Four of PIMCO’s most senior legal executives found their way to the asset management firm in ways as diverse as the careers they represent. From private practice to increasingly complex in-house capacities to regulatory enforcement, these four women in PIMCO’s law department have helped define a nurturing and welcoming place for developing talent as well as a gold mine of collective legal experience all over the map.
Managing director and global head of regulatory risk and compliance Sung-Hee Suh and executive vice presidents and deputy general counsels Nadia Zakir, Tracey Jordal, and Karen Aspinall are cultivating an appreciation for collaboration and growth in ways that help ensure rising talent at the firm will continue to mature and benefit from the many decades of combined expertise of their executive team.
Suh says her two stints as a federal prosecutor for the US Department of Justice have most influenced her approach to her role as managing director and global head of regulatory risk and compliance. “I spent a lot of time in front of juries in Brooklyn, and it forced me to boil down complex facts and laws into digestible and compelling narratives,” Suh says. “I’m always thinking of ways to most effectively relay complex information to different audiences here.”
While Suh was petitioning New York juries, Jordal was helping aid privatization efforts in the post-Soviet Czech Republic. She realized that working with a global mind-set often meant reframing an approach to be more considerate of cultural and geographical differences and understandings. “It’s so important to put yourself in that person’s shoes,” Jordal says. “You need to be prepared to look at a situation with a number of different lenses in order to help understand, and most importantly achieve, certain goals.”
Aspinall accrued significant firm experience before going in-house, a move that she says was also motivated by a desire to see the position from a separate lens. “When you think about communicating among lawyers, it’s much different than communicating with a business person,” Aspinall says. Going in-house provided her with an entirely new perspective on how one can be truly effective in a legal role.
Zakir says she benefited from working for founder-based or leaner business models early in her career. These experiences have been especially effective at PIMCO.
“PIMCO’s growth has been quite organic, and I think many of those passionate principles of leadership and growth are very much valued here despite our being a leading global asset management firm,” Zakir says.
Aspinall says employee development is a passion point. “In my life and career, people have invested so much in me, so I feel like it’s my responsibility to help further those on my team along in their careers,” she explains. Aspinall has a large team of direct reports, and interacting with them regularly benefits the overall organization when it comes to work satisfaction, personal development, and overall happiness in the lives of people she values.
In the very early years of her career, lack of experience sometimes made Zakir less likely to take the lead on significant projects, she says, even when she knew she could do the work. “I want to empower junior team members to take the lead on complex projects and to be comfortable with their ability to make decisions, because I have been there,” Zakir explains. “Growth opportunities typically arise when we are being challenged.”
Suh says her approach to inspiring talent is dependent on communication. “I think those in leadership need to try to be their young talent’s champion,” the managing director says. “It’s so important to understand their goals and look for ways in which we can help best position them for success in whatever those goals are.”
Jordal is not only a founding board member but CEO for Women in Derivatives, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to attract, retain, educate, and develop female leaders in the financial industry. Finance is a growing area of expertise since the Great Recession and an area in which she also wants to see more senior women across all facets of the financial industry. “We do a great job of recognizing younger talent at PIMCO and involvement in organizations like these help us cultivate young talent in our industry even further and help them develop into senior leaders.”
While she only joined the firm in 2018 in a newly created role, Suh visited nearly every PIMCO office in her first six months. “It was really important for me to engage personally with everyone across the organization and gain their trust,” Suh says. “It was a great way to meet everyone and work hand in hand across the firm.”
Diversity of thought is a prominent attribute of the PIMCO legal team, Aspinall says. “Our job is to ask difficult questions and operate in often gray legal areas,” she explains, “and those are areas where we can add value based on all of our diverse backgrounds and in the way that we collaborate.”
Zakir says her tendency to be drawn to experts has paid significant dividends at PIMCO. “Our firm has been very successful in being able to attract and develop employees who are leading experts in their respective fields,” Zakir says. “Interacting and learning from them every day is a very important part of my own development and satisfaction in working for PIMCO.”
Jordal, too, says that collaboration within the legal team and beyond is absolutely essential to be effective in the role. “I worked on a lot of projects in the past six years that required me to work with so many different people across various departments in terms of implementing new regulations and rules applicable to the trading markets,” she explains. “For me, it’s about helping them understand the impact of those regulations and rules while still being able to enter into the trades and deals they want to do. I get a lot of satisfaction from helping them navigate successfully through it all.”
All of the leaders of PIMCO’s legal team express a desire to think about ways that the function can add more than just legal expertise to the business conversation. For Aspinall, it means thinking from the business perspective as much as possible. “Communication is so important that when I interact with an outside firm, I try to get them to understand the complexities of the environment in which our businesspeople operate,” she says.
Innovation, for many of those in legal, can come from just about anywhere. “I work with so many different departments. I feel like I learn something new every day,” Jordal says. Suh echoes the sentiment. Suh conducted a global assessment of the firm’s regulatory compliance framework, hoping her recent addition to the company could provide fresh eyes on possible wise moves for her organization.
Zakir says that her team’s guiding principle is the same as the firm’s: acting in the best interest of PIMCO’s clients. “Being able to interact and understand our clients’ needs and know that we’re providing them with valuable assistance and service as a firm is very rewarding.”