Tamara Box is an internationally recognised expert in financial structuring and in strategic financial advice, with extensive experience establishing and growing successful businesses in several jurisdictions. As Global Head of Structured Finance at international law firm Reed Smith, she is currently responsible for a large and growing business that provides strategic and structuring advice to large financial institutions and corporates from its 26 offices in the US, Middle East, Asia and Europe. An American citizen who is dual-qualified to practice law in both the US and the UK, she has worked and lived in the US, Asia, and Europe, while advising clients all over the world, including in the Middle East, Turkey, South Africa, Russia, Europe, the UK and Asia.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and what you do currently
Even though I think of myself as a Londoner now, for the first nineteen years of my life I was all Texan! In my first year at Baylor University, where I was in a fast-track program to combine a four-year university degree with a three-year law degree, a professor told me about the London School of Economics, and my life changed forever. Imagine a girl from Texas, who got her first car at age 15, agreeing to sell her wheels and move to a city that was as different from the shiny-new Texas lifestyle as it could possibly be. My basement flat on Harley Street was older than even the oldest landmarks in my former state! After graduating with an honours degree in Monetary Economics, I returned to the U.S. to go to Georgetown Law Center in Washington, D.C., but I always knew my home would be in London.
My first job out of law school was with Coudert Brothers in New York, a law firm I chose because of all its international connections and offices. Two years later I asked to be sent somewhere, and they offered me Jakarta. As we Americans are geographically challenged, I had to go look on a globe to know where Jakarta was! We settled on Singapore, and I spent four years there working as a finance lawyer before taking my career to the next stage by moving back to London.
I have been fortunate to have worked for several of the best international law firms in the City. Currently I am head of Structured Finance at Reed Smith, a talented and professional organization with 1,800 lawyers and 26 offices around the globe. We are very proud of our accomplishments not only in the field of law but also in areas of diversity and equality, subjects that are of special interest to me.
What has been your biggest challenge?
I thrive on challenges!
When the financial crisis hit, I was asked over and over how I was going to survive now that securitisation no longer looked like a viable practice. But I never felt the downturn because the expertise used to create those deals was essential to unwinding and restructuring them. Far from being out of work, I was even busier following the failure of Lehman Brothers.
What’s been your greatest achievement personally?
As an only child, I grew up thinking that I was capable of creating my own destiny, of doing anything I wanted and succeeding at it. Even in educational institutions, I saw that girls were academically equal or superior to boys, so it was a great surprise to me to find that many women in the professional world lack confidence in their own capability and intellect – and that many men in the professional world do still discriminate against women (whether intentionally or unintentionally). I believe this to be the result of an unconscious acculturation that can lead to both genders behaving as if (or believing that!) women are slightly inferior to men.
Because of my passion for this subject, I have become involved in several organisations and initiatives to improve opportunities for professional women. These are people who have as much or more to offer as their male colleagues but who are being held back by cultural and personal biases.
By devoting time and effort to the issue, I hope to see professional women of the future assume the roles and responsibilities of a world where both genders are equal.
I have also recently become involved in the Women of Influence Group for Cancer Research UK. Our mission is threefold: to support (through fundraising) the female scientists who are doing amazing work there to cure or eradicate cancers, to mentor on a cross industry basis these female scientists so that they can continue to rise through the ranks and achieve their full potential and finally to present these remarkable women as role models to young women and girls who may consider a professional career in the sciences.
If you weren’t doing what you do, what would you be doing?
Is this a question like, “If you were an animal, what animal would you be?” Who can answer that? We are what we are, and I am doing exactly what I want to be doing.
I can’t imagine having a different life, because my life is great just as it is.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
There are so many people who have influenced and inspired me, but I particularly admire the U.S.’s first female Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. In my efforts to improve opportunities for professional women, I have occasionally found myself stymied by women who turn their backs on their sisters. At those times, I bring up a line from a speech given by this refreshingly frank and tireless public servant:
“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
Not only was Ms. Albright an inspiring supporter of women, she also had great taste in jewellery! A couple of years ago I received a copy of her book, Read My Pins, which shows how she chose her brooches to reflect a message for each occasion or political meeting. It’s a great read with fabulous photos of her pins!
What does the future hold for you?
Change is the only reliable constant in my life. I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing in the future- or indeed where I’ll be doing it – but I know that it will involve the excitement of change, either by responding to variations or transformations in the financial marketplace, or moving into different responsibilities or a different marketplace, or perhaps becoming even more active in the volunteer work that I do.
I only know that I never want to feel stagnant or bored by the prospect of doing what I do every day. Who knows where that will lead me?