ELITE WOMEN

IN BUSINESS

2021

Irene Perdomo

Persistence with a touch of ‘modesty’ is the most essential trait and must be possessed by every leader yet is the most neglected one. Though the leaders are expected to be decisive, strong-minded, and opinionated, a perfect blend of compassion, determination, and a never-give-up attitude is what makes someone a great leader.

“If you are not good at understanding people, at putting yourself in their shoes, it is unlikely that you can become a successful leader. People would end up resenting you and leaving the organization. I firmly believe that the most important element for the success of a business is PEOPLE,” says Irene Perdomo, Managing Director, Head of Product Strategy at Gresham Investment Management who’s compassion and empathy has helped her to achieve many milestones in her pathway.

‘Nothing good comes out of giving up!’
Though extremely successful today, Irene’s journey was anything but easy. In her early days, Irene struggled to even get an opportunity to pave her path into trading. “It took me about a year and a half to get the first real interview. The most frustrating part was that I could not get interviews. I wish I could say that it took me so long to get a role because I was failing the interviews. That, at least, would have been fair enough. But I was not even getting them,” shares Irene. When it comes to challenges in business, we can say that women face more obligations as compared to men. Irene too experienced quite a few gender-based pushbacks. “Without those comments, I would probably not have associated 'my struggle' to get into trading as a gender-related issue, as I know that it is very difficult for anybody to get trading opportunities and it can take years,” she explains. After having worked in the Commodity Investor Structuring team at Barclays in London she started trading base metals at Noble Resources in Singapore.

Later in the year 2013, Irene took a big risk of starting her own business. As the CEO and Managing Partner of Devet Capital, a boutique commodities-focused quant firm she decided to change the fintech landscape. It was quite a difficult path to take yet she strived and thrived exceptionally well that too, without regression. “The chances of success were extremely low and of course, ex-post, it is easy to say "I am so glad that I did it" but it was a roller-coaster ride,” she quotes. According to Irene, the investment was itself a risk as like every business the early earnings are slow-running train, so was for her. “But, again, you just think someone has to do the job and if you don't try, for sure you will never make it,” she adds.

Irene Perdomo
Irene Perdomo

“As the world’s largest commodity asset manager (as measured by institutional AUM) we seek to provide our clients inflation protection and commodity exposure efficiently and thoughtfully while avoiding the pitfalls associated with commodity investing,” mentions Irene.

Undeniably Irene has been through many difficult episodes—as she calls them. Her professional and personal life has seen a fair share of ups and downs, but her optimistic approach has always helped to overcome that par. To her, no challenge is bigger than one’s firm determination and one’s positive outlook towards life. Irene believes people can do anything if they set their minds to it. And that is what kept her resilient during trying circumstances. “When facing challenges first, I just think someone has to do the job. Second, it is unlikely that I would be the first person to face and solve that particular challenge and, if others already did so, then why not me?” Irene asserts, “I think that things generally happen for a reason. If something does not happen in the way which you want or expect then you just need to keep fighting. Nothing good comes out of giving up! A lesson that life has taught me is that when something does not happen the exact way you want, it is because there is probably something (much) better waiting around the corner for you.”

Her perseverance paid off. In a short time, Devet Capital found itself in the fast lane of success. With almost USD 750k of their capital investment, she took the company to attain a stature of USD 115 million. Years later, in the year 2019, she and her colleague weighed in the significance of evolving their business and soon join forces with one of the top players in finance. “Luck came knocking and, happily, we were absorbed by Gresham,” says Irene. Now, she is developing further Gresham’s business lines as well as investing in creating new ones.

“Gresham Investment Management traces its origins to the family office of Dr. Henry Jarecki and commenced trading of our flagship Tangible Asset Program (TAP) in January 1987. The firm has been managing client assets since 2005. Gresham is an investment affiliate of Nuveen Investments, which has offices across 22 countries. Gresham itself is headquartered in New York and maintains a research pod within the Nuveen office in London,” tells Irene while sharing a brief history of Gresham.

It is a pioneer in the management of diversified commodity investment portfolios, with a track record that predates both the BCOM and S&P GSCI indices. It portrays a unique approach in aspects such as dedicated focus, well-established history, and scale within the space. The company also leverages its substantial experience as well as the resources of its parent company to provide clients with blue-chip infrastructure and controls. “Our motto is ‘Adhere and Prosper’ which accurately reflects our disciplined investment approach,” says Irene.

The company’s philosophy is underpinned by an unwavering belief in the benefits of diversified commodity allocations and emphasis on its clients. “As the world’s largest commodity asset manager (as measured by institutional AUM) we seek to provide our clients inflation protection and commodity exposure efficiently and thoughtfully while avoiding the pitfalls associated with commodity investing,” mentions Irene.

Gresham also helps empower its employees. The culture here was created by the employees, and they respect each other, and they all work hard together. On this, Irene quotes, “Diversity & Inclusion is a key element of the company’s business strategies, both internally and externally, and is inclusive of not only gender and ethnicity, but also in experiences, backgrounds, skills, education, and other characteristics.” She asserts that women play a key role in the organization, with several women holding senior roles across the firm. As it is the policy of Gresham and Nuveen, she and her team feel extreme pride in treating all employees fairly and equitably, providing equal opportunity to all applicants, regardless of age, race, color, creed, national origin, ancestry, gender, and other factors. Irene, herself, is also a firm believer in equality and finds it very essential not only for women but for all types of minorities out there. “Different studies have shown that diversified workplaces perform better,” she asserts. According to her, equality should be a priority for every organization, it is in their interest. “As someone once said "there are no free lunches, except, maybe, diversification!",” says Irene.

To promote gender equality in daily life and create a gender-equal world, Irene suggests to, “continue to drive equality of the genders. Also educate, educate and educate the younger generation. I would like to see successful women getting invited to schools and universities to talk about their careers and their challenges.” To female entrepreneurs, Irene urges them to be self-confident, follow their instincts, and believe in their work. Be stronger, shake it up, know what you want, and know that you can make it happen. She says, “There is no bigger defeat than when you do not even try.” Although Irene accepts the biggest challenge for women is to get the roles in the first place. But is confident that “women can be just as successful as men in leadership roles once they have them.”

Making the world a better place
Irene’s emphatic personality and optimistic approach also have beautifully reflected over her life outside business. It is no surprise as when asked, who is a leader worth admiration to her? Irene quickly comes up with this epic reply, “There are a lot of people in this world that are true models; I am not talking about the known ones who might donate a tiny percentage of their wealth and the world applauds them,” says Irene. “I am talking about those who live in sub-human conditions and yet they fight every day for freedom and justice. Many times, giving away 100% of everything they have, including their own lives to make the world a better place. Those are my role models.”

Irene envisions eventually set up an orphanage. “There are more professional milestones to be reached but at some point, it will be time to give back,” says Irene.

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