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I love this quote by motivational speaker and coach Tony Gaskins that I saw on facebook yesterday:

If you don’t build your dream, someone will hire you to help you build theirs. It is so true. The irony is, 95% of people I know are doing nothing to build their dreams, not even to find out what their dream is! So many people are working so hard getting a job, getting next month’s pay check, when they have a job they worry about what their bosses and colleagues think and when they are getting a promotion or a 5% raise.

If you are in that situation, don’t forget you have dreams yourself and that ultimately they need to be taken care of. Don’t let ten years of 60 hour weeks pass until you realise you made everybody else rich and happy but yourself.

How do you do it though? I remember being a student myself, and only ever thinking what profession I was going to choose and which big company would hire me. This is what everybody (unless they’re lucky enough to be surrounded by entrepreneurs in their family or among peers) is told to do – to find a job, to get a salary to cover rent and food and holidays, with a few hundred bucks left for savings at the end of the month, if you’re lucky. If you have no financial buffer and that next rent payment is looming, of course you will stop thinking and just look for a job in a frenzy, and you will be so happy when you find your first job. If you are a student at university, I say you are one of the luckiest people on this planet because you have a couple of years to work on your dreams while using the cover of being a student to be immune to questions about why you don’t have a job.

If you’re studying, don’t forget that your number one job is not taking exams and fulfilling the curriculum, your number one job is to take care of yourself, your passions, your talents and your dreams. Excel at exams only to the extent that they serve your purpose, not as a goal in themselves.

If you’re working already, also start shifting your energies to all the activities that are in line with your dreams – make sure you learn a lot and build relationships that could be useful to you in the future. Ironically, this could actually enhance your job performance, because you will shift from an employee mentality to the kind of big picture mindset that (hopefully) the senior management in your company has, and you will likely identify opportunities for efficiency gains or growth.

Make sure you stop and think. Are you currently focusing all your energies on building someone else’s dream? What are you doing for yourself? What have you done for yourself? For your family? Your friends? Who is benefiting from all your hard work? When are you going to take care of your dreams?

Did you like this article? Then you will also enjoy Nobody will give you your dream job – you just make it! and Top 5 book picks for aspiring entrepreneurs! Please share and follow me on twitter!

This site has moved to ueberflieger.net

Dear readers – I am moving this blog to a new domain under the URL www.ueberflieger.net . For now, the new site will look identical so you won’t miss anything if you’ve been a content reader of this site. The main reason I am moving is that I want to change the focus of “high flyers” to a broader, more entrepreneurial concept. Ueberflieger.net will continue to cover similar topics to this blogs but also cover more start-ups, entrepreneurship, and inspirational stories. I hope to see you on ueberflieger.net !

On my way home today, I saw the shocking video of Michael Marin, a millionaire business man, mountain climber and socialite who appears to have poisoned himself in an Arizona court as he was convicted guilty of arson and insurance fraud – he was accused of burning down his $3.2m mansion to claim fire insurance. As it turned out, this so-called high flyer had seen his bank account balance shrink from $900,000 to $50 over the last year due to a lavish lifestyle and crippling $17,000/month mortgage payments. He seems to have chosen death over facing humiliation and shame in front of family, friends and the public.

It made me remember the equally tragic case of 24-year-old investment banking associate Anjool Malde, who jumped to his death from a fancy rooftop restaurant in the City of London following an investigation into prank emails he may had sent from work. It seems to have been a relatively harmless matter (in the grand scheme of things) that might have just led to a short suspension, but the possibility of losing his job or being humiliated in front of colleagues and superiors seem to have played a motive in his suicide.

Why is it that many people in business cling so much to their image of a high flyer that they are willing to give up everything, even their lives, rather than admit defeat or failure? I am starting believe that the whole notion of being an awe inspiring success is what sets people up for failure. How can you live up to this idea of perfection? Who can earn a lot of money, do a great job, be extremely popular, and have an active social life, all at the same time? This is how aspiring high flyers like to see themselves. But it is such an image of perfection that they are setting themselves up for disappointment. If your aspirations are so high, and you cannot accept weakness in yourself, you are bound to fail yourself – and you will be under pressure to maintain the notion of perfection at the same time, alienating you from friends and family.

I have observed such personal tragedies many times in my professional life. I need to be vague about it, but I can tell you I have worked with millionaires who went from successful executives to unemployed and divorced within a matter of a couple of years, because once the pressure increased and first cracks appeared in their superstar image, they lost good judgment and sacrificed their family lives and careers to keep up the notion of spectacular success. Even on a much less dramatic scale, I know many guys (and some women, though less) sacrificing their health and spare time for money and fast advancement at work, and often what they get in return does not compensate them for the loss.

These stories have convinced me increasingly that the notion that you have to be a superstar at work and sacrifice everything to get ahead is completely misleading. The surprising truth is that to get to the top, at least in the corporate world, very often you need to be around long enough to rise to the top. And if you burn yourself out within 3 or 5 years, you will never get to the level of seniority required to get into a leadership position! Many senior guys in big corporations have been around for 15 to 20 years before they get to the top, and this requires a certain level of balance in their lives to make it that long before they end up divorced or with a nervous breakdown.

Many articles advise young graduates on how to network, how to get promoted faster, rise faster and make more money, and I see a fundamental problem with this advice, based on my experience. This short sighted view suggests that if you work very hard and get promoted fast, you will reach the top faster. But a career is not a sprint but a marathon. Within a 2 or 3 year horizon, yes it matters how fast you get promoted and you may seem to advance faster if you get promoted ahead of your peers. But the reality is that many people who end up at the top are those who didn’t race to the top. I even saw examples at McKinsey of partners who had worked part-time for several years to spend more time with their children (and these were men! – though admittedly McKinsey is the place where everything I talk about her applies the least). I was very surprised at the time. But then I understood. Maybe if these guys had not taken it easy for a few years, they would have realized the job was incompatible with their careers and quit. Instead, they took it slowly for some time, and then just made partner years behind schedule, but they stayed in the game.

I am sure the same would be true for thousands of working mothers, and I can give you a personal example of this. If I had continued in my job the same way I was working previously – being in the office at 6.30am, staying till 7pm or 8pm, always delivering on time, always giving 100% – I would have quickly found my job incompatible with being a good mother, and I would have had to quit. Instead, I decided to take it easier, try to leave work by 5 or 5.30pm every day, only give 90%, be good enough, but not aim to be a superstar for a while, so that I could continue in my job and feel like a good mother, and this approach has worked well. It was very hard for me to make the switch, but then I realized that the fast track just does not work in the long term. I understood that you can either give 80-90%, or you can give nothing, because giving 100% to your job when you have a family is not sustainable.

Which brings me to a provocative point, and it is an issue I have changed my mind about over the last two years. We all know the typical story of hard working, competent juniors doing all the work, while lazy bosses just network, watch football or talk on the phone all day. It is a very popular notion. Then people say how unfair it is that the most ambitious, smartest people do all the work, while the bosses are having a good time and taking it easy. You know what? I think those bosses might be on to something!!! I think they have found a way of doing a good job (which often requires honing relationships, exchanging information and looking for new ideas much more than sitting in front of your computer all day) while also finding a balance in their lives, and this is how they have lasted long enough to rise to the top.

This is my advice to all you high flyers and ambitious graduates out there: continue to perform well and take pride in your responsibilities, but don’t kill yourself working and don’t sacrifice your family life and friends for faster career advancement. Chances are thatyou will get much further if you take it slow.

When two self-made billionaire ladies meet for a chat

I just watched this amazing interview and want to share it with you. Thanks to my sister @MGo33 for sharing this with me! You know it will be special when two of the very few self-made women billionaires in the world start discussing their paths. Enjoy it!


All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten

Yesterday as I stepped into a cafe in my neighbourhood – just after dropping my daughter off at nursery – I discovered a lovely poem they had hanging on the wall on a poster. It’s “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum. At first I thought it is just a funny way of looking at life, but the more I read on, the more I understood how true the statement really was. The poem goes like this:

All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

Take a nap every afternoon.

When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.

Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.

And it is still true, no matter how old you are – when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.


How true is that? In school, we really only learn reading and writing and a bit of simple maths (and we would probably have picked this up along the way anyway) and we forget 90% of what we learn there without consequences in later life. Same for university. But there’s not a single thing you learn in your very first years that you won’t need to know later in life. All the basics of human life are there. We just need to remember them!


The beautiful thing was, when I left my daughter at kindergarten in the early morning she cried a bit, but when I picked her up she was so happy and excited, they had had a tea party for the Queen’s Jubilee, she had made and painted her very own crown from materials, she had Union Jacks painted on her face and all the kids there were so excited about the party. Whenever I said the word “Tea Party” after she would point to the British flag on her cheeks and laugh.  It was a beautiful way of proving the poem right.

So please don’t forget:

Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. 

And take a nap every afternoon.

Cracking the elite code: being at ease in unfamiliar territory

When you started your first job out of university, did you suddenly feel you had been thrown into a completely unfamiliar environment, also commonly referred to as “the real world”? Did you feel intimidated by your bosses or find that your colleagues seemed less collegial than your university classmates? For me, the transition from the academic world to the “real world” – as much as a team room full of McKinsey consultants can be considered the real world!! – was definitely a shock. I felt completely out of place. People were different, habits were different, opinions were different – nothing was the way I felt familiar with. I had never really understood why this happened to me (and so many others I knew). I assumed I probably lacked “networking skills” or “communication skills” that one was supposed to need for happiness and success at work.

Then, I came across a fascinating  book written by sociologist Shamus Rahman Khan – Privilege: the making of an adolescent elite at St Paul’s School. The author is himself a former student and then teacher of the elite US boarding school. He describes the history, values and sociology at the school – the different types of students at the school, how they fit in and what challenges they face. I found so many parallels to my own experience in “elite jobs” in the business world that I could fill a book on it (and one day I might!), but there were three lessons that I found immediately applicable to my current career success and job satisfaction that I want to share immediately. I will summarise heavily for the book is written in detailed academic style – if you are used to reading social science research and academic papers you will breeze through it, but not everybody might, so I will highlight the key lessons.

Turns out, there are three characteristics that really set apart successful members of the “elite” from those who fail to fit in and thrive in their work place:

1. Being at ease: imagine two new employees, equally smart. Let’s assume the join a top consulting firm. Both are equally hard working, have excellent test scores and CVs. Now imagine one of them always knew she was meant to join this firm. Her father and other relatives who are mostly corporate executives have always advised her that this was the best career start she could make. She chose the right degree at the right business school to maximise her chances of landing the job. She knows many alumni already working at the firm. When she joins, she is among family, in the place she is meant to be. She is at ease. Now consider her peer. He comes from an educated family and has recently completed a PhD in political science. He is very smart and eloquent and has done impressive internships at well-known think tanks. His plan was to become a diplomat or join an international organization, but he slowly realises as graduation approaches that these organizations are far less interested in offering him a paid position than he expected. Careers in these places can be very slow and depend on personal networks and politics rather than merit. He has amassed debt of $100,000 over the course of his degree. He suddenly has the opportunity to earn a much higher salary than he would ever receive as an entry level political analyst, while gaining valuable consulting experience that will open many doors for him in international organizations later. When he joins, there aren’t many people of his background on his first team. He doesn’t share the same sort of values that most of the MBAs share. His parents and professors might be surprised if not disappointed by his choice.

Who do you think will be more successful in their first year? Who will be at ease? Who will be content? Though the answer is obvious, you need to go one step further and think about ways of using this information to your advantage. To be at ease, to join the elite, you need to feel at home in your job. You need to make yourself believe that you are where you are meant to be, that this is your home, your type of people, what you were meant to do. If you can think like this, your job will become so much easier. You need to be at ease with your decision to be in the job you are. Even if you are unhappy, don’t resent your choice. Remind yourself WHY you chose this job and why this was the right decision for you, in the given circumstances and under the constraints you operate under. It will help you immensely.

2. Embracing hierachy: when you join an investment bank as an analyst and do grunt level, mindless work correcting power point slides for pitches on deals that will never happen, there are two approaches you can take: resent the job and the work you are made to do, be annoyed that just because you are the analyst who gets the tasks nobody else wants to carry out (coffee, anyone?), complain about a hierarchical environment in which senior executives make sure juniors have a bad experience because that is what they went through in the past. As you can imagine, you might not stay in the job or become successful with this approach. The other approach is to focus on the long term and have confidence that this hierarchical ladder is a great and clear path for you to get to the top. All you need to do is fulfil the steps that have been laid out for you and be patient, and you will end up on top. It turns out those who expect to get to the top eventually embrace and trust hierarchies – this has a very positive impact on their motivation and performance

3. Gaining trust and respect of senior management: one skill that set elite students apart was dealing with teachers, and the same would apply to junior employees dealing with bosses. Those who succeed have the critical skill of building intimacy while maintaining hierarchical boundaries and showing respect. It is a very fine line and one many who have little experience dealing with people of power and authority struggle with – the author found that particularly minority students and those from poorer social backgrounds faced issues building relationships with teachers, which impacted their grades and recommendations for scholarships and elite colleges. If you lack this skill, you might either respect people of power so much that you do not dare to speak to them and thus fail to gain their acknowledgement. Or you might be painfully aware that you have to promote yourself and network with your bosses, but you might be awkward about it and thus come across as pushy or aggressive. It is a fine line to walk indeed, and as so few master it, I believe building intimacy while respecting boundaries is the key to success at work. One way I have found for achieving this is by seeking advice from seniors. This way, you communicate with them, appear eager and curious while also showing respect for their experience and knowledge, and you learn how senior management thinks in the process. I am sure there are other ways of going about it, but this is one I came up with and tried after reading the book, and I have found it to be very effective.

Think about how you could apply these approaches in your job. I have found it made a big difference to my job satisfaction and performance, and I challenge you to start experimenting like a sociologist at work and share what you find!

Did you read a headline today that women bankers are more prone to risk-taking than men, despite the myth that they are more risk-averse? Did you feel that some journalists even implied under-qualified women propelled onto bank boards should take part of the blame for the financial crisis? I can’t blame you, because this is how the press reported a Bundesbank discussion paper on “Executive board composition and bank risk taking”.

I read this story in the Guardian, the Financial Times and in Here is the City. I was surprised that the wording of their articles was almost identical, as I thought their journalists are supposed to be paid for independent research and editing, not just for copy pasting press releases. Being a “woman banker” myself, I was of course skeptical of this reported “study” and decided to have a look at the actual discussion paper, authored by – surprise surprise – three male researchers who investigated how board room composition in terms of gender, age, experience and educational background was linked to risk-taking.

Let’s look at what the press reported and what the so-called “study” actually found. My favourite is the Guardian article by Philipp Inman. The headline reads: “Women executives in banks prone to more risk taking, says study. Study for the German central bank claims the presence of women in senior roles was a contributing factor to the crisis.” Wow, that’s serious stuff! But what is the first sentence of the actual article?

“Women at the top of the banking industry spur their male colleagues to take bigger risks, according to a study that undermines the widely held view of the calming influence female staff have on testosterone driven company boards.”

That is not really what the headline said, is it? So women should not be on boards, because their presence alters the male board members’ behaviour negatively? The solution, of course, is to remove women from boards.

Interestingly, I found no such strong words in the actual study, which is somewhat more vague and reasonable. Here is what Philipp Inman could have found in the actual study, if he had bothered to read it, instead of copy pasting  a press release:

“However, in the three years following the increase in female board representation, risk taking increases although the change is economically marginal. Our exploration of the underlying mechanism suggests that this result is mainly attributable to the fact that female executives have less experience than their male counterparts.”

First of all, the paper says that the changes in risk taking are ECONOMICALLY MARGINAL. But that seems to be enough for a Financial Times headline to report that women bankers have caused the financial crisis! Not only that, but they go on to note that this may be attributable to a lack of experience – but check the wording! Interestingly, the authors do not say that the female executives IN THEIR DATA SET happened to have less experience, but claim that female executives as a rule have less experience than their male counterparts, which is curious!

If you read the “study” further, you find that risk taking decreases with more PhDs and more years of experience represented. As the women in the data set happened to be younger on average and to hold less PhDs, the authors clearly could have separated out these factors to see if women board members lead to more risk taking all else equal, but either they didn’t, which calls the validity of their analysis into question, or they did (which is hinted at in their reference to “female executives having less experience”) but decided not to go into it as it would call into question the whole point of the discussion paper – to argue against women bankers on executive boards.

Given the rather modest claims of the Bundesbank discussion paper, I do wonder how this story made such sensational headlines across the financial press this morning. Who placed it there? It is another case in point for why we need bloggers and independent journalists,  because many established journalists we do have do not seem to be taking their duties seriously anymore!

Why do women score lower on the GMAT?

I’ve been curious to find out why women score lower on average than men on the Graduate Management Admissions Test – GMAT – when they apply for business school. Girls tend to achieve higher grades than boys in high school and college by now, and they make up an increasing proportion of college graduates. Women who graduate from Business School have, on average, GPA’s equivalent to those of men. How come then, that they don’t score at least as high as men on the GMAT? I decided to dig a little deeper, and have uncovered a few interesting statistics in the “Profile of GMAT Candidates“.

The facts…

In 2010 – 2011, women scored 24 points lower on the GMAT than men (530 vs 554).  This underperformance can be observed no matter how you look at the data – by region, by undergraduate degree, by business school programme – in as good as all groups, women reach a considerably lower score on the test.

There are however, two groups of women who reach or even outperform their male peers, and this is where it gets interesting: among test takers younger than 20, female test takers score 607 on average vs 586 for their male counterparts, outperforming them by 21 points! For those aged 20-21, the score is almost the same (568 vs. 571). With rising age, the gap between male and female test takers widens.

There is a second group of women who score just as high as their male peers: those from East and Southeast Asia. In every other ethnic group, men outperform women in the GMAT, but not among East Asian candidates, where both groups score 578 on average.

Could it be that we have the ambition gap at work again? I assume those candidates who take the GMAT in their teens are the most ambitious, driven candidates, and among those,  women even outperform men. Equally, those from a culture that values high achievement and high test scores do equally well in competition against their male counterparts.

For most other women, it looks like they might not set their bar very high when it comes to the GMAT. While male candidates aim for the perfect score or a 700+ score to reach a very high ranking, it appears that many female test takers do not aim as high, as long as they can gain admission to a good business school. Maybe men are more likely to set themselves an aspirational goal of scoring 800, while a female candidate might be more than happy with a 710 score.

I can only speculate that is is down to ambition – perhaps combined with lower self-confidence when it comes to the quantitative part of the test. But it is hard to accept that women could not do just as well as men on the test. Let’s hope the achievement gap narrows over the next years!

What do you think? Why do female candidates score lower on average on the GMAT? Is it ambition? Lack of self-confidence? Preparation? Let me know!


Step 1: get a seat at the table. Step 2: play to win!

I am reading a fantastic book at the moment called PokerWoman: How to Win at Love, Life, and Business using the Principles of Poker by author and entrepreneur Ellen Leikind, and I want to share some lessons from it with you today. The book is about how to apply poker strategies to your personal life and career to achieve success. The book starts out from the observation that not many women take a seat at the poker table, just as not many enter highly paid, male dominated professions.

In a sense, long before the glass ceiling enters to limit opportunities, many women are limiting their career opportunities by their choice of degrees, entry level jobs, and hobbies. They shy away from activities dominated by men because they don’t feel at home or are afraid they will be the odd one out. By choosing not to take a seat at the table, they miss out on valuable opportunities to learn and advance. I have observed this in my job many times. First of all, only about 20-30% of applicants to investment banking jobs are female. When they get hired, they tend to be less aggressive to go for the well-paid trading jobs, as these are currently predominated by men. I know that on the trading desk, it’s not that women don’t get hired or don’t advance. It’s usually that they don’t even try to get hired. When we try to recruit traders from the graduate class, at most 1 out of 10 candidates who want to work for our desk are women, even if we explicitly encourage them to talk to us. When we do offer them to try out our desk, they often opt for a sales desk instead at the last minute out of fear they won’t succeed.

Many female young professionals like to play it safe and lack the overconfidence that tends to help male candidates take a shot at very competitive roles and positions. And lesson number one from the book Pokerwoman is: be in the game. If you’re not in the game, you can’t win!

It made me think about a lot of situations where women shut themselves out of the game. They don’t learn computer languages or product design, they are less likely to invest in the stock market, they are more likely to leave the workforce or reduce working hours after having children, and these are all ways of shutting yourself out of the game. Though these decisions can make a lot of sense on an individual level, the overall effect is unfortunately that we continue to be under represented in political and economic decision making, as apparent in the World Economic Forum at Davos (I highly recommend this Bloomberg article on Sheryl Sandberg and diversity at Davos).

It’s a great read so far and I am expecting to learn much more as I continue reading this thought provoking book. To sum up the lesson today, step one is to get a seat at the table! Step two is to play to win! Have a good week everyone!

By the way, for those of you who want to earn a seat at the table, make sure you apply to McKinsey’s Next Generation Leadership Workshop!

Next Generation Women Leaders workshop with McKinsey

I have just come across this fantastic opportunity for European students and young professionals: McKinsey’s Next Generation Women Leaders Workshop, held from March 22 – 24th 2012 in Paris! In this workshop, participants will learn about how women leaders are shaping the economy, meet inspiring leaders and understand how to leverage their unique leadership style.

You are welcome to apply if you are a female student (BA, Master’s, MBA, PhD) of any background or experienced early professional across Europe with less than three years of work experience.

Who will be the lucky 100 to be invited to Paris? Wish you all good luck!! Seize the opportunities as they arise!