Fiona Hathorn Managing Director, Women on Boards UK

hathorn-fiona-2012(1)Fiona helped found Incito Ventures, a female friendly Angel Investment Club, and is active in the charity sector as one of the Trustees for the charity, Fight for Sight.

She is a former investment director and senior asset manager for Old Mutual and Hill Samuel, running the Global Equities and Emerging Markets Desks respectively.

What boards do you sit on?

I am a Trustee on the board of the charity Fight for Sight. Fight for Sight has been funding research into blindness and eye disease for more than 40 years. The charity raises funds to support medical research into a wide-range of eye conditions.

In 2010 I joined the Advisory Board of Incito Ventures, a female-friendly Angel Investment Club. As an angel investor myself I had observed how difficult it is for female entrepreneurs to gain angel investment and how few women are angel investors. Incito Ventures creates an environment where female entrepreneurs and investors can talk openly about their business and their investment needs.

What made you want to establish Women on Boards in the UK?

When working with female entrepreneurs I was shocked at how few women got funded in the UK despite their well-articulated investment plans and exit strategies. Prior to this work I had not realised how hard some women find it to sell their ideas and how many of them were brushed quickly aside before they had even had a chance to properly present. At the same time I was aware of the UK government’s push to help more women get onto FTSE boards. In my quest to find out more information on the issues that women face getting noticed I came across the Women on Boards website in Australia. Shortly after this I met Claire Braund and realised that the Australian Women on Boards business model had something innovative to offer in the UK.

How is Women on Boards different?

It provides women with information about all the boards available to them throughout their career. In the UK we now have a lot of information about the top FTSE companies and their boards, but there is very little information for women on all the other boards out there; for example Charity Boards, Public Bodies, Non-Departmental Government Bodies and Building Societies.

We provide courses through the WOB Pathways Programme empowering women to take charge of their own careers, network smartly and think about what they can offer in terms of their skill-sets and knowledge, and how to join all the boards out there.

We are outcome-focused, in that we intend to not only tell women about all the boards in the UK but we also find and advertise board positions for them to apply for, should they wish to.

Tell us about the UK situation. What would you like to see change?

Ultimately I would like ambitious women, as soon as they start their career, to think about the route to the top. There are now many female role models out there for women to see, not enough admittedly, but enough for women to observe and work out that it is possible for them to get to the top if they so desire.

In the UK currently there is a lot of discussion taking place about how to get more women onto boards, however the focus is very much on recruiting high quality female NED’s to boost boardroom percentages up to the 25% Lord Davies’s 2015 target. The UK’s corporates very much want to prevent the introduction of quotas.

Despite all this movement at the top, the pipeline of women below the board level is still very poor. Changing corporate culture, which has been established over decades, takes time. Real change will not happen until executive managements truly accept that there is a problem. The UK’s new diversity reporting codes, similar to Principle 3 in Australia, will however help. Transparency is key to driving recognition and then change.

What is your career background?

I graduated from Oxford Brookes University with an Honours Degree in Business Studies. My first job was with PwC as a trainee accountant however I moved out of audit very early and into Investment Management. I learnt about Asset Management at business school and met a recruiter at a party who told me that Hill Samuel were looking for graduate trainees. I waited no time and called the Head of People and grabbed the opportunity. Personally I believe luck does play a part in life sometimes. My luck came when I was offered a position on the Pacific Desk, at a time when the Japanese technology stocks and Hong Kong property stocks were the hot ticket in town. My competitive performance was good and the number of investible Far East market opportunities seemed to endlessly emerge. Very soon the Pacific team was split into two and I was made Head of Emerging Markets for Hill Samuel Asset Management, the asset management company owned by LloydsTSB. In 2000 I moved to Old Mutual where I was made head of Global Equities, in charge of Pension Fund Asset Allocation and the performance of the Global Sector Funds.

Who are the WOB champions in the UK that you are working with?

Rachel Tranter, an ex-Corporate Tax Manager, from PwC has joined me and is enthusiastically looking at all the boards in the UK for women to consider. I am also blessed with having a fantastic advisory board that includes The Hon. Ros Kelly AO. As most Australian’s will know Ros has held several Australian ministerial positions from 1987 through to 1994 one of which was the Minister for Defence. She is helping me connect with some top UK Executives, many of which are originally from Australia.

Are there any leaders you look up to?

I am in awe of Jill Abramson, the editor of the New York Times, appointed in 2011, and the first in the paper’s 160 year history. Four decades ago, women and minorities were second-class citizens in the media industry. According to Nan Robertson’s book ‘only 40 of the Times 425 reporters were women’, and this included not a single national correspondent. There were no female photographers, columnists, or editorial-board members.

Abramson is known in the newsroom to be a little bit intimidating and brusque but she understands the importance of looking after the paper’s owners and is extremely efficient and true to the paper’s core mission of producing excellent journalism, she will accept nothing less.

Any advice for aspiring directors, that you wish someone had given you when you started out?

Think early and plan ahead. If you are ambitious you need to think about your next job opportunity all the time. If you do you will be ready for it when it becomes available. I have had a lot of luck in my career but you can make your own luck by putting yourself in the right place and looking for opportunities. Getting my position on the Incito Advisory Board and becoming a Trustee of Fight for Sight was not luck, I sought out and connected with the right people to get selected. This took years not months.

Do you actively build your networks?

I have always enjoyed talking to people from different backgrounds and I network naturally. However, I am very focused when in a business environment. If there is a key influencer in the room, I want to meet them and ensure they know who I am. In business, networks are vital both inside and outside your own company. Linkedin is a brilliant way to keep track of your network but I am always mindful not to use people without offering something back.

What ‘tips’ do you have from achieving senior roles, that you can pass to others?

Always champion your achievements. Hard work does not always get noticed so it is up to you to ensure that you do get recognized. Do not assume that others champion your achievements.

Any interesting extracurricular activities?

I am a keen shot and I can regularly be found in the depths of the Devon countryside on a game shoot. It was not my intention to connect with business people when I started shooting but it has been enormously helpful connecting to people from different business backgrounds. Many influential men and women shoot and on a field in the middle of nowhere you have hours to talk to them.

What do you do in your down-time?

Walk my three gun dogs and run around after my two teenage boys.

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