aims to provide women with opportunities to succeed in their professional and personal lives.
Key objectives are to recruit and retain women at all levels and help more women ascend to senior-level roles across the firm. One example is its re-entry programme, which offers experienced professionals, who are currently on an extended career break of at least two years, the support and resources needed to relaunch their careers. The recruitment programme, which runs in nearly 20 cities, also aims to expand women-run businesses via greater access to capital, networking, expertise and advice to female clients as well as improving women’s financial health.
Penna herself is a founding member of J.P. Morgan’s Women in Sales Group and is currently involved in a several diversity-related workstreams in the markets business. “To me, when it comes to diversity, I believe we need to make inclusivity central to everything we do and for people to feel confident that they have access to equal opportunities to advance their career.”
©Markets Media Europe 2021