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Helena Mendes is the portrait of a truly global executive. Originally from Brazil, she received her JD at the University of São Paulo, her Masters in Law at University of Kyushu in Japan, and her PhD in International Law at the University of São Paulo. Since then, she’s held senior positions in wealth management in Brazil, New York City, and Geneva.
I was lucky to have the help of great professionals who taught me about their expertise and inspired me to seek more and go beyond what I thought to be my limitations.
Helena joined TRIUM when she felt a sense of restlessness with her position as a wealth planner and—after twelve years dedicated to her legal education—was considering an ambitious career transition from law to business. A combination of investment and financial knowledge with her legal background could offer a differentiated and meaningful service to her clients, she believed.
Helena recently spoke with TRIUM about how the program gave her the solid foundation in business and investment expertise she needed and was a springboard for her career transition into the financial industry; how the interactions with peers and faculty developed her confidence as she immersed herself in a new field, and why the truly global nature of the program sharpened her cultural intelligence.
Why did you choose TRIUM over other similar global executive programs?
I did my Masters in Law in a Japanese university through an English course program. It was an unforgettable experience which resulted in lifetime friendships and business contacts network. Additionally, I have lived, studied or worked in different parts of the world including Brazil, Iraq, Japan and the United States. Europe was the missing part of the puzzle. Thus, TRIUM’s global approach—particularly the combination of strong schools in the United States and Europe—was a big driver. I also wanted to move out of New York City to somewhere in Europe and given my experience in banking, London, Zurich and Geneva were the obvious choices at the time. I felt that the combination of degrees offered by TRIUM, in particular the courses at LSE and HEC, would be good starting point to apply for positions in these cities. With the help of some good career coaches at TRIUM, I believed I would be better positioned to combine the career transition and new city in one shot.
If you could qualify your return on investment in TRIUM, what would you say?
I love studying and the academic life. For me, the time and effort required for the activities and travels involved in the program were investments that I was truly glad to make. The two-week periods of interaction with the professors and my colleagues were the high points of the seventeen months in the program; I absolutely enjoyed those days. They were highly culturally enriching moments of my life. Toward the end of program, I achieved one of my goals: I moved to Geneva with my current employer and functions. After one year in Geneva, I managed to achieve the second goal: a career transition to a relationship management position with a Swiss bank.
What was the experience with your fellow cohort members? How did their expertise shape your experience with TRIUM?
I owe a good part of my learning to my fellow cohort. I was lucky to have the help of great professionals who taught me about their expertise and inspired me to seek more and go beyond what I thought to be my limitations. I remember my first days in class when I felt intimidated by the high level of the cohort. I must confess I was a bit shy in class discussions at the beginning of the program. With time and encouragement from very wise colleagues, who I now call good friends, I felt more at ease and realized that I also had contributions to make—even though my background in the legal field was a bit different from the majority of the cohort who were already working in areas of finance or held management positions or ran their own businesses. My learning curve was definitely a steep one as I had to cover some basic knowledge of finance and quant on my own time to follow the classes properly. I left TRIUM much more confident knowing that there was so much more I could do outside the typical legal profession. The knowledge and expertise in the financial industry I’ve acquired over the years was properly reshaped after the experience I had in the TRIUM program.
You have an international background and have lived in Iraq, Brazil, Japan and the United States. Can you share your thoughts on the increasingly interconnected world and how your background affects how you approach your work? How does the TRIUM experience prepare students for intercultural relationships?
At TRIUM, we did various activities that were teamwork based. Outside the academic purpose of the activity in itself, having to work in teams composed of professionals living in different countries, with different backgrounds and roots, taught us profound lessons to be applied in the real world. It made us challenge basic assumptions we have of cultural backgrounds. The global executive of today is still a person with roots to his or her nation of origin but who has been shaped by a life of global exposure. Many of us have grown up in a country different from our parents, worked in different countries and married into a different nationality. This proves that stereotypes can often be misleading and unhelpful in global business scene. TRIUM gave us a chance to discuss meaningful topics such as leadership and business culture in such a global context.
The finance industry is an increasingly dynamic field, subject to geo-politics, innovation, and world events. Can you reflect on how TRIUM prepared you to meet those changes and challenges head on?
It was certainly an unforgettable experience to witness the impact of major geo-political events such as Brexit during our program with TRIUM. The TRIUM team ensured that the discussions were up to date and meaningful and even added special lectures to the program at the last minute to ensure we had an insightful discussion of current events. These discussions reshaped certain views I had of the future of the wealth management business, which underwent profound changes during the seventeen months I was in the program. With the advancements conquered in recent years in the FinTech space, tax transparency, and global clientele, it is crucial to revisit wealth management business strategy to ensure the services remain relevant to clients around the globe. At TRIUM I had the much needed time to think about these issues, get exposure to challenging ideas and prepare myself for a new phase of the wealth management business with an innovative mission.
How would you describe your TRIUM experience in three words?
Change, growth and global.