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7 Questions on Leadership with Elena Ogram


Name: Elena Ogram


Title: Head of Sustianability and Sales Management


Organisation: Credit Suisse AG


Location: Switzerland


Elena is a senior financial services professional with more than 25 years of experience as a sustainability leader, portfolio manager and management consultant, with a particular focus on ESG, sustainability and impact investing.


Elena has been leading Sustainability and Sales Management team for Credit Suisse’s European wealth management division since 2020. She has been instrumental in integrating the ESG agenda into the investment advisory process. Elena has also facilitated the alignment of the bank’s product suite and investment strategy with broader client requirements around sustainable and impact investing, which has positioned her as a sought-after subject matter expert by colleagues, clients, and the wider market.


Previously, Elena was a key founding member of the emerging markets investment team at Bellevue Asset Management, where she contributed to the successful establishment of an emerging markets investment management franchise from scratch. Earlier in her career, Elena worked for Bank Julius Baer, McKinsey and Co, Arcelor Mittal and Daiwa/EBRD.


Elena is passionate about sustainability, possessing exceptional numerical and analytical acumen and a profound understanding of global, regional, and sectoral investment catalysts, asset allocation principles and evolving regulatory imperatives. Always keen to add theoretical knowledge to practical experience, Elena is a CFA charterholder and became a Certified Environmental, Social and Governance Analyst awarded by the European Federation of Financial Analyst Societies in 2019.


Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!


I hope Elena's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Cheers,

Jonno White



1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?


As a leader, I find it challenging to maintain the right balance between getting results and maintaining a supportive, inclusive team environment. Achieving this balance requires an understanding of each team member's strengths, weaknesses, and motivations, coupled with effective communication and empathy.


This challenge is amplified during periods of organizational stress. In such times, individuals are often called upon to go extra mile while also supporting one another. However, when the organization struggles to sufficiently recognize outstanding individual contributions, it poses an even greater challenge for team leaders: how to keep team composition and morale amidst ongoing stress.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?


My journey into leadership began in childhood, where I naturally gravitated towards roles of responsibility, whether as the class representative or organizing school events. However, my most formative leadership experience came during my tenure at McKinsey & Co. early in my career. McKinsey is known for its ‘up or out’ culture, which requires the assumption of leadership responsibilities, particularly when engaging with client teams.


Working in consulting teams demanded exemplary work ethics, knowledge sharing, and delivering high-quality results under intense time constraints. Transitioning to the role of engagement manager further expanded my leadership remit, including the oversight of both consulting and client teams, driving the success of projects from inception to completion.


3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?


My day begins the evening before, as I review my schedule for the next day, ensuring I prioritize meetings and calls to stay ahead of my busy agenda. When facing particularly demanding schedules, I rely on the trusty To-Do List (Yes, never underestimate the power of this tried-and-true tool!), jotting down key tasks to focus my efforts and commit essential details to memory.


In the morning, I promptly address urgent emails before diving into my day's agenda, which often includes team meetings and calls with demanding internal and external stakeholders. Armed with notes and necessary materials, I tackle each task with precision necessary for success.


Throughout the day, I maintain a vigilant eye on my inbox for any pressing matters requiring immediate attention.


By early evening, I dedicate time to tying up loose ends, responding to remaining emails, and planning for the day ahead, striving to leave my inbox as streamlined as possible by day's end.


4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?


A recent leadership lesson that has resonated with me is the profound importance of empathy, particularly during times of significant organizational change. Our company nearly went bankrupt in March 2023, resulting in a government-orchestrated takeover by a longtime rival. Since then, we've been navigating a complex integration process, adapting to a new culture while striving to maintain and grow our business.


While driving results remains critical, I've learned that understanding and empathizing with the challenges and emotions of our team members is equally vital during such transformative periods. Empathy enables leaders to forge deeper connections, cultivate a supportive and inclusive environment, and ultimately enhance team performance and morale. This lesson serves as a reminder that effective leadership isn't solely about achieving objectives but also about uplifting and celebrating the individuals within the team.


5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?


I'd like to highlight "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell. The book challenges the notion that success is solely a result of individual talent or effort, emphasizing the role of external factors like culture, environment, and timing. Gladwell argues that outliers—remarkably successful individuals—are often shaped by unique circumstances and advantages that extend beyond personal merit.


Through compelling anecdotes and research, he underscores the significance of systemic inequalities in society. Essentially, "Outliers" underscores the interplay between individual ability and external conditions in shaping success.


The essence of the book can be viewed from a different angle: even the most talented individuals can face obstacles to realizing their potential if they lack the right circumstances—timing, location, or connections. Elements such as culture, environment, background, and family history play pivotal roles in shaping one's path.


I resonate deeply with this idea and make an effort to give a chance to talented individuals irrespective of their background, pedigree, or alma mater. In my view, recognizing, nurturing, and retaining talent is fundamental to effective leadership.


6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?


Be authentic, lead with integrity, and set the example for others to follow. Remember, as a leader, you're there for your team, not the other way around. By shouldering your fair share of the workload and advocating for fair recognition and rewards, you foster trust and loyalty among your team members.


My leadership philosophy is inspired by the motto 'all for one, and one for all,' borrowed from yet another book, ‘The Three Musketeers’ by Alexandre Dumas. I encourage aspiring leaders to embrace this ethos as they define their own leadership styles.


7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?


One impactful story from my career stems from my time as a consultant at McKinsey, where I encountered a formidable challenge early on. Assigned to a project aimed at enhancing operational efficiencies in a steelmaking facility, I found myself leading a client team composed largely of seasoned steelmakers, many of whom were significantly older and more experienced than myself. Despite their polite demeanor, i.e. being gentlemen, they didn’t laugh in my face, I sensed their skepticism toward my capabilities.



Undeterred, I regrouped with my team and devised a comprehensive strategy. We tapped into the expertise of every steelmaking specialist within our firm, conducted exhaustive research, facilitated site visits, and benchmarked against global counterparts. The culmination was a pragmatic set of recommendations that not only improved operational efficiency but also garnered the respect and attention of the client team.


This experience taught me the invaluable lesson of resilience in the face of adversity. Rather than succumbing to setbacks, it reinforced the importance of diligence, perseverance, and delivering results that surpass expectations.

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