None of that seemed likely at the outset of employed life. “I grew up in the German countryside”, she notes, “and I left school after the equivalent of O-levels to take up an apprenticeship with the German Railway network”. She had “thought back then that I wanted to be an electrical engineer” but came to realise that she might have other ambitions. Having made that decision, she returned to school to do qualifications akin to A-levels and became the first member of her family to enter university. Her father thought that she was mad to take that route and would have much preferred that she had stuck with her original plan and stayed in the world of work.
She read Maths as her undergraduate degree in Germany but then won a Fulbright Scholarship to the University of Southern California. This was a “profound change in my life”. For the first time she could see Germany “from the outside” and she “adored” living in the United States. It would also start her on what would prove a pattern of working and living in very diverse and different locations.
She ended up starting with Dresdner Kleinwort “largely by luck”. The economy had slowed in the early 1990s, but the banks were hiring much as they had done previously. They were also looking for people with Doris’s talents. Banks had come to appreciate that they needed to understand traders much better than they did and to develop a much more sophisticated assessment of risk. It had been at about this time that the Nick Leeson scandal emerged taking down Barings Bank in 1995. How many, if any, more Leesons were out there? The blunt truth was that the banks did not know.
After an initial three years in Germany, the expectation was that Doris would be sent abroad for the next stage of her development. She had “originally hoped for New York City” but was sent to Tokyo instead. Women bankers of any authority and seniority in Japan in the late 1990s were, to put it mildly, thin on the ground. The posting turned out to be “one of the most important things that I ever did.” The time difference alone meant she had responsibility thrust upon her as the Head Office back in Germany was “literally asleep” when she had to take day-to-day decisions. As a cultural experience it was also astonishing. She did an intense three-week initial language course in Japanese which at least allowed her to learn how to order food or make a restaurant reservation. After a three-year stint in Tokyo, she was transferred (by way of a contrast) to the London office.
She became aware after more than 12 years at Dresdner that she might need to move on to move forward. The bank had been acquired by Allianz whose intentions towards it were uncertain.
So, Standard Chartered Bank became the next port of call and one which would last for 12 years. It was very distinct from Dresdner with a much larger global network and Doris felt “truly humbled” by the sheer scale and size of the organisation. The operational head office was in Singapore which meant a return to Asia but a rather different kind of Asia to Japan a decade earlier. She was now the Group Head of Market Risk, a role of enormous significance. After five years in Singapore, she came back to London with the Bank once again and found herself increasingly interested in issues relating to climate change and sustainable development. It would be that enthusiasm which in part then led her to start thinking about a portfolio corporate pool with a mixture of financial institutions and not-for-profit entities and to look for a change in lifestyle so that she could spend rather less time in airports or on aeroplanes and more of it considering matters of strategy and how to become a highly effective non-executive figure.
How many NXD positions do you currently hold?
“A few and they are quite varied. I am an NXD Chair of Board Risk for Credit Suisse and have a similar position with Aion Bank. I am an Advisory Board Member for Viridious Capital and an NED for Encompass Corporation. I am also a Director for the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market and a Trustee of the Climate Bond Initiative.”
What prompted you to explore non-executive roles?
“The initial catalyst was that I had become intrigued by Fintech in its various manifestations. I wanted to understand that space better and see what banks might learn from looking at it. After that, climate and sustainability become significant priorities for me.”
How did you get your first role and what attracted you to it?
“I actually got it through a head-hunter who was a specialist in Fintech appointments.”
In your non-executive roles what has been the most useful part of your prior management career?
“Knowing the broader banking industry and the challenges that it faces. In particular, regulation. My past experience allows me some credibility with regulators. Yet this is also a dynamic area with KYC requirements that are often changing. I also know what it is like to be a client and hence to realise what it is that a client needs and wants.”
What makes a business attractive to you as a NXD?
“I look for organisations and sectors that are experiencing really big changes and challenges. I like a business that is highly disruptive and fast-moving in its approach and outlook. Stability and incrementalism are not as appealing to me personally.”
What are the three biggest lessons that you have learnt as an NXD?
“First, it is really important to collaborate closely with the other NXDs. It is a very different situation to being in an executive role. You are all part-time, so you really need to pull together. Second, you need to be reflective as to what your role really is. In many ways you are moving from being a football player to being a football coach. Third, you have to strive to find the right balance between intervening and standing back.”
What is the best experience that you have had as a NXD?
“Feeling that you have had a positive impact. That the Board has debated matters well and shown insight and made a meaningful difference.”
What is the biggest problem that you have faced and did the organisation resolve it?
“I used to be on the Board of a company which was simply running out of money. We had to find a buyer, but we knew that the price would be well below our potential. Working with the CEO to avoid bankruptcy is sort of heart-breaking. Sadly, not everything can be a unicorn.”
What do you think is the biggest challenge that Boards will face in the medium-term?
“Keeping up with the speed of change. This is crucial. You have to be agile or else the Board governance can become archaic. The Board itself can become the bottleneck for the business. Staying relevant is really hard but also essential.”
What advice would you offer to anyone who wants to start out on a portfolio career?
“Plan ahead. Take on your first NXD role while you are still in a full-time executive position.
Be selective in what you take on. Ensure that you are a good fit. Do not rush it.”