Bronwyn Curtis OBE is a global economist whose impressive career spans both financial markets and the media. After obtaining an undergraduate degree in Economics from La Trobe University in Australia and an MSc in Economics from LSE, Bronwyn worked in commodity markets. She then worked for the World Bank in Latin America and Asia before moving to Deutsche Bank, where she joined as a Senior Bond Strategist and rose to Global Head of Currency and Fixed Income Strategy.
In a career change, Bronwyn moved to Bloomberg in 1999 where she was Managing Editor and Head of European Broadcast. After seven years at Bloomberg, Bronwyn was appointed Head of Global Research at HSBC. She is now the Non-Executive Chairman of the Board for JPMorgan Asian Investment Trust.
In 2008, Bronwyn was awarded an OBE for outstanding services to business economics. She served as an LSE Governor for 12 years and has only recently stood down.
You grew up in Australia and moved to the UK to study for an MSc in Economics at LSE. What led you to study here?
When I was younger, many of my contemporaries were visiting Europe and travelling around in camper vans. I thought, "I don’t want to just come to Europe, do the usual trip and then go home". I wanted to do something that would be helpful to me when I went back to Australia (I never did go back in the end!)
I looked at what I might do and decided on a postgraduate degree. I had offers from Oxford and LSE and accepted the offer from LSE as it’s in London and I thought it would be more fun. I didn’t come to the UK just to study, I really wanted to experience and absorb the culture too especially as it was the first time I’d been abroad.
How did you find the experience of moving abroad and studying in a new country?
I didn’t think about it; I just came. I didn’t even have a place to live but there was a letter waiting for me in London at Australia House telling me I’d been allocated a place at one of the international halls in Bloomsbury.
It was a great year and I really enjoyed it. In Australia I’d turned down a place at Melbourne University to go to La Trobe in the first year it opened. There were just 450 students and 484 acres of land, so we had the opportunity of shaping the way it developed. LSE was so different. There was no campus as such and the buildings were antiquated. Unbelievable now, but there was a paternoster lift in one building – it ran continuously and you just jumped on and off. Can you imagine what health and safety would say these days?
But, the best thing was the learning atmosphere. Who wouldn’t enjoy being taught by the economists writing the textbooks and some of the greatest economic thinkers of the day, like the late Harry Johnson? Richard Layard (Lord Layard now) was one of my lecturers and we are friends to this day.
What would you say has been the highlight of your extensive career so far?
There are highlights rather than a single highlight, but I’ve never really seen my career that way.
I have the fondest memories of my time at Deutsche Bank Capital Markets, where I worked with the smartest (and nicest) people around in the bond markets. We still have drinks together regularly and I will probably never live down my nickname of “Mum” – I was the only one with small children at the time.
It wasn’t nearly as much fun when Deutsche Bank expanded into an investment bank, but it is where the output of my team’s research highlighted the coming Asian currency crisis of 1997. That was a highlight because it showed that if you analyse the economic numbers, they really do talk to you. That was a nice moment.
What would your advice be to students and young women starting out on their careers?
There is so much good advice now for young women that I can only add some things that worked for me. Economics wasn’t my first career choice. I was going to be one of the world’s great ballerinas, but that’s another story. I’ve never regretted switching from dance to economics, so don’t ever be afraid to make a change if you’ve made a mistake.
Also, be prepared to take a (calculated) risk. I still remember the first time I didn’t put my hand up for something and they gave the job to somebody else. I thought, "I’ve been walked over here; I can do the job better than them" - so I never did that again!
My daughter has certainly learnt that. She works as a Digital Marketing Manager and had heard her company were planning to appoint a Head of Marketing so, at eight months pregnant, she went to her boss and asked for the job. I was surprised and impressed because I don’t think I would have done that but it’s important to be confident and put yourself forward for things. What’s the downside? She keeps the job she already has. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
I’d also love to see more women studying economics and working as economists. It is a fascinating and important profession and women often add a different perspective. Economics and finance affect the quality of everyone’s lives. It is about wealth creation (and destruction), it’s about money; it’s about interpreting information; it’s about history and all of these have an impact on our future prosperity.
What has been the biggest challenge of your career?
In 1999, I transferred from banking to the media. I moved to Bloomberg and led the development of the programme content for their television channels in Europe. I was way out of my comfort zone. I had appeared on television as an economist but I didn’t know anything about making television.
I realised that, although the people there knew how to make television, they didn’t really know what sort of people watched or when they watched as it is quite specialised, so I came to it from the viewer’s point of view.
My aim – which people laughed at initially – was to overtake CNBC in terms of viewing numbers in Europe. No-one thought it was possible as CNBC were so dominant and it took me six years, but we did it.
It was a huge challenge but it turned out well in the end although I’m not sure I want to take on challenges that size too often!
You’ve just stood down as a Governor on LSE’s Court of Governors. What have you done during your time as a Governor?
I’ve been on the Court for quite some time and have learnt a lot. Most recently, I chaired the committee to appoint the new Chair of Council. After an extensive search, we appointed Dame Shirley Pearce and I’m really pleased how that’s turned out.
It was a satisfying parting gesture and working on the Council has enabled me to give back to the university. Having a degree from LSE has made a huge difference to my career.
What leading women or woman inspires you?
That’s a really difficult question as there are so many special women out there. If I had to choose, I would say Christine Lagarde and, as an economist, Janet Yellen. She was the first woman to be appointed as the Chair of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.
She’s incredibly experienced and her record is impeccable although she was appointed much later in her career than her male predecessors. As an economist, it was really inspiring to see a woman in such a highly regarded position especially during such a difficult time.
However, I often think that it’s the women out there who are less well known, but doing the really hands on, hard stuff who are the unsung heroes because they just get on with it without publicity and without fuss.
LSE Court of Governors