Sandy Bierwirth-Zeussel MRICS is a corporate finance professional with extensive transaction experience in equity investments, debt structuring asset finance and investment disposals with a particular focus on the real estate sector.
Sandy strongly believes that diverse teams enhance performance, as they challenge the status quo by offering different viewpoints. She tells us more about being a female team leader in the male-dominated financial sector.
I started as a financial analyst at Deutsche Bank then, my remit widened to include asset finance and real estate. I have spent the last 10 years specialising in real estate equity investments and investment management.
Following a few years at Bank of Scotland covering the structuring of real estate debt finance projects in Continental Europe, I joined the equity investment team at Lloyds Banking Group in 2009. I remember that experience as highly educational: it was just after the economic crisis and given the difficult market environment my role focused specifically on the restructuring of existing investments with the aim to drive successful investment exit strategies. Although very complex, that role prepared me for my current position as Head of Group Subsidiaries Real Estate for Landesbank Baden-Württemberg (LBBW).
With my team, I am responsible for managing the bank's equity interests in its subsidiary companies, developing business and investment strategies, assessing property investments and restructurings as well as covering the related transaction processes.
The MRICS qualification means being part of a relevant network within the real estate industry which offers vast opportunities for professional exchange. It's a platform for professional connections among fellows committed to respecting the same rules.
In 2018 I was invited to join the German Professional Group Asset Management where I can directly contribute to areas of work and engage in the debate on trend topics driving the asset management industry.
Luckily, I never had to particularly highlight my gender in my career. The real challenge for a team lead is to engage with your own team, but I find it very natural to work with different professionals; men, women, younger, and more senior.
Management is about creating positive work environments and encouraging everybody to give their best, to be as professional as they can in their diversity as human beings.
This doesn't mean that disagreement never happens, but it's important to talk to your team, consult colleagues and listen to their opinions. When you involve your people, they automatically respect your position as a decision maker and appreciate your pragmatism.
Investment management teams often include very diverse partners, therefore all colleagues need to be very flexible, agile and focussed on the result.
A mix of both senior and younger profiles is beneficial: the first have experience on their side whilst new colleagues often bring in fresh ideas, ultimately challenging the status quo and making us look at issues from a different perspective. At the same time, younger professionals benefit from working with more experienced colleagues who have a better understanding of the business and are willing to share their experience.
I strongly believe that having a diverse team enhances performance, but keeping a team close isn't an easy task. I think the secret is to balance an open-minded environment where everybody can feel at ease and have a say whilst embracing individuality and setting clear goals.
I like giving regular feedback to my team colleagues and ask them how they think we can improve things. As part of our professional relationship I really like to understand what drives each individual colleague and in which areas he or she would like to develop. This helps me to set up effective individual development plans covering both tailor-made programs as well as on the job learning. I really enjoy seeing their success and letting them take ownership of their progress.
In the end, its my job as a leader to help them all to grow.
I'd say: work hard, have clear goals, be brave, push your boundaries, and challenge yourself constantly.
And: relationships are vital. Never stop asking the right questions but also take time to listen well! This might be a senior colleague who knows the organisation well and can advise you on tricky processes and guide you through new work environments or a good sparring partner with whom you can discuss tricky issues before making a decision.