How to write your own career story in finance – one mother’s experience and advice

Camila Penna started out as an intern at J.P. Morgan and is now running a few different teams in the investment bank’s equities sales division with people located in eight different countries.

She shares the importance of being vocal about your career aspirations, her biggest lessons from being a people manager, and how she’s been able to find balance in work and life.

Don’t wait, shape your path

After graduating university with an engineering/economics degree, Camila knew she wanted to explore the banking world. “My father was a banker, so finance is in the blood.”

She joined J.P. Morgan in 2004, attracted to their strong client-first culture. Fast-forward 16 years and Camila’s now in charge of the equities sales teams across the UK; Latin America; and Central Europe, Middle East and Africa (CEEMEA). It’s an impressive career ascent that she’s actively shaped herself.

“I’m always thinking ahead to the next region, product or team I’d like to be a part of, and I make sure my managers know this. It doesn’t always work out the way I’d envisioned it but we’re always discussing a direction for my career – both short and long-term,” she explains.

“I don’t believe in waiting for a position to come up and then raising your hand. It’s about shaping the business together with your manager so that as the position is needed, you’re promoted naturally.”

Her advice to others wanting to shape their career in a similar way is to think of yourself as a business owner who just happens to sit under the broader umbrella of a company.

“When you’re in the mindset of a business owner, you’re automatically thinking about what is needed for the success of the business, and what you or your team needs to deliver in the mid to long-term to support the overall strategy.

“If you’re thinking ahead, it makes it easier to communicate with your managers and shape the business together to achieve mutual goals.”

Because of this approach, Camila’s finance career hasn’t followed the conventional path. Instead she’s been promoted to roles the bank needed at the time, tied in with the skills she had or was developing.

Her first full-time role at J.P. Morgan was an Analyst in the Latin America mergers and acquisitions team based in New York. After four years, she wanted to get a broader picture of what was going on in the financial markets, so transitioned to equities sales and found her passion.

From there, Camila worked her way up within the Latin America equities sales team in New York, ran the Brazil team for five years and upon her return to New York got involved in the CEEMEA region, which took her to London and her current role.

People management lessons

Camila was 27 years old when she was tapped on the shoulder for her first management role running the Latin America equities sales team in Brazil. “It was a new team, new clients, new region and new business language, making it quite the experience.”

She still finds people management one of the most challenging – yet rewarding – aspects of the job.

“People are different; they get motivated and react to things in different ways. Having the perception to understand that, and know how to respond and help guide employees is challenging.”

Time and experience does help to improve your people management capabilities, as well as learning lessons along the way.

“I once thought that leading by example was the best way to teach, but I’ve since discovered that not everybody learns by looking and following. I’ve also learnt that expecting everyone to follow how I do something isn’t going to give me a team that’s diverse in thinking.”

Camila’s top tip for first-time managers is to understand each employee’s purpose and motivations.

“Sit down with each of your employees and explore what draws them to their role and drives them to contribute. This will help you as a manager understand how you can help them succeed in a way that also benefits the business.”

Having worked across three continents and now with teams based in eight different countries, Camila has also discovered the importance of understanding any local business differences.

“Taking the time to really deep dive into the market of each specific country and understand how people react to service and product, and not generalising that something is the same everywhere, is really impactful in building relationships with your team and clients.”

Be a part of the change

If there’s any advice Camila would offer herself back when she was an intern it would be to embrace change more often.

“I’ve learnt the importance of thinking ahead, anticipating change and being prepared for it. Being part of the change is so much more powerful than sitting around waiting for the change to happen.”

When it comes to opportunities for women within finance, change is happening. Camila is adamant that finance is a great business and career path for women, with her own team consisting of 55% women.

“J.P. Morgan and the finance industry at large has come a long way over the past couple of years, having done some extraordinary work to improve gender equality. We’re definitely pointing in the right direction,” she says.

“When I first started out in finance 16 years ago, it was difficult to find those role models of people who look like me and have become successful, but that’s changing.”

Camila’s proud of the role she’s played in this, particularly the fact she was promoted to her current role whilst four months pregnant.

“It was very important for me to show that you can take maternity leave and have a child, while also taking on a new role and moving countries. You can still be a mother and work from home at times, and have the career path that you choose.”

Camila has spent a lot of time thinking about what work/life balance means for her and her family, and makes decisions based on that. “I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the judgments of others – I do what works best for us.”

Having a boss that supports you is also key in finding balance, and Camila admits to being very fortunate to have had managers who are true leaders, supportive and invested in her success.

Because of all of this, she does feel like she’s been able to have it all. “I’ve never felt like I’ve been in a position where I’ve had to sacrifice either to feel fulfilled. That for me has been my biggest achievement in the job.”

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