20. December 2017

«Everything is possible» – a strong woman at the beginning of her career tells us her story

Christina Poothullil, communications specialist at UBS in the first years of her career says the tale of one senior leader's route to the top gives her added faith in the path she’s taking.

Group Head Human Resources Sabine Keller-Busse’s winding trail to the summit of banking has inspired communications specialist Christina Poothullil to think again about where she could climb to. Here she tells us why:

A career in banking was never my goal. I actually stumbled into it after a short gig in the pharma sector. But I’ve been at UBS for three years now. And already in this short time, despite banking’s reputation as a male-dominated world, I’ve realized that joining the sector and being an ambitious woman are not mutually exclusive. This was brought home to me again recently, hearing Sabine speak at the Women’s Perspectives on Leadership and Career Growth event for her alma mater, the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland (HSG).

Her advice? Get comfortable getting out of your comfort zone. «Life is not a straight line», she said. «It’s about being open and taking opportunities.»

An inspiring career

To trace the line of Sabine’s own professional life is inspiring – a McKinsey and Company Partner, the first female regional head at Credit Suisse Switzerland, and today a member of the UBS Group Executive Board. But what really captivated me was an event early in her career. After her father passed away, Sabine had to take over the family business while completing her degree at HSG. She went on to organize a management buyout of the firm to ensure that employees who had spent the better part of their lives working there would be okay. It was clear her passion for people was strong even then and she now gets to demonstrate this on a day-to-day basis!

The corporate culture is becoming increasingly important

Given her experience in other industries, it was interesting to hear about the shifts Sabine has seen, especially in the years since the financial crisis. Corporate culture has become increasingly important, she said, as has gender diversity and the importance of leveraging professional women’s skills and experiences. Asked about the realities at our firm, she spoke of programs such as UBS Career Comeback, which paves a way for women back into the workforce after time away from it.

Executive School Programmes:
MBA & Executive MBA

MBA

The St.Gallen MBA offers a full-time and a part-time format.
Executive School Programmes:
MBA & Executive MBA

International Executive MBA HSG

The International Executive MBA programme is aimed at executives operating in an international market environment. Participants acquire skills and expertise that are now absolutely essential for the management of international companies and doing business in a constantly changing international environment.
Executive School Programmes:
Open Programmes

Women Back to Business

The management programme for women on the move.

To overcome prejudices

Sabine herself experienced some of the most clichéd instances of gender bias in her career («They were making decisions about my development based on assumptions about my ambitions») but remained undeterred. She stressed the importance of keeping your voice, and challenging what you don’t agree with, all the while staying true to your authentic self. UBS, she explained, invests heavily in unconscious bias training – to counter preconceived notions that we all have in some shape or form.

Family and career? This works!

Getting what you want, she explained, ultimately boils down to deciding what you want, as she spoke of the balance she’s able to strike between a fulfilling career and quality time with her family.

It was an inspirational way to close. Because while my own career may take another path, knowing what can be done makes everything I want seem more doable.

My top three takeaways

  • Talk to your line manager about your career ambitions.
  • Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses.
  • It’s the challenges that at first seem scariest that end up being the ones which come to be the defining moments in your career.
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About the author
Christina Poothullil joined UBS as an intern in 2015 and since 2016 has held a permanent role in Group Internal Communications, part of the Communications & Branding team.