Evolving As You Grow is the Key to Success
Recently, we spoke to Alison Birch, our head of Global Delivery and head of State Street in Japan. Alison shared her career journey, her experience of working in the financial services industry for more than 30 years and how she maintains work-life balance.
“I truly believe that what we do in financial services makes the world work better. I am a lifelong learner who gets bored and restless easily, so the fast pace of change in financial services suits me well. State Street has a well-articulated purpose and vision that aligns with my own goals,” Alison says.
It takes a village
Alison attended Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, one of the oldest women’s colleges in the United States. Though she started her professional journey in the financial services industry, Alison started working at a very young age. At 14, she worked as a clerk for a local departmental store, she waited tables when she was 17 and started working as a translator when she turned 19.
When she began her career on Wall Street, it was not an easy walk. She was in a male-dominated space, however, she sought inspiration from women around her and that kept her motivated. “Having the opportunity to be surrounded by female role models and mentors gave me the confidence. As with many of us, my parents were my greatest influence. They challenged me to live and work with integrity and to always make time for community. They supported me during difficult times and celebrated with me when I reached career milestones.”
The journey so far
Over the course of her career, Alison has worked at various financial organizations like Citi and J P Morgan. She began her career in financial services as an operations clerk but has also worked in fixed income, finance and HR. She credits each of her stints in various departments for having taught her something valuable that she has been able to utilize even to this day in her present role.
For instance, her stint as a waitress gave her a better understanding of client satisfaction. Her time at a FinTech firm helped her realize what asset managers want from their portfolio management system and where a data provider such as State Street fits into the overall picture. However, she believes that it was her time in HR that has had a major influence on her way of working.
“The importance of performance management, giving clear objectives, providing actionable feedback and encouraging employees to own their careers and never stop learning — these are all perspectives that a senior manager needs to have and skills that I try to use each and every day,” Alison says, as she elaborates on the transferrable skills that have helped her.
Working at State Street
“Of course I knew about State Street, as we are one of the largest asset managers in the world. I was very intrigued and interested in learning more when I was contacted by State Street about a role in Fukuoka, Japan. The location was attractive to me for personal reasons, not the least of which is that I had never lived here before,” says Alison, as she recalls what spurred her interest in joining the organization.
The combined experience of navigating life in a new country as well as gaining a deep understanding of our organization’s role and impact it has on different walks of life, motivated Alison to be associated with State Street. Alison believes that State Street has a great growth trajectory ahead of it and wants to be a part of this future, contributing where she can. She notes, “I have never been focused on building my career but rather have focused on doing my best at my current role while also being open to new challenges.”
Alison’s job primarily involves working closely with her team and clients – she considers it to be the best aspect of her role. Though a native of New York, Alison only worked there for one year. She has worked in Asia for the majority of her career. As someone who lives and works in a foreign country, she has learned to be more open-minded and respect different perspectives and cultural norms.
When asked to share what she loves about her job, Alison says, “If I could point out three things that I like the most about my job, that would be: (1) The opportunity to work with talented, committed people, learning from them and being part of a team; (2) the opportunity to more deeply understand custody and investment servicing and (3) create high-performing teams that are positioned to support the company’s growth.”
Balancing work and life
“In general, the key to work-life balance is strong time management, keeping a good list of ‘to-dos’ and the ability to ‘turn off’ when the work day is finished. I am a big believer in the ‘three-legged stool’ approach to life. If we only strive for balance between work and our personal lives, our lives can lose meaning or feel stressful. I try to have a third aspect to my life that is not work or family but more community-oriented. For me, it revolves around volunteer opportunities and attending church,” Alison says.
When not working, she enjoys hiking and traveling.