«I like calculable risks.»
Mirjam Staub-Bisang is the head of BlackRock’s Swiss business. She took up her post in November 2018 and also acts as Senior Advisor for Sustainable Investing. Mirjam has around 20 years’ financial experience, primarily in asset management. After gaining a doctorate in law and starting her career as a lawyer, she went on to become an analyst for capital market transactions and M&A and a hedge fund market development manager at major international banks. She also handled private equity investments for a Swiss insurer. In 2005, Mirjam founded Independent Capital Group, an asset management and consulting firm specialising in sustainable investment, together with her brother. She was responsible for its operative management until 2018. She has chaired the board of a Swiss pension fund since 2017. Mirjam lives with her husband Martin Bisang, co-founder of Bellevue Group, and their three children by Lake Zurich.
Which values underlie your day-to-day actions, decisions, plans?
Sustainability is very important to me. It starts in the home and extends to the whole of the global economy. Society increasingly expects private and public corporations to address urgent social and economic issues, so those that pursue their purpose while taking a responsible attitude towards stakeholders will profit from this over the long term. BlackRock’s CEO Larry Fink also said this at the start of 2019 in his annual letter to the heads of the companies BlackRock’s clients invest in. A company’s purpose is not solely to make a profit, but it is the driving force that makes profits possible.
What is it that motivates you?
The idea of long-term investment. Our clients entrust their money to us, and we aim to live up to this responsibility by supporting them over the long term. Continuity plays a central role here. On the one hand, we manage clients’ retirement capital held in pension funds on a fiduciary basis. On the other, we offer investment solutions that help them to grow their savings over time. It’s important to raise awareness – especially among younger people – of the need to start putting money aside for retirement at an early stage. The Swiss certainly take this issue more seriously than many other nations, as shown by the BlackRock Global Investor Pulse survey. According to the survey, around two thirds of people here, or more precisely 69%, have made arrangements for their retirement. I’m also a firm believer in the benefits of sustainable investing. By taking environmental, social and governance aspects into account when making investments, we can not only make a positive contribution to society, but also significantly reduce portfolio risk and increase long-term returns. A number of studies show that sustainable investing doesn’t detract from returns at all – in fact, it leads to better results in the long run because companies that are managed sustainably steadily increase in value.
What are your goals – both in terms of your career and personally?
In both my private life and my career, I believe it’s important to take calculable risks. Before I make a big decision, I take care to weigh up the possible scenarios and gauge the opportunities and risks involved, particularly in the worst-case scenario. The decisive question I ask myself is “Am I prepared to accept this risk?” This approach has always guided my work. In asset management, clients are trusting you to take care of large sums of money, which is a huge responsibility as much of it is intended to fund people’s retirement.
Have you ever regretted a career decision?
No. I actually think each stage in my career has built on the previous ones. My work in the legal profession, for example, gave me a keen eye for detail, which helps when it comes to analysing investor profiles or conducting due diligence for investment opportunities. From my time as a banker in M&A, corporate finance and private equity, I know how to harness the potential of illiquid investments in private markets such as infrastructure and real estate. The focus on sustainable investing I had as head of my own asset management company is becoming ever more important as sustainable strategies grow in popularity.
What do you enjoy most in your job, what least?
It’s the diversity that excites me about what I do. BlackRock’s clients have a range of different needs. We manage whole investment portfolios or individual segments for pension funds and insurers, while private banks use our investment products as components in wealth management for their clients. We offer actively managed and indexed investment solutions and access to equity, fixed-income and multi-asset strategies as well as illiquid private markets like private equity, private debt, infrastructure and real estate. On top of all this, there are overarching strategic themes such as sustainable investing, technological solutions in asset management and day-to-day work as part of a global network of investment experts. Each of these aspects goes to make up a challenging, diverse and thus, in my opinion, interesting working environment.
What are your guiding/leadership principles?
The phrase “you always meet twice” can be applied to all interpersonal and business relationships. It means that, even when there are differences of opinion, you don’t “burn your bridges”. That way, you can still enjoy mutual respect in the future. It requires magnanimity and tolerance.
How do you achieve that crucial work/life balance?
By spending time with my family. I’m at home for breakfast and dinner as much as possible. That sometimes means getting up earlier or working after the kids have gone to bed. Exercise is also an important way for me to clear my head, especially jogging with our dog.
What can you not do without?
It may sound strange, but I can’t do without work. It’s probably in my genes – after all, my mother worked until she was 85.
What advice would you give to someone embarking on a career in asset management today or your younger self?
People are getting more and more stressed by hyperconnectivity, the expectation that they should be available all the time and a growing flood of information. To combat all of that, I recommend consciously avoiding multitasking. It makes us inefficient, forces us to spread ourselves too thinly and reduces our cognitive performance. The answer is serial monotasking: organising your time into periods in which you can focus intensively on a single task. This produces better results and makes work more rewarding.
What are you thankful for?
The fact that our society is becoming increasingly egalitarian. At the start of my career, for example, there were very few women in management positions, particularly in the financial sector. Things have improved a lot since then. These days, women have career opportunities that would have seemed unthinkable ten or twenty years ago.
What is more important to you as you get older, and what is less important?
I think resilience towards stress is generally becoming more important in our society, i.e. the physical strength to handle stressful life situations. Even in middle age, when the combined stress of work, children and parents is at its greatest, this resilience can still be trained. Mindfulness exercises and meditation can really help. When it comes to the daily grind, measures you can take include deliberately steering clear of multitasking.
What book are you reading at the moment?
Since strategic issues feature heavily in my work at the moment, I’m reading “Blue Ocean Shift” by INSEAD Professors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. It describes an approach for developing corporate strategies in which sector-specific assumptions are called into question with the aim of escaping competition in existing, hard-fought markets to tap into new ones.