Get to know Jennifer Henry
Please tell us your story
After doing a seven year stint in IT, I was lucky enough to meet the Director of Nedgroup Securities through one of the strategic IT projects I was working on. Once I realised that the world of stockbroking involved in-depth sell-side company analysis and aligned to my finance major at university, I got the courage to ask this director to be a sell-side analyst. He was impressed by my passion for investments and commitment towards becoming a CFA Charterholder and gave me the opportunity to join his team as an assistant analyst. While I was senior in my IT role, I jumped at the chance to be part of the vibrant and fast paced world of stock-broking and it didn’t matter that I had to start from the bottom.
From the first Monday I started as an assistant analyst and sat in on the morning market meeting, I knew this is the industry I wanted to be in. I was just so engaged and wanted to learn about all types of industries and companies; and what drives them to be profitable that it didn’t take me long to get my ear-in for the different lingo. In about a year I was covering small caps on my own – no longer an assistant analyst. My hard-work and insights into some companies with scant information, gave me the opportunity to cover Media stocks and I became a top-rated analyst with the coverage of first big company Naspers (which wasn’t that big in 2008). Getting top rated then was no easy feat. I completed my initiating coverage report on Naspers and the roadshow on my analysis when I was five months pregnant with my first child, Taetum.
At the beginning of 2011 I joined Standard Bank Group Securities with an expansion of coverage in the Electronics sector. I continued to be top rated in both the Media and Electronic sectors. I became a CFA Charterholder in 2013 and the best part about studying for level III exam (which I wrote when my second child Reese was just eight months old) is that it opens up your world to asset allocation and thinking through the complexity of capital markets in a global context. I found this way of thinking to be stimulating and looked to expand my investment experience from just equities. Therefore, the opportunity to be a portfolio manager at STANLIB Multi-Manager (SMM) was perfect in terms of my knowledge aspirations. I joined SMM as a portfolio manager at the beginning of 2014. I got even more diverse experience than I expected. In addition to asset allocation experience, I gained knowledge in fixed interest, property, a variety of alternatives investments and quantitative techniques that really stretched my brain.
My contribution to SMM went beyond investment analysis and decision making. I was a leader in terms of bringing structure, insights and shaping a great team culture. Therefore, I was asked to join the SMM EXCO in May 2016 continuing to help drive the people side of the business. In February 2017 I was promoted to one of the heads of portfolio management, continuing to build on my investment experience and leadership skills.
In November 2019, I took on the role of Head of Strategic Investments and Manager Research, which includes being the lead PM for Alternatives in SMM. I am also so lucky to be involved in the development of the African Women Impact Fund, which is a collaboration between Standard Bank and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. I feel very privileged to be the lead portfolio manager coordinating the selection and blending of women fund managers across the African Continent. I feel that this is truly a win for African women investment professionals, as the goal is to allocate more capital to women fund managers and move women from mostly micro finance into directing the flow of larger capital allocation decisions. At the same time, these women are driving impactful change in much needed sectors such as healthcare, education and food security.
I am also fortunate to lead a fantastic team that includes strong women investment professionals and I am very happy working within such a dynamic and focused team that is SMM.
What are the 3-5 Leadership Principles that have guided you throughout your career?
- Drive up your knowledge and experience. Job titles are more guidelines especially as you take on a more senior roles.
- Be accountable. This is more than just stepping up to the plate and delivering. It means delivering high quality work and always adding value.
- Never let a customer (internal or external) down. Commit and deliver.
- Being a servant leader means being there to unblock pathways and ensuring that those around you have the means to do their job well. It also means driving accountability within your team so that they are a value-adding component of the overall business.
- Jump-in and thrive in complexity but be careful of getting caught up in drama. Your role as a leader is to untangle complexity and steer your team. This requires immense resilience.
What aspect of your career has been the most challenging for you as a woman?
And what did you learn from it?
As a woman and a mother, you have to drive your career well and raise your family well. It isn’t one or the other. I had to initiate coverage on Naspers while I was five months pregnant and I wrote CFA level III with a four-year-old and eight-month-old in tow. I also had to do one to two week work-trips away from home several times. I learnt very quickly that I cannot compete with stay-at home mums and pack home-made granola bars in lunch boxes and that it is okay. My career is important to me, not just to be the key provider for my family, but because I wanted to be great at it. Once I let go of the guilt, I felt a lot more freedom. Freedom in thought and freedom to take on difficult and complex jobs or roles.
What do you think is the biggest challenge in the corporate world that women face today?
I think women still face the perception that their careers are secondary especially as one starts a family. I had my children in two different organisations and both times, more than a handful of men asked me whether I was going to stay at home permanently. When my husband was working, he got a promotion in 2016 and again a few men asked me whether I was going to stay at home. This was even after I joined the SMM EXCO! Therefore, it becomes harder to prove that you are relevant, engaged and value-adding. There are a lot of women who get defeated by the negative attitude around them which often then comes with a lack of support from the business. Therefore, you find that a lot of women’s careers plateau around the early thirties and hit a wall or the glass ceiling.
I am now in a fortunate position to assist other women through this phase of their lives by helping them stay engaged and help build out their networks so that their careers don’t need to take a dip.
What advice would you give Young Women who are about to start their career?
or as Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, would say “Lean In”. There are perceptions and obstacles that you will have to overcome but there are an increasing number of women leaders who are inch by inch making it easier for you. Don’t get caught up in job-titles and gain the most of every work experience, by being courageous and ask for projects that are outside your job description. Ask to be involved in complex projects even if you start out as just the gofer. You will learn new skills, craft networks and build up resilience.
Jennifer’s short bio
Jennifer Henry has been appointed as the Head of Strategic Investments and Manager Research within STANLIB Multi-Manager (SMM) effective 1 November 2019. SMM views Alternatives as a strategic investment capability and hence will fall under Jennifer’s ambit.
Jennifer has been with SMM since February 2014 and has been a member of SMM’s EXCO since 2016. She is well placed to position our Alternatives capability with third-party investors, while managing our existing clients. During her time at SMM, Jennifer has ingrained a strong investment risk management culture across both our traditional and alternative capabilities and chaired the Alternatives Portfolio Review Committee since 2017. In addition to overseeing these strategic investments, she will drive enhancements in our Manager Research process to serve both traditional and alternative investments. Jennifer is a CFA Charterholder, Certified Financial Risk Manager (FRM), and is a board member of the CFA Society South Africa.