Sun | Dec 17, 2017

Mariam Ross - The fresh face of Finance

Published:Sunday | October 8, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Mariam Ross never envisioned a career in finance.
‘My parents exemplified hard and honest work, sacrifice and discipline’.
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It was not her goal to follow in her father's footsteps into finance, but at 30 years old, that is where Marian Ross found herself. And there she has found her calling. The new assistant vice-president of investments and trading at Sterling Asset Management sat down with Outlook at the Blends Bar at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel recently as the new kid on the block in a male-dominated field.

The first of two children, Ross said that as a child she had no clue what she wanted to become. "For a brief period I thought I wanted to be a lawyer just like my mom, but that didn't last very long. Around the age of 12 or 13, I read this book called Rich Dad Poor Dad and that's kind of where I got into paying attention to business and looking at stocks and investing. But I think at that time, I just thought that that's what I am going to do on the side, not as a career."

Though her father, Charles Ross, had left the engineering field and started Sterling Asset Management years earlier, it was not until Ross started her undergraduate studies at the University of Western Ontario in Canada that she realised the career path was a viable one for her. She had always, however, understood the value of money.

"When I went away for school, I started looking at stocks more regularly. I met other people who had similar interests, and I started reading the Wall Street Journal and Yahoo Finance religiously. At that point I realised, 'Oh, there are people that actually do this for a living.'"

While many persons assume that her father influenced her career choice, Ross explained that her father's influence was more indirect than one would think.

"My father did not necessarily encourage my career path. As kids, he would buy us stocks as gifts, which initially didn't feel amazing because other kids were getting cool toys while we got GraceKennedy shares. But that led us to ask more questions about it," she said, smiling.

Ross said the budget-conscious approach her parents took to money also helped to shape her outlook from very early. Her parents saved a lot, were frugal, and taught both her and her younger brother the importance of saving. This and her passion to understand how things worked would help to guide her towards her career path.

"I also can always devise at least three worst-case scenarios for any investment. I am the best devil's advocate you'll meet. This skill happens to be really important in investing," she revealed.

 

RETURNING TO JAMAICA

 

After completing her undergraduate studies, Ross went to Trinidad, where she worked as a credit analyst at an investment bank. She also worked briefly in Hong Kong for a private equity project. But, for her, nothing beats returning home.

"I feel most fulfilled and purposeful working and living in Jamaica. I feel like I am building something and making a difference, because I can see the results of my actions and decisions pretty quickly, both the positive and the negative ones."

She noted that in more developed countries, it's harder to move the needle. "There, I was not as motivated, because I don't have the depth of purpose and passion that I have about my own country. I am also grateful that I can do the job I love in Jamaica. Sterling's investment strategy and philosophy made it really easy for me to come home. The assets we invest in are not that different from those I would be trading if I were at a hedge fund on Wall Street. In fact, my professional experiences in New York made me realise the value of Sterling's investment strategies."

As the assistant vice-president of investments and trading, Ross is responsible for researching and identifying different companies and securities options to invest in.

"So when people give us money, I have to take that money and find assets to invest in. I help to advise the sales desk on what people should do with their money. We have to research those investment products before people can put their money in it. We make sure that we are OK with the risks and the returns, and we identify the type of investor that it is suitable for."

 

A WOMAN IN INVESTMENTS

 

Though she takes extra care to not interpret every less-than-favourable action towards her as sexist, it does sometimes become obvious.

"I'm very careful of how I interpret different treatment. There have been times that I have raised issues that were not taken seriously, but I don't know if that was because I am a woman or because the recipients don't think it is an issue worth being addressed. With that said, I do think there are subtle negative attitudes that us as women face which men don't, for example, routinely being interrupted while speaking or simply being ignored in meetings."

Ross said it is critical to remain calm and not make assumptions, as each situation is different and may require different approaches. "Regardless of the scenario, I think it's critical to openly raise issues or problems that you may have in your work or social relationships. I always try to get another confidential and objective perspective on a scenario before taking any action. Communication, both subtle and overt, is a powerful mechanism that we don't use enough."

Ross said the world of finance is a great field for women to consider. "The skill set is transferable and I find the work is very rewarding. Interestingly enough, the Financial Times recently published an article stating that in 2017, hedge funds run by women have generated returns that were two times higher than their male counterparts."

 

FEEDING HER PASSION

 

"A lot of my drive is internal. My parents exemplified hard and honest work, sacrifice and discipline. Growing up with their example instilled a similar attitude in me. I'm also working in my father's business, so the drive to succeed is a lot greater for me. I want to continue to build on what he has achieved as a way of honouring what he and my mum have done," Ross said.

Outside of her parents, Ross said her high-school math teacher, Russell Bell, has had the most profound impact on her life. "It sounds really simple, but Mr Bell really made me understand that in order to be good at something, you had to practise a lot. When I hit roadblocks, Mr Bell would remind me that 'math is not hard - you just have not practised enough'. I realised that as I worked harder, I became more confident and less scared of hard problems. I repeat this lesson for basically any task in life."

A lover of Harlan Coben thrillers, Ross considers reading one of his many novels or binge watching an equally cheesy TV show on Netflix the best ways to decompress after a hard week at work. "I also try to get in some exercise and read a few business leadership books occasionally, and with the new highway, I find myself going out of town more frequently, which I love, but my bank account hates."