Working at the upper echelon of the workplace, Lucia Waldner, Head of Credit Suisse Research Institute and Innovation, and the Chief of Staff to the Chairman, talked to us about her multiple functions, what it takes to remain innovative and adaptive to changes and her insights about female leadership in today’s business arena.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. Let’s start this interview by giving us a glimpse of what your day looks like.
To start with, the financial sector provides a very dynamic business environment. Also, with my three different areas of responsibility, there is no such thing as a typical day. I work very well under these conditions and enjoy the ability to adapt and innovate. Ultimately, all my days evolve around key decisions or their preparation.
Before you joined Credit Suisse, you were a lobbyist and a journalist. You also founded a public affairs consultancy. What made you decide to restart your career in a different industry, particular in the banking sector? How was the transition to Credit Suisse?
Joining the financial services sector was partly new and partly a continuation of my career. As an EU policy specialist, I have moved from a client-facing consulting role to an in-house environment where the contents initially remained very much the same – what has changed was the perspective. Moreover, at the time, large banks were very much under scrutiny by regulators, media and public in general in a scale unseen before. From the very beginning, I have noticed that the environment at Credit Suisse is very entrepreneurial, which made the transition very seamless for me.
Leaders atop an institution naturally have a lot on their plate. As the Head of Credit Suisse Research Institute and Innovation, and as the Chief of Staff to the Chairman, what are your primary responsibilities?
With our in-house think-tank, my aim is to support Credit Suisse’s clients in their long-term decision-making. With that in mind, we work with the world’s leading experts to better understand complex issues that impact – or will soon impact – our clients’ business. If thanks to our work, our clients end up making a better strategic choice, we have succeeded. As Chief of Staff to the Chairman, I support the Chairman on a daily basis, including selected strategic initiatives. Ultimately, I work in the area of innovation, where we examine the impact of new technologies on the banking sector and our business in particular.
With regard to these innovative technologies, today’s organisations are hugely affected by their advancement. What do you think are the greatest challenges that 21st century leaders have to combat with and how should those be addressed correspondingly?
New technologies are making our work easier and more complex at the same time. With more data at hand, we can make better, more objective and tailored decisions on a daily basis. At the same time, we must not forget the well-established principles of organisational management, as not all roles will be replaced by computers going forward. Especially when working with millennials, while being advanced users of new technologies, managers need to also not forget to be active managers and coaches.
Speaking of challenges, it is a known fact that we are continually grappling with the lack of women in leadership roles across industries including the banking sector. What do you think are the reasons or the barriers to making women successfully break the glass ceiling?
In my view, it is still partly a generational issue, as the baby-boomers are currently in charge of the most senior business roles and with the general population aging, this will remain the case for some time. I also believe that every young talent needs support, as a successful career path requires both knowledge and careful navigation. Women tend to be coached but have a hard time finding senior sponsors. However, when taking the next big step, it takes someone to give you that first chance. Equally, when taking difficult decisions, it takes someone experienced to help and guide you early on in your career. We often underestimate that aspect.
With the occurring changes that leaders have to deal with, it is imperative to be adaptive and to evolve. What’s your strategy to remain an effective leader?
I believe in the power of content and the right motivation behind one’s actions. If you know what you are doing and why, your environment will recognise that. Content-driven people tend to attract supporters – or followers, if you will. Accordingly, I view leadership as the result of what you incite in others, rather than something you can impose or decide.
How do you make sure that your team remain innovative and adaptive to changes at all times? What’s your strategy?
It takes the right personality and the right environment. Not all teams need to pursue innovation, there are important roles and functions that need to ensure consistence and stability, as opposed to questioning the status quo. But for an innovative team to perform, you need to choose personalities that thrive in uncertainty and that enjoy improvisation and navigating without ever having perfect information. You then need to allow your team to be creative, test ideas and develop new solutions. Ultimately, you need to make sure to implement these ideas, they must not go to waste or get lost in the corporate processes.
Evidently, there are changes in leadership style as our world advances. What do you think are the features of a remarkable leader today? What’s your advice for the people who want to catapult their career forward, especially the women?
Well, I don’t really believe in shortcuts, regardless of one’s skills, gender or other aspects. Leadership often gets confused for a skill – as I had said before, I see it very much as the outcome of one’s actions. If you want to be successful, be the best at what you do and be a partner to those around you. That being said, there is a clear focus on supporting female talent and there is no reason to not take advantage of the related opportunities. These may offer a shortcut but in the end, it always comes down to substance.
When it comes to habits, there is no one-size-fits-all agenda. What are your favourite routines to keep yourself focused and healthy at and off work?
I enjoy working and my career is more a result of my passion than tactical planning. I regularly make sure to spend time reading and testing new ideas with experienced people. Working with great minds is the best motivator for me personally. I also need time for myself to recharge, so I try to spend time in the amazing Swiss countryside – my daily habit is to walk my dogs in any weather just before leaving for the office in the morning and just after I arrive back home.
What does success mean to you? Any message you wish to share with our readers especially for those who are planning to change their career path or explore other industries?
In my experience, success follows as a result of opportunity, which is not entirely in our control, and performance. Sometimes – not always – we can help generate that opportunity, while we have full control over the performance we deliver. As to the career change aspect, it is always an enrichment to widen one’s horizon. Especially in today’s complex world, I would argue that a diverse career will soon be a must.
What are the three things you will not leave home without?
In terms of material things, don’t tend to hold on to much. I don’t depend on my phone or anything of that sort, hence let me say – before I go ahead and start my day, start any journey, I like to have a clear idea of where I am going – literally and metaphorically.
Thank you very much Lucia for the inspirations.
About the Interviewee
Lucia Waldner is Chief of Staff to the Chairman of Credit Suisse and Head of the Credit Suisse Research Institute and Innovation. She previously worked as public affairs professional in London and Brussels. Lucia holds an MBA from Oxford University and an MSc in European Politics and Governance from the London School of Economics.