‘Be brave and be kind’… In conversation with Angela Craca

‘Be brave and be kind’… In conversation with Angela Craca

After starting her career in Italy, Angela Craca moved to London in 2017 to work for the asset management firm, Invesco. As part of a series of articles with inspiring women leaders, she tells Rhianne Williams from Protiviti’s iGROWW network why adversity is opportunity in disguise, and why risk-taking matters.

Rhianne Williams: Welcome, Angela, to the next instalment of our inspiring women leaders interview campaign. We’re excited to sit down with you, as a successful female leader, to learn about your career path and how you became director of internal audit covering EMEA for Invesco. To begin with, please tell us about your professional story, and how your career started…

Angela Craca: Thank you for inviting me to join this series of conversations. I studied Economics at University in Milan, Italy, and stayed in the city to do a Master’s degree in the same subject. Initially, I wanted to pursue an academic career, but I understood I didn’t have the same passion for it than my classmates and I realized I needed to work with people in a more interactive way; I eventually decided my personality would fit better elsewhere.

I started working, joining the Association of Investment companies in Italy. My role involved consulting on regulation and, subsequently, internal audit; I also spent time with a small investment firm and a bank. But after about five years, I wanted something different, and was offered the chance to become Head of Operations for a small hedge fund Asset Manager. It was a start-up, and a very exciting place to be. I had the opportunity to build something in a market that was still developing.

When I became a mother, a few years later, I had two maternity leaves close to each other. At that point, I decided to take a step back in my career; to continue working, but in a less demanding role. I think it’s important to understand what you really want, at different times in your working life, and be honest about it. I wanted to spend time with my daughters in their early years.

As they got older, though, I started thinking about doing something for myself again, something professionally more rewarding. The company I worked for at the time went through a merger and the dynamics were changing. My husband and I had always wanted to have an international experience; to experience diverse cultures and ways of thinking; we also wanted our daughters to become truly bilingual and be exposed to a broad spectrum of ways of living.

I contacted a few recruiters in London; as it happened, one of them had an open position whose job description was a copy of my CV. A few weeks later, I had an offer from Invesco, and moved with my family to London. That was five years ago and here we are today, settled, and happy with the choice we made. I joined Invesco as a Senior Manager and was then promoted to Director of internal audit. I’m looking forward to the next exciting chapter.

Williams: That’s so interesting to hear; about moving away from academia, into internal audit, and the world of financial services. I also think your point about changing mindset after having children – because your priorities changed – leads on nicely to our next question: How do you manage work-life balance?

Craca: Honestly, I believe balance doesn’t exist; it’s more of a juggle. I think it’s important to acknowledge that if we aim for perfection in every aspect of our lives: as a mum, wife, friend, director of internal audit, you name it, we risk stretching ourselves too thinly and in the end not really delivering on anything. In the end we only have 24 hours in a day. I learnt that there are times when we focus more on one area, and times when we focus on another, and it’s OK. I believe we can’t have it all at all times.

Having said that, to help manage the juggle, two things can be useful. One is having a routine, a structure to your week that keeps you grounded and eliminate the stress of having to rethink everything from scratch. The second one is leveraging a network, which might be friends and colleagues, to provide support during challenging times or if children need picking up from school, for example. This has been important because we are here without extended family.

Williams: That’s a good point about priorities based on circumstances, and important to acknowledge, especially when people can be hard on themselves. I can also see how helpful a network would be to deal with challenges if you don’t have family in the UK. Leading on from that, what is the biggest adversity you’ve faced in your career?

Craca: We face a lot of adversity in our lives, and once they are over we forget, but looking back, I think of it as opportunity. Every time I’ve faced a big challenge, professionally and personally, I’ve learned something and that made me stronger. When I became a mother, I was physically exhausted, and thought I would never be the same person again. But I learned to bear the fatigue and overcome it. A few years ago, I had a major health issue; something that could have been very serious. I was lucky, I worked hard on it, and I overcame it. Now, I look at it as a blessing because I came out of it stronger. I returned to work more confident and more able to bring my true self at work. 

Williams: I’m sorry to hear you went through that, but it sounds like you have a very positive mindset facing adversity and obstacles; thank you for sharing your experience. Have you seen improvements in the gender gap, and how has it evolved in your career?

Craca: Yes, but there is still a long way to go; there are still too few women in certain roles. There is still lot of work to be done and we need to keep the conversation open. Also, we need to remind that it’s more than just gender; we have to improve ethnic diversity and neurodiversity, for example, too. Everyone can play a part on the journey, and I would encourage everyone to be involved in Diversity & Inclusion initiatives within their own organization to bring change and to make a better world.

Williams: That’s why conversations like this are important, to keep it relevant and keep talking about it; that’s how change will come. Please can I ask you about the best work-related advice you’ve ever received?

Craca: To network. I have received this advice twice. The first time, I dismissed it, but the second time I took it on board. I used to think of networking as fluffy chit chat, wasting time at the coffee machine; but, of course, it’s much more than that. You can leverage people to sense trends, as a sounding board to develop breakthrough ideas and to avoid the groupthink. Your network can potentially help you to have access to new career opportunities. It’s important to build a diverse network as otherwise new ideas will be harder to develop. When I moved to London, I knew no one, so I needed to build connections and the process has been helpful. I would suggest anyone to do a “network audit” to see where the gaps might be.

Williams: That’s good advice, I really like it. Going back to the office also gives us an opportunity to network with colleagues face-to-face, which provides a bit of extra value. Do you have any advice for the next generation of women coming through?

Craca: I tell my daughters to be brave and be kind. By ‘brave’, I mean be adventurous, curious, open to new opportunities, and taking risks. Being kind is not just about being polite; it’s about being honest, caring, compassionate, living your values and listening to others. If someone is a manager, they should lead by example and be courageous; all of this is part of being kind.

Williams: That’s great advice; thank you so much Angela, for your time. You’ve made some important points about work-life balance, adversity, and shared some great advice for the next generation. It’s been really insightful talking with you today.

Craca: Thank you for having me; it’s been a pleasure.

iGROWW is Protiviti’s internal women’s network group and stands for ‘Initiative for Growth and Retention of Women at Work’. It has a strong voluntary membership that tackles women’s professional issues through forums, and facilitates networking events and community service activities. For more information, please contact Rhianne Williams [email protected].