When Laura Weatherup, Co-Head of Global Operations and Investor Services at Columbia Threadneedle Investments, looks back at the COVID experience, she thinks the one positive outcome may be that it will help improve diversity in the asset management industry. “The pandemic forced us to introduce an unprecedented level of flexibility for our teams and we remained amazingly productive,” says Weatherup. “If we can retain that flexibility, we’ll be able to build a more inclusive workplace that should help develop a more diverse workforce.”
Weatherup has spent the majority of her career at Columbia Threadneedle, an institutional asset manager with 17 offices around the globe, where she’s held a number of senior operations roles. During her tenure, she’s been at the center of a number of transformational projects for the firm, including helping to lead the merger of the European investment operations of Columbia and Threadneedle when the two firms merged in 2015. In her current role, Weatherup leads a team of 600 employees across three continents and is responsible for the strategy and execution of global operations.
Like many people, Weatherup’s career didn’t begin in asset management. After graduating from Oxford with a degree in geography, she took a job at PwC. “When I was starting out, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” Weatherup says. “I joined PwC as an auditor and used that time to really understand more about the financial services industry.” During her time as an auditor, Weatherup qualified as a Charted Accountant and discovered that she enjoyed asset management. Once she realized this, Weatherup moved across to the advisory practice and worked with clients on remediation and outsourcing projects. While working with Threadneedle on their first generation outsourcing project, she wrote a paper on how to oversee the arrangement and the Chief Operating Officer at the time was so impressed that he asked her to join the firm to implement the plan.
Weatherup was attracted to the more practical nature of asset management, but moving from the theoretical nature of consulting came with its challenges. “The biggest challenge for me was the speed with which things moved,” notes Weatherup. “I was used to working on projects and projects only, whereas people who work at asset management firms tend to work on projects in addition to their day jobs.” Despite the challenges Weatherup acclimated herself well to the industry and what she thought would be a three-year stint has turned into a career.
As she rose through the ranks, Weatherup has seen the operations world change dramatically. “Thankfully, with the rise of automation, there’s a lot less paper than was 15 years ago,” Weatherup says. As a result, the profile of the operations function has completely transformed as well. “When I started, operations was generally considered just a back office support function,” Weatherup notes. “Now it feels as if operations is central to the business, alongside the front office and distribution. We are key partners in helping formulate and execute the firm’s strategies.”
Weatherup advises young women entering the industry to be bold in their ambition and to take chances to put themselves forward. She also believes that confidence is critical. “When I think about where I was in my career in my mid-twenties,” Weatherup reflects, “one piece of advice I would give myself is that, when you don’t really feel confident about the step you've just taken, know that other people feel exactly the same. Do not allow those feelings to limit what you believe you can do.”