Being a Successful Female Leader: Interview with Inna Khidekel

Inna Khidekel serves as a Partner at Bridge Investment Group. In the firm’s Capital Markets Group, Ms. Khidekel’s principal role is to expand Bridge’s business and product development efforts with institutional investors around the world, including sovereign wealth funds, pension plans, insurance companies, endowments, foundations and family offices.

“Finding your sweet spot, the intersection between what you enjoy doing and what you are good at, is key. The sweet spot is where you find your flow, and when you are energized by what you do, you can achieve so much more and are willing to go the extra mile because it doesn’t feel like work. Equally important is following the right leaders: those that inspire you and make you better just by being around them; as well as critically, those who recognize the value you bring and your potential without you ever having to force it. Following leaders who already think you are something special, and about whom you feel the same way, is how you find sponsors who will propel your career forward.”

That perspective has been fundamental in my career. I have always sought out roles where the measurement of my success would largely be tied to my strengths and took risks along the way to follow leaders that I believed would build something great.

Building a Business

I have always been attracted to entrepreneurial positions where I could build a business. My first job was on a start-up emerging markets desk at Lehman Brothers in London. Given its nascency, I was thrown into the deep end and had to make cold calls, pitch for business and develop a growth strategy, while learning the product at the same time. It was sink or swim, but while most of my class would not be in front of clients for many years, I gained internal visibility and a tremendous amount of experience early in my career. This advantage paid off when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt as rather than get laid off, I earned an early promotion to Vice President and was asked to help launch the new fixed income business of acquirer Nomura. Embracing the challenge, I helped Nomura become a key counterpart to hedge funds trading credit default swaps during the Eurozone crisis. Later, at Goldman Sachs, I was successful in quickly building a self-sustaining book of business. When the opportunity to join Bridge came about, I evaluated it using the framework above. It was a risk leaving GS to join Bridge then, but intuitively, I knew it was the right decision as it was firmly in my sweet spot. I knew I could develop and monetize relationships with clients, but this was also a unique opportunity to help grow and build a business in a very meaningful way at exactly the right stage of the company’s development. And I strongly believed in the leadership. Contributing to the firm’s tripling in AUM since I joined four years ago has been the most rewarding professional experience of my career.

Be a Master of Your Career

 
Inna speaking at the CFA Society's 5th Annual Real Estate Outlook: Opportunity Zones 
I believe that being a woman in a male-dominated industry has advantages: You stand out more, you tend to be adept at building relationships, and a strong and confident woman in the industry commands a lot of respect. The reality of the senior representation within the industry is that all of my sponsors have been men, though I have also worked alongside many powerful and inspiring women. That has never been a barrier, in fact, just the opposite as I learned from them how to behave while still honoring my femininity. Smart organizations today truly want to advance diverse talent, but you must raise your hand and come from a position of strength and visibility. And you can do that without golfing. It is important to recognize and work hard to combat “impostor syndrome” and to make sure to speak up, particularly in key meetings or when your managers are around. Know when you can wing it and when you can’t and practice for the important, visible moments. Find “truthtellers” whose opinions you trust and who will give you honest, non-sugarcoated feedback. At a firm like Bridge, volunteering a new idea or for a new challenge is the single best thing you can do for your career - there are no limits here on what you can achieve. Even if you don’t have 100% of the skills now or you don’t know where you will find time in your day, have the confidence that you will figure it out, delegate where needed, and get it done. Always seek out and say yes to the opportunity. Shaping your personal brand is also important. Internally, you want to develop cross-functional relationships, which helps to build power and influence over time. If people across business units know you as a go-getter who will deliver excellence, you will be considered for that stretch assignment or promotion, even if you didn’t know about the opportunity. Externally, find ways to contribute thought leadership and promote yourself as an industry expert. Don’t be afraid of self-promotion – forward your manager that email from a client touting your accomplishments and post that accolade on LinkedIn. One of BWN’s goals is to help women to build this internal and external network, so that we become seen as leaders in our field.

Be a Duck

Many of the most successful female leaders I know never slow down. They are like ducks – below the surface, things may be chaotic, but above, they seem entirely unflappable. These women become expert delegators, outsourcing what they can and focusing on building an infrastructure both within the company and at home. My husband and I are expecting our first child, a baby boy, this Christmas. My goal is to be a duck.