Interview with RMB’s first female CEO, Emrie Brown

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Interview with RMB’s first female CEO, Emrie Brown

Jan 2, 2024 | Interviews

A qualified chartered accountant, RMB‘s first female CEO Emrie Brown served as an investment banker and was promoted to Head of Leveraged Finance in 2006 becoming the first female to be responsible for a profit centre at the bank. In 2009, she left the bank and moved to Cape Town, as she became a mother to the first of her two boys at age forty-one with the second arriving two years later.

Motherhood

Curious, I ask her how it worked for her to have children in her forties.

‘It worked well for me!’ she laughs. ‘I guess I was so engrossed in my career in my thirties and focused on achieving so much growth that I did not have time to start a family.  Actually, I thought that career success and motherhood were mutually exclusive but in retrospect that is not the case. I advise women to make a conscious decision about children and to not leave it until it is too late. Also choosing not to have children is perfectly fine because parenting is not for everyone.’

Emrie has found that motherhood is not an impediment to career progression because women have all the necessary leadership traits to make a success of managing others. All it takes is to believe in oneself and to understand that one is well equipped to lead. Women should have confidence in the fact that they bring a different voice to organisations. They should wear their female badge with pride because they bring value to companies.

‘Your career can be much more like a jungle gym than the traditional career ladder in your journey to achieve success,’ Emrie is quoted as saying on the RMB website. ‘How you define success and the sacrifices that you are prepared to make, are decisions that will be required along the way and will be different for each person. As women we don’t have to “man up” to be successful in financial services.’

Many firsts at RMB

Emrie missed RMB too much and stayed out of the bank for only six months.  ‘In the moment, I didn’t appreciate the significance of it,’ responds Emrie. ‘In investment banking, it is your intellectual and interpersonal skills that get you ahead rather than physical power so on paper it should be easy for women to compete on an equal footing. It later dawned on me the significance of my appointments to women in banking. We have done a lot of research on the area and we find that women do not move to the next layer of management in the financial services industry. And this is a worldwide rather than local challenge.’

‘I think this places a big responsibility on me and other women in leadership positions to pave the way for young women to rise through the ranks. When I got into investment banking in 1997, it was a lot harder to find women in these spaces and much harder to have your voice heard. Diversity is a great thing for businesses because they can benefit from varied perspectives but minorities in any grouping struggle to express their views because they may appear so different from the norm.’

‘We are making progress on the diversification front having more women in client facing roles unlike the way it was previously when they were relegated to support functions. But it is not yet enough. Males still dominate leadership positions and there is an unconscious bias when it comes to promotions. People tend to think that only someone who is a lot like them is capable of filling in their shoes.’

Success X factors

Some of the leadership lessons that Emrie picked up from tough times include having the right team ‘on the bus’ because you are only as strong as your weakest link. The best team is one that shares the vision of the organisation and embraces excellence. Excellence does not mean perfection because that is impossible to achieve; it is expected that mistakes will be made along the way but the key is to ensure you learn from them. The right team comprises people who are passionate about what they do and do not come to work just to earn a salary.

Emrie advises professionals to find a career where they have a passion for the work they do and the mission of the organisation. This is where you will find that you do not struggle to go the extra mile and bring the best version of yourself.  An organisation of people who are energised by their work has an incredible impact and employees should not shy away from changing jobs if they find that they are not enjoying it.

‘This was my experience during my six months away from RMB,’ recalls Emrie. ‘I briefly joined another financial institution but quickly felt that the culture was not for me. All banks in South Africa are somewhat successful but they are incredibly different. Culture eats strategy for breakfast, and I simply could not resonate with the culture there. An organisation is like an orchestra, if the participants are not in sync, they can learn all the notes and play but the performance will not give the audience goosebumps.’

This article is a brief extract from the book THE CEO X FACTOR – Secrets for Success from South Africa’s Top Money Makers – click image below to order on Take A Lot

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