We had the pleasure of interviewing Sandra Burggraf- a founding member and CFO of Maven
Group for seven years, now head of strategic projects and a MVN board member. Prior to Maven, Sandra spent two years with Tibra Capital setting up the tax function for their European operations. From 2002 to 2009 Sandra was with Deloitte, initially as an Assistant Manager in mergers and acquisitions in Luxembourg and more latterly as a Senior Manager in the Corporate International Tax team in London. Prior to this Sandra worked at PWC in international tax structuring (2000-2002). Sandra began her career at Banque Paribas in international tax. (1998 – 2000). Sandra is a CFA Charterholder, has passed ACA professional level from ICAEW (2015), holds the diploma in Investment Compliance (2014) and is an associate of the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment. She holds CTA (Chartered Tax Advisor), ATT, Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce Corporate tax diploma (2001), Master’s degree in Belgium and European tax law (Ecole Supérieure des Sciences Fiscales – Brussels (1998), French Finance and Accounting diploma (D.E.C.F) Paris (1997). She graduated from Lille Business School, France (1996).
Q: How did you make sure you stood out of the crowd?
A: I always grew up with boys around me. I have a twin brother and was always hanging out with him and his friends. Admittedly I was also quite boyish during my teenage years so my immediate circle was male dominated. When we started the company, I was the only female, something I was already familiar with. The important thing is to believe in yourself and your capacity to adapt.
Q: Where did you find the biggest challenge and achievement and what advice would you have to other woman who may experience the same issues?
A: Starting with a clean slate, in an unknown territory, quickly learning some very technical skills and adapting to a new and complex environment. I started with a transaction tax background and when I joined the company I was responsible for key areas such as finance, tax, compliance and legal. The biggest challenge was building the compliance framework with no past experience. I did read a lot, contacted peers to build a network of compliance experts, trained in my own time (CISI) and learned all about the FCA handbook (it became my bedside table companion). As you know this is nowadays a key area which involves a lot of risks (personally and for the company). But the challenges never ever stopped. When the prop trading side was up and running, I was tasked to set up a hedge fund! And so on…. Have trust in you: the human brain has unsuspected resources and anything is possible. I firmly believe that it is all about asking the right questions, finding the right person who will help you solve your problem and above all not being afraid to keep asking questions until you are confident you understand. Now, having said that training is also key to build and consolidate your knowledge. This is the reason why I sat the CISI exam and more recently (at the age of 45!) the ACA exam. Being a founding member of a very successful company, which grew from 10 people to over 150 in just 7 years, and leveraging our success by setting up a hedge fund. Adapt in an entrepreneurial environment (as it is not the same as working in a large firm) that is complex and fast moving. Once in a life time opportunity but also very exhausting!
Q: What skills are required for your job and how did you acquire them?
A: Multi-tasking is part of my DNA- At the risk of being controversial, and although no empirical studies confirm this, I actually think that this gift (more than a skill) is in every woman: managing kids, work and our social life at the same time. I am convinced that women have natural skills for multi-tasking. On technical matters, commitment and time spent to learn, read and discuss with expert. Don’t stay at your desk, talk to people and this will provide you with the best experience.
Q: What was the most important thing that helped you land your current role?
A: Trust, being able to adapt quickly, show that you have problem solving skills.
Q: What advice would you offer to others interested in doing a similar role as yourself?
A: Again- anything is possible if you believe in you and never give up. One day I came across Angela Lee Duckworth’s Ted Talk. I was shocked by how much I could relate to what she said when she explained why some student fail while others succeed. It is not necessarily about IQ (even if it helps) or short term-efforts. It is all about passion and perseverance on very long-term goals., grit.
Q: What are your main job responsibilities?
A: Have evolved. When I started I was doing everything non trading (except IT and Ops, I i.e ie finance tax legal and compliance.) My job has always been very hands- on and I had to roll up my sleeves and just do the work from submitting tax return, drafting compliance policies, reviewing key legal contracts. I usually do not like to outsource as I believe that the technical knowledge needs to be built in house so that you are in control and most importantly you are able to challenge what advisors are telling you. I was even buying food for the trader at the beginning when they had no time to take a break. I then grew a team of professionals and recruited in all the areas I was responsible. I have now senior people in each key area and spent more time managing the team. I recently decided to recenter my life a bit more on family and on myself and took a position that we created as Head of strategic projects. It is still very new but in a nutshell I work on multi-disciplinary and technical projects that require a broad knowledge of the organization and key functions.
Q: How do you make sure you have a good balance of home and work life?
A: Set your own limits. If you don’t it nobody else will do it for you. Do not feel guilty!
Q: What's next for your career?
A: Still thinking about it
Q: What is the one piece of advice you would give to those positioning themselves to be promoted?
A: If you don’t believe in you your manager will not believe in you.