This week, MERJE had the pleasure of chatting with Laura Chappell, CEO at Brunel Pension Partnership, as part of our continuing MERJE Meets series.
Laura has climbed the ranks of Compliance and Risk and now uses her wealth of experience in asset management, along with her inspiring leadership approach, to encourage and enable responsible, sustainable, long-term lending.
Here, Laura shares her insights on workplace mental health, her career journey so far and what makes Brunel Pension Partnership unique.
Can you provide a brief overview of your career to-date and the journey which has resulted in the role you hold today?
My career journey began in compliance and risk, which everyone suddenly learnt the importance of in 2008. I worked in risk at Threadneedle, Barclays Global Investors, Schroders, and Brewin Dolphin, so I had an intimate view of how asset management companies were positioned leading up to the crisis, how they weathered the storm, and what they learnt from it.
Longer ago, though, I received a BSc in Biology and Chemistry, so had an early education in fields that are now at the forefront of finance, because climate change has finally moved into the foreground in asset management, which is where it belongs.
Describe a little about Brunel Pension Partnership, its ethos, what makes it unique to its competitors
First of all, we are young, and we are local. As a pension pool for the Environment Agency and nine English counties, largely in the southwest, our client base is looking after the pension futures of local government workers throughout that region. That is our priority.
But Brunel is very much a vision-based organisation, and our surveys all show that clients, staff, and the industry buy into the vision. It’s a vision to build better futures for a world worth living in, which we do by developing a range of tailored funds across multiple asset classes, with responsible investment and climate factors integrated throughout.
How has the current pandemic affected the business and your day-to-day role?
Some things have not changed. We have continued to deliver a range of new funds and to transition client assets. We already believed very strongly in enabling flexible working and supporting new parents through associated policies. It’s a focus that provides for sustainability within Brunel and builds loyalty. But one thing that has changed is it’s made us think a lot more about mental health, how everyone needs to aware of it, and how we can get better at supporting it. That’s been a leadership focus for me.
Earlier in the year, you marked International Women’s Day with an articleabout gender equality in the finance industry, what is Brunel Pension Partnership doing to support this cause?
We are engaged on this issue in several ways but it’s important to always begin at home. We publish an annual Outcomes Reportthat shows how well we’re doing in terms of male-female recruitment and pay ratios. Our Board is a good split, and our Chair and CEO are women, but we’re still not where we want to be – yet.
We also engage in shareholder groups and shareholder action on holding companies. We look at the asset management companies we appoint in this area, not least because diversity contributes to better investment outcomes. We also monitor the percentage of women on Boards in our own portfolios and are willing to put pressure on companies that are failing to improve as needed – our latest Outcomes report shows more women on those Boards than a year before.
What do you consider to be the top three challenges in your business?
We are relatively small given the rate of fund launches, the consultative setup of our partnership, and scale of assets we are responsible for. Which makes it all the more gratifying to be so far along in client transitions. We put our heads above the parapet on climate and RI, often engaging in challenging debate. COVID 19 has been a struggle for all of us this year – so making sure we are still thriving despite not being able to come together has been a key focus.
You’ve written before about the importance of mental health, something that people have been struggling with more than ever since the coronavirus outbreak. What do you believe are the key things organisations can do to support their employees’ mental wellbeing?
There is no silver bullet. You need to consider different areas that affect wellbeing – workload, internal culture, support mechanisms, health insurance coverage for mental health, feedback mechanisms, and then even less direct measures like yoga classes or community projects have a part to play.
Finally, your culture as a firm is important, do you look out for each other, take the time to check in, support each other?
What advice would you give to someone whose long-term career goal is to be a CEO?
I’d ask why. If it’s just to be a CEO, it’s a lot of responsibility just to hold the reins. The best CEOs arrive with a forward-thinking agenda and purpose and know how to work with others to fine tune and then deliver it. If that’s the aim, then great. So I’d just say: why do you want to hold the tiller? To lead well, you need to provide a direction you believe in, and you need to be able to take people with you. Otherwise it’s your ego that needs it and that doesn’t make for a good leader.
Quick Fire Time…
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your former self?
Be more brave, take more risks, things usually turn out ok if you are resilient.
If you could instantly gain a new skill what would it be?
I’d love to be able to sing professionally. I love singing!
What might readers be surprised to learn about you?
I’m terrified of pigeons – not helpful if you work in the City!
Many thanks to Laura for working with us on this great piece! If you would like to partner with MERJE in the name of our MERJE Meets or Insights series, please do get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org