Fatima Hadj, Senior Financial Executive

April 2, 2019

Interview

Q. What was your experience like as a member of the 2014 class of French-American Foundation Young Leaders?

Being a Young Leader was a fantastic experience because it allowed me to meet an impressive and passionate group of people at the top of their fields. I remain involved with the Foundation today because of my experience as a Young Leader.

Q. There have been concerns that a recession could take place in the near future. What have you learned from your experience in the financial sector during the 2008 crisis that you can apply to this potential future one? Are there lessons to be learned?

There were subtle early warning signs to the 2008 crisis that were detectable by the operational teams that were doing on-the-ground work, but communication between the operational teams and the leadership was not effective. Though each crisis is different, any time in which there is a disconnect between leadership and the businesses they run is one that introduces risks. You need a strategy that mitigates the side effects of this dichotomy. We can no longer support a system in which an organization is driven by the highest levels and their inner circles without communication from the rest of the organization.

Q. What are some ways that the system could be improved in this regard?

You need to connect with people in the organization beyond the ones who report to you and your peers directly. That means you have to put channels in place that capture the inner workings of a given organization’s governance and business trends and that break apart the exclusive power dynamics at the top.

In other words, bring more disruption to your environment and let rising leaders with different backgrounds grow in the organization and introduce new ideas that challenge the consensus. Unfortunately, it seems to me that many organizations have not yet established the proper architecture to combat these issues.

Q. After the last financial crisis, you were at the epicenter of efforts to regulate the financial industry to avoid a similar situation in the future. Can you speak about your role during this time?

The reaction to the last crisis was more regulation that touched all segments of the finance industry. It was a passionate moment in my career because I was at the heart of the changes to entities that hadn’t previously been regulated. The government no longer believed in the ideas that businesses could be “too big to fail” and in the principles of “self-regulation of the market.” Consider that before the crisis, the front offices were the ones paying the salary of the compliance teams—a clear power imbalance. After the crisis, more regulation was put in place. Now, allocating time for compliance trainings and examinations to ensure the proper functioning of your organizations is necessary, and has been a positive development overall.

However, there is still work to be done. It is not just the regulation itself that is important, but how it is applied. We are back to the original point: it’s a question of putting the right people at the right place with the right mindset. You can put all the processes and layers of control you want, but in the end, it boils down to how it will be applied.

Q. Speaking of leadership, you have been active in organizing programs to mentor and advance the next generation of leaders in your field. Can you tell us more about this?

I’ve worked on a number of programs to help people advance in their careers. In particular, it is important to me to encourage women, because they face specific barriers to advancement. I did not always think this way. In the beginning of my career, I was skeptical of programs specific to women. I was not sure whether they were needed—I was raised with the ideal of the “self-made” person. However, my thinking shifted as I advanced in my career. I saw that the industry could be very male-dominated and that this could result in unintentional bias toward women.

Mentoring the next generation is key – and this also includes men. The new crop of leaders must be diverse and intergenerational. Having an inclusive and vibrant leadership culture will provide the drive to develop new ideas in structured finance. Disruption, and strengthening the sector for the future, requires a new generation of leaders who are able to adapt to new circumstances and who are comfortable with an ever-changing environment.