Women in Securitization

Today’s WiS Profiles - Helen Jones and Felicia Graham

 
August 2, 2016
 

 

 

Today's WiS Profiles - Helen Jones and Felicia Graham

In connection with WiS Week 2016, SFIG is pleased to share profiles of accomplished women in securitization in recognition of the strides that they have made in their careers, and the contributions they have made to SFIG, the industry, and their organizations. Not only are these individuals' accomplishments impressive in their own right, but their experience and insight also serve as inspiration to women just beginning their careers.

Today, we invite you to meet Helen Jones of Societe Generale and Felicia Graham of Chapman and Cutler.

Helen Jones, Societe Generale, S.A.

Helen Jones is a Director in the securitization group at Societe Generale in New York where she is responsible for trade receivables financing.   She has worked in the structured finance industry for 20 years in a number of different capacities including as a COO and as a lawyer.   Prior to joining Societe Generale in 2005, she worked as a lawyer in the structured finance group at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, based in London. Helen has a BA in Economics and an LLB, both from Dunedin University, New Zealand together with an LLM in International Financial Law from Kings College, London.  She is Co-Chair of the Education and Advocacy Committee for the SFIG and a Co-Chair of the Women in Securitization Education and Career Skills Program. 

How did you get started in the field of securitization? 

I began my professional life as a lawyer and worked in New Zealand and London before joining Societe Generale in NY in 2005.  I specialized in securitization because I found it really interesting and liked the people I worked with (I think that’s really important). 

Did you face any initial roadblocks?

No, other than many sleepless nights as a lawyer closing deals, quite the contrary.

What skills from your early career have helped drive your success in structured finance?  

As a former lawyer I’m not afraid of reading documents and enjoy negotiating.  I think these two skills are really helpful.

What do you think women uniquely provide to the work place environment, especially in structured finance? 

I think women provide an important balance in the work-place and often bring different skill sets from their male peers that can lead to better decisions, more efficient change management, etc.  Although a generalization, I would point to the way women typically conduct themselves at work and their soft skills (ethics, team spirit, commitment, responsibility, etc.).

Compared to when you entered the field, have the problems women face in securitization changed? Have they gotten better or worse? 

While it’s got better I think that there’s a way to go.  It’s still a very male dominated field (particularly at the senior levels) and although equality of pay and opportunities for women are talked about a lot I don’t think we are seeing as much progress as we should have.

In your opinion, what is the biggest barrier facing women in securitization today? 

A lack of real buy-in at the most senior levels of some organizations that meaningful change needs to take place with the result that many of the issues facing women in our industry continue to exist and be perpetuated.  

How do you think WIS can influence and affect the role of women in the structured finance industry? 

I think it can (and does) play a huge role, particularly as an independent voice and educator on the issues and challenges that women in our industry face.  There are a large number of very clever and talented women involved with WiS and being able to tap into their experiences and views and share them with others is a great thing.

Where is your favorite vacation spot? 

I’ve just been to some of the Greek islands and they were beautiful.  I would love to go back there one day.  But I’m a Kiwi (a New Zealander – not the fruit!) and you can’t beat New Zealand – gorgeous scenery, great food and wine and wonderful people.  Of course I’m not at all biased……

 

Felicia Graham, Chapman and Cutler, LLP  

Felicia Graham is a partner in Chapman and Cutler’s Asset Securitization Department. She joined the Firm in 2012. Felicia acts as counsel to financial institutions in connection with their structured finance, asset-backed lending and structured products activities. She has significant experience in structuring, and advising on, financings involving a wide variety of assets, from trade and consumer receivables to complex derivative products, with a particular focus on representing banks and their asset-backed commercial paper vehicles. Felicia has been active in advising clients in connection with regulatory developments and has authored several comment letters from clients and industry groups to federal regulatory agencies. Prior to joining the Firm, Felicia was a partner in the Global Finance department of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.

How many years have you been in the securitization industry?

Since 1987, so nearly 30 years.

How did you get started in the field of securitization?  Did you face any initial roadblocks? 

For the first few years I practiced law, I was a public finance lawyer, working in housing.  When the 1986 tax act was passed, public finance and housing bonds were dramatically impacted.  The group I worked with, which had a very strong relationship with a housing group at a major investment banking firm, began to explore getting involved with housing in another way, that was, with mortgage-backed bonds.  That exploration resulted in the transition to the securitization business – although, interestingly, in my case, after only a year or two, not in the MBS space.

What skills from your early career have helped drive your success in structured finance?   

A deal lawyer is a deal lawyer, so early skills developed in drafting and negotiating and attention to detail and hard work served me well.  Also, extremely important is developing relationships with clients and client service.

What do you think women uniquely provide to the work place environment, especially in structured finance? 

Women can be more effective at compromise, or maybe better said, finding a workable (if not perfect) solution to problems that arise, a solution that serves all parties.  Women tend to grandstand less.  Ability to discuss and find solutions is very important for a transaction practice.

What was a turning point in your career in structured finance that helped get you to where you are today? 

I’m all about relationships. Many years ago I formed relationships with a group of bankers, who are now scattered at different institutions.  Those folks, who are friends and clients, have been the main source of my work and the main reason I’ve enjoyed it.

Do you have a family?  If so, how have you balanced your professional and personal life

I have 3 grown children and 4 grandchildren.  I long ago accepted that I could do nothing perfectly – or even close to perfectly.  Everything – that is children, spouse, work, got the most attention I could give it, which was never the ideal amount.  And that was the best I could do.  Once you accept that, there is a lot less stress.

How has your professional manner changed over time in the industry? 

I have less patience for bad behavior than I used to have and make it known when I think someone is treating me inappropriately or not pulling his/her weight.

What are your current career goals? What steps will you make to achieve that goal?  

I’m nearing the end of my legal career.  My major goals are to ensure that my clients will be in the good hands of my younger colleagues and to have created for those colleagues the opportunities for success in the practice.

What is your hardest on-going task?  How do you stay dedicated

Interpreting and implementing the myriad new regulations facing our industry.  I see the task as necessary to achieving my goals.

How do you think WIS can influence and affect the role of women in the structured finance industry?  

By giving them the opportunities to take leading roles in industry initiatives.   

 

For questions, please contact wis@sfindustry.org

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