Catherine Lewis La Torre takes care of a team of investment professionals, leading the drive to help improve finance markets to better serve smaller businesses…
What is it the company does?
British Business Investments is the commercial arm of the British Business Bank, and we share its mission to improve finance markets so they better serve the needs of smaller businesses. A big part of that is helping build a more diverse market – encouraging new entrants and sources of alternative finance. We make investments on a fully commercial basis in finance providers offering a range of debt and equity solutions to smaller businesses.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
I have overall responsibility for managing British Business Investments’ team of investment professionals, mainly drawn from the private sector, with backgrounds in banking and finance. I provide leadership to deliver against the strategic and commercial objectives set out in our business plan. This includes meeting a target return for taxpayers’ money, based on industry benchmarks. We have exceeded this this in each of the first three years of our operation.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I started my career in finance straight out of university, as an analyst at what became Thomson Reuters. After a spell as an Investment Manager at Cinven, I spent 25 years working in continental Europe, where I founded two businesses – a fund-of-funds manager in the Nordics and a consultancy business in Switzerland where I advised US and EU fund management groups on their investment strategies and strategic initiatives. I returned to the UK in 2015 to head Cardano Risk Management’s private capital portfolio. I joined British Business Investments in my current role in September 2016.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
I’m a great believer in leading by doing – demonstrating I have the expertise and technical skills required in the investment business. Another good maxim is never to ask your team to do anything that you wouldn’t be prepared to do yourself.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
We’re at a stage of rapid growth in British Business Investments and for the British Business Bank group overall, and rapid growth brings about rapid change. Managing that change in a high-performing division that is growing quickly requires strong influencing skills. It is important to explain the context to bring people along with you as new processes and different ways of working are introduced.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
Time with family and friends is important to keep things in perspective. I do yoga and find reflexology deeply relaxing. We’re also fortunate to have a place in Tuscany where we can escape to for the holidays.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a pilot, so I could travel and see the world, and get paid for it. As it turned out, a career in finance pretty much allowed me to achieve the same thing.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
I have very little tolerance of people who are habitually late for meetings. This is made worse because I’m nearly always early. It was a particular issue when I lived and worked in Rome – where I couldn’t quite bring myself to ‘do as the Romans do…’
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
I would hope we will be recognised fully as a national institution, with a further developed range of interventions. As a newer institution, we are on the smaller side compared to our international counterparts, but we have definitely have the potential to achieve a similar scale and increase our impact on finance markets for smaller businesses.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Remember that no-one has a monopoly on the truth, and there are different ways to get to the same result. It’s important, therefore, to maintain good networks with trusted individuals that you know you can call upon for sound advice. However, its equally important to draw upon your own experience and trust your own judgement when making decisions.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Don’t confuse eloquence with competence.
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