On March 5th, 2020, Rajaa Mekouar-Schneider (CEO of LPEA) was named “Inspirational Woman in Finance”, at the occasion of the Luxembourg Finance Awards ceremony. She recently met with the InFinance team and told us more about her professional career, biggest achievements, while also sharing her strategic vision for the development of the financial sector.
You have been working in the finance sector for more than 15 years now, can you tell us more about your professional career? What are, according to you, your main achievements?
I started in finance almost 20 years ago, in 2001, after 4 years at Procter & Gamble and a MBA degree. It was a major step for me, entering the much dreaded and inspiring City of London. Looking back, I realise that the move, which was both a change in countries and sectors, was quite daring. I think not knowing what I was stepping into but having determination based on the conviction that the finance world was not all that impressive helped. I wanted to be in tune with what was going on in the world and be able to make a difference at my own level, by supporting corporates and entrepreneurs, as an investor and advisor. This drive remained present in all my subsequent choices, which means always following my inner voice and building the bridge between finance and the real economy. Within this template, I am proud of the reputation I built as a reliable professional, with integrity, humility and hard work as values, despite all the setbacks and obstacles. A solid reputation is the most valuable asset an investor can ever hold in my view. I am also proud of the trusted and international network of investors, entrepreneurs and advisors I can rely on any time, to exchange ideas, but also to source investment opportunities. Today, this allows me to work as a Private Equity investor in optimal conditions, which comes in handy, especially in times of unprecedented crises like the one we are living now. Last but not least, I hope my modest contributions can inspire younger talent to strive for their own success and follow their own paths. All with patience and passion...
How does your vision contribute to the strategic and operational developments of the financial sector?
The financial sector at large comprises so many facets and segments, I would not allow myself to have a vision for the entire industry. But I do have convictions, in particular one that calls for diversity and gender parity as a condition for sustainability. The older I become the more I realise the value of assembling teams of varied profiles, which is still way too rare in the financial world. In Private Equity, my area of expertise, this issue is all the more acute, so I do all I can to promote diversity positively and inclusively. Another conviction concerns the need to build a more "socially responsible" image for our sector, whereby financial leaders are not only inspiring for their ability to be financially successful, but also for being “good” people with human(e) principles. In short, people who care and dare. Such examples abound but the “best” people are often the most low profile ones, so we need to bring them out and promote their achievements. At my modest level, I strive to partner with and surround myself by such role models, i.e. investors who believe in diversity and in being good to succeed over the long run.
You are the CEO of Luxembourg Private Equity & Venture Capital Association: what is your mission within the organization?
As the CEO of LPEA, I am responsible for leading a team whose mission it is to represent the interests of the PE/VC industry in Luxembourg, alongside a group of senior experts who form our Executive Committee. We are now 6 colleagues working towards this day in day out, for our 270-strong growing community of members. Beside this mission of representation, LPEA aims at promoting Luxembourg as an international hub for PE/VC, in line with what Luxembourg For Finance is doing more broadly for the financial marketplace. Such a mission means that we are busy building and running an event and publication programme thanks to which our members can get informed, exchange best practice and simply expand their networks with other PE/VC practitioners. Increasingly, given the growing diversity of PE/VC players, we need to tailor our communications to the needs of the different sub groups of members. And now, with the Covid-19 crisis, we had to quickly transform our platform to become digital and continue our work online. Last but not least we take to heart the notion of demonstrating our industry´s contribution to the real economy, via technological innovations and job creation. PE/VC remains little understood by the wider community, which requires demystifying it. But the great thing is that in Luxembourg, private and public sectors work hand in hand, and this is a winning formula. All in all, we are here to “Match Talent and Money” over the long run, in and for Luxembourg. We have passion… but also patience.
LPEA also launched Private Equity For Women. Can you tell us more about it? What are the actions taken in place for this initiative? How do you promote the role of women in the financial sector?
PE4W just celebrated its first anniversary on International Women´s Day last March 2020. It is a “club” that comprises some 70+ LPEA members who are keen to see women advance within PE/VC as talent that needs more recognition. PE4W is chaired by Nicolas Gauzes, a partner at Linklaters, who works 80% to allow more family time while his wife works 100%, and Manon Aubry, a Senior Manager at RSM, a young female talent who pushed for the initiative when we first met. As it stands, only 6% of senior PE/VC decision makers are female, which shows the long road ahead of us. Now, quantitative studies led by IFC among others, clearly show that mixed male / female teams perform better. Therefore, we developed a holistic programme that includes peer to peer coaching sessions, technical workshops and get together for both men and women that are active in PE/VC. By joining forces, we can ensure that successful examples are brought to the fore and those women requiring more confidence and visibility are supported. On a macro level, we signed the Equilibre Pledge, that calls for #nowomennopanel, although we stop short of calling for formal quotas in HR policies, for now, preferring to encourage goodwill. But we are planning to explore partnerships with other such initiatives at Luxembourg level to accelerate momentum. In one word, we want women to succeed with men, not despite them. That is the only recipe for long term success in my opinion.
What are your wishes for the financial sector, including for the inclusion of women?
As mentioned above, finance deserves a better name, and there is no better time to push for this than the currently unfolding crisis to do so. At the PE/VC level, the lessons learned in 2008 should help weather the current challenges constructively, and demonstrate the real ability of our industry to create value over the long run by preserving jobs and coming up with innovative ways to do business. PE/VC funds raised a lot of cash over the past 3-4 years so they also have the right ammunition to prove their worth, now more than ever. They need to be perceived as positive contributors to the real economy. The growing importance of Family Offices as PE investors is a positive that supports this trend, because per se, a family is a long term investor who cares about its community. So we now have all ingredients to improve the standing of PE/VC while promoting gender diversity. I am convinced that with the passion of conviction and the patience granted by strong ethics, we will get there.
Publié le 15 avril 2020