Anne Richards is the chief investment officer of Aberdeen Asset Management. She grew up in Edinburgh and initially trained and worked as an engineer. The former Cern research fellow, who did her business degree at Insead, likes gardening, music, skiing, hiking and climbing. She has previously worked for Edinburgh Fund Managers Group, Merrill Lynch Investment Managers, JPMorgan Investment Management and Alliance Capital.
What is your best business decision? And worst?
Too early to tell on both!
Why did you choose to study engineering?
I liked maths, I liked physics and I liked the practical side of solving problems which is why I opted for engineering for my first degree rather than pure maths or science or medicine. It was a wide-ranging course, including computer science, mechanical engineering, pure electronics and electromagnetics — and of course a lot of maths.
Why did you choose Insead?
I lived in Switzerland and France for several years when I worked at Cern in Geneva. I returned to the UK in 1989, but when I realised I wanted to study for a business degree, I decided to go back to the continent, which made Insead the natural choice. I loved the international profile of its students and faculty and its focus on languages (you need to speak three to graduate). Its programme is among the best in the world, so knew I was also going to a really top school. I wasn’t disappointed.
What did you find the most difficult?
The first couple of semesters was a real baptism of fire since I had no background in finance or economics. I had spent six years working as a hands-on engineer and so had a lot of catching up to do with the core syllabus in comparison with people who had come from a financial services or consulting background. Marketing, economics, finance — these were totally new to me.
What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?
“You like solving problems — have you thought about studying engineering?”
What is your biggest lesson learnt?
Patience. It is an underrated commodity. Sometimes doing nothing is the most intelligent thing you can do. People sometimes confuse no action with indecision. Over the years I have found that it is really important to work out when it is critical that a decision is made (in which case do it) or when it is better to wait.
What advice would you give to women graduating from business school this year?
Women get a lot of advice from a lot of different people. Be selective about what you listen to (including this). You are smart, you are capable — by all means ask for advice to test out your thoughts, but to succeed, ultimately, you need to trust your own judgment and own your decisions. Learn how to do that early on.
Which websites or apps would you recommend for businesswomen?
Bloomberg mobile. Wolfram Alpha is wonderful if you like data and lots of other stuff. Dumb ways to die, when you’ve got time to kill and need to give your brain a rest. Onetime, handy to know what time it is where. Ski Tracks, which records your progress while skiing.
What are your top networking tips?
One of the things I dislike at events is meeting people who are so completely focused on selling themselves or their product or their company that they tend to be very dull to talk to and come across as very self-absorbed. I suspect they also have a very low success rate.
A better conversation occurs when you develop some kind of empathy with someone and a business relationship flows from it much more naturally. When I go to events, I try to meet at least one new person or learn something new as well as reconnect with at least one existing contact, and try to remember to enjoy myself, too.
Which three people, living or dead, would you invite to a business meeting?
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the most powerful women in Europe in the Middle Ages, and Queen Elizabeth I. We would have an interesting chat about how to “lean in” when you are running an empire.