Let me introduce you to Caroline Smith, Head of Oil, Gas and Petrochemicals execution team at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, Japan’s second biggest bank. Caroline is based in the City of London and leads a team, arranging financing for billion dollar energy and natural resources projects around the world.
Caroline has a MSc in Physics from the University of Oxford. Over the course of her career she worked for UBS, Societe Generale and Operis, focussing on project finance, before landing a job at Sumitomo Mitsui, where she has been for the last 7 years.
Japanese corporate culture is famous for being male-dominated and hierarchical. “You can’t go home until the boss does”, says Caroline. However, despite the broad-brushing attitude to women, Caroline’s merit and ambition earned her promotion after promotion until she was put in charge of her current team and asked to focus on the rich oil clients in the Middle East.
“When I first went to Saudi Arabia, the client would not even shake my hand”, recalls Caroline. “The men in the boardroom chatted through my presentation and kept ignoring me, addressing my boss instead.”
Caroline told herself: “Stay brilliant, show them my worth.”
This tenacious approach has certainly worked. Caroline travels to the Middle East on average once a month. She was instrumental to a $4 billion dollar upgrade to a refinery in Oman, a $40 billion Liquified Natural Gas plant financing in Australia, and her Saudi clients have indeed learned her worth.
When she isn’t adding miles to her frequent traveller card, Caroline does pilates, swims and umpires for her local rowing club and at Henley.
We talk a lot about the City, its culture and its working practices, unhelpful to women. And yet it is worth putting spotlight and celebrating women who have managed to succeed in the City and become the pathfinders for the generations to follow.
Caroline is a genuine inspiration. She said to me at the end: “My work is interesting, it pays well and I am good at it.” I say, you can’t argue with that!