M&G's Rebecca O'Dwyer talks about her career in Direct Lending and diversity in asset management

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Rebecca is a Director and joined M&G in 2015 from RBS.

RO

James Wallis

Hiring Circle caught up with Rebecca O’Dwyer – an Associate Director in the Direct Lending team at M&G to chat about her current role, diversity and life at M&G.  Rebecca was previously in Leveraged and Acquisition Finance at RBS – focusing on mid-market LBOs.

JW:  Hi Rebecca – it’s very nice to see you again.  Firstly - please can you tell us about what your team does and the types of investments you’ve been involved in?

RO: I sit within the Direct Lending team which forms part of Alternative Credit.  We originate and execute loans on behalf of our pension fund and institutional clients who invest in our multi-asset credit funds and hence there is a variety of appetite which is great. 

Our definition of Direct Lending is quite broad.  What binds our deals together is they are typically illiquid, private, non-investment grade debt.  They encompass cashflow lending (both sponsor backed and corporate), asset based lending and wholesale finance.  We can deploy capital flexibly where we see a good risk reward balance, which means we can move to where there are opportunities in the market rather than being constrained by a narrow investment mandate.

My last three deals have covered a mid-market sponsor backed buy-out, local asset based lending for a listed corporate, and lending to a UK PE fund to enable them to provide ongoing support to their portfolio assets. 

JW:  You’ve been here for a number of years now – being promoted after less than a year.  Please can you describe your role and how has your role evolved over that time?

RO:  One of the great things about my role is that it is truly end-to-end – going from origination through to seeing the money out of the door. 

I maintain a network of advisors, PE sponsors and corporates, which combined are the primary sources of opportunities and I continue to build these as time goes by.

The Direct Lending team at M&G is small and so we typically operate lean deal teams. As Deal Manager I lead the transaction, and am responsible for attending management meetings, credit analysis, structuring, legal negotiations and presenting each transaction to our credit committee. 

I genuinely love the diversity and exposure in the role, and level of empowerment M&G as an  organisation encourages. My role has evolved as my experience, confidence and profile within the organisation has grown.   

JW: What drove you to join M&G?  Related to that – they are known for their employee friendly policies.  Can you enlighten us on any specifics and how important were they for you in opting to work for them?

RO: Obviously, the nature of work and investment strategy was really important.  However, the culture of the organisation was also absolutely key.

For me - of far greater importance than the specific company policies, was how the team and in particular my line-manager embodied those values.  I met the whole team before I started and could see it was far more than rhetoric. 

I'm very pleased and proud to say I work for M&G but my decision was made on the basis of the people in my immediate team.

On the specifics – work-life balance is genuinely respected.  Sometimes you have to work very hard – like in all deal environments.  However, there is a grown-up and trusting approach.  If you want to work from home, you can. People understand you have a life outside of work and there is no pointless facetime.

At company level, female representation is taken seriously. There is an internal women’s network which runs great events throughout the year, which all staff are encouraged to attend.

Finally – when I look around there are a lot of people who have been here a long time.  M&G take a long-term approach to hiring and that’s important.

JW:  There still seems to be a reluctance of many women to join the asset management industry.  Why do you think that is?

RO: I think in large part it’s a perception issue and I notice it when I get involved in graduate recruitment.

There is often a perceived skills gap from women - economics and finance courses for example are still majority male.  In addition – we all know that women are statistically more likely to underestimate their ability to do something.  I think it’s only perception though.  I have a history degree and it hasn’t held me back.

The other perception is around culture and lifestyle.  It is still perceived as a career that is male dominated, highly competitive and where you have to demonstrate certain traits to succeed.  This is what the industry needs to work hard to change. I can regularly find myself in meetings with CEO’s and CFO’s where I am not only the youngest person in the room, but the only female in the room too – I’m fine with that, but others may not be.    

JW:  There is a big push to improve diversity in financial services in general at the moment – almost every employer we speak to highlights it as being important in hiring. What things do you think employers should be doing if they want to see more women applying for roles?

RO: Improving the diversity within our investments teams requires sustained focus over the long term. It requires those in senior positions to be embodying and practicing it.  It’s no good talking about flexible working for example, if there are no senior role models doing it. 

It needs to be tacked at the grass roots, as you can’t magic up people with 10+ years’ experience in a technical and highly skilled role - so people have to be realistic.  But the industry needs to work harder at identifying, supporting and promoting those women that do exist.

There should be an absolute focus on hiring, progressing and retaining a diverse talent pool from the beginning of people’s careers.  At M&G diversity is key in junior hiring as diverse teams make better investment decisions which will help us achieve good customer outcomes.

JW:  I think that’s an excellent way to think about it – diversity should be valued by employers as something that adds to their business – not a box to be ticked because everyone is talking about it.  I think in investment businesses where decisions are partly driven by subjective views based on experiences, that’s probably more important than many.

JW:   Finally - what advice would you give a woman looking to develop a career in asset management?

RO: In the first instance – I would encourage young woman starting their careers to consider it.  You get to work with great people and the roles can be fascinating.  The public perception is that banking and asset management is the same thing but they are separate industries, that work together, with different approaches and cultures.

I would also say find the right employer and team.  Never underestimate the importance of your line-manager, and finding a good mentor and sponsor is one of the most important things you can do in your career.

Finally – have a plan.  Don't be afraid to be bold and put yourself forward.  Tell people what you want to achieve and work towards it.  Hold yourself and others accountable for that progression.

JW:  It’s been a pleasure talking to you thank you so much for your time.