Meet Jane Lesslie

Cass MSc alumna and Senior Portfolio Manager, Royal Bank of Canada, reflects on her career to date and women's leadership

Cass Business School is proud of its strong alumni community which includes 45,000+ alumni across more than 160 countries.  Our alumni are an important part of the Cass Global Women’s Leadership Programme, offering support, mentoring and advice to our current Global Women’s Scholars as well as women across Cass.

As part of a new series celebrating Cass Women, we spoke to valued alumna Jane Lesslie, MSc Finance Investment (2011), to hear about her life and career to date.  If you’re a Cass alumna with an interesting story to tell, or would like to nominate another Cass woman for the series, please drop us a line at

We caught up with Jane Lesslie, MSc Finance Investment (2011) and Vice President, Senior Portfolio Manager - Emerging Market Fixed Income at RBC Global Asset Management, to hear about her life and career.

What led you to choose your particular career?

I have been a journalist, press secretary to a Canadian federal Cabinet Minister, public policy advisor to the largest bank in Canada, a product manager in RBC’s Treasury Division, and, more recently, a portfolio manager in emerging markets for 24 years.  My career chose me! I seized opportunities as they appeared.  Although disparate,  these various positions offered me ways to explore my love of public policy, economics and markets.  With half a dozen banking/financial crises under my belt I have never been bored – which was my principal goal at the age of 18.

What inspired you to study at Cass?

I had been exploring various programs that would give me exposure to pension policy issues as unfunded pension liabilities were a huge risk to sovereign governments in both developed and emerging markets.  Cass offered faculty such as Andrew Clare and David Blake who were authorities in the field.  I also appreciated that faculty had both practical experience as well as academic depth.

How do you apply your Cass experience to your career?

I had been a portfolio manager for 15 years when I returned to school. I had previously earned the Chartered Financial Analyst designation.  However, the longer I did my job, the more questions I had. Cass provided me with an opportunity to pursue those questions through classwork (peppering my professors with endless questions) course assignments and my dissertation.  I don’t know that I ended up with all the answers I was looking for;  but I came away much more certain that where I hadn’t found answers I was asking the right questions. This has been a real confidence booster in my work as a member of our Fixed Income Strategy Committee.

What advice would you give to women considering studying here?

I think it goes beyond women. The diversity among my classmates at Cass, not only in terms of gender but in terms of where they were from in the world and their dramatically different life experiences, made the experience very rich for me. There was a wonderful Institutional Investor interview with Sallie Krawcheck, formerly of Smith Barney and now steering Ellevest  which focuses on investing for women.  She discusses the financial crisis of 2008 and observes that at the heart of the problem lay group think, a lack of diversity of viewpoints at the investment policy table. I was the only woman among the top 10 EM hard currency debt fund portfolio managers ranked by Citywire earlier this year. We need more women in the investment/buyside business. Cass provides an excellent foundation for that. Be curious!

Have you had any particular female role models who have inspired you along the way?

Sallie Krawcheck of course comes to mind.  Closer to home, I have a dear friend, Barbara Eastman, who with her husband was a very early investor in the developing renewable energy sector in Canada. She has always been in my corner with advice and the odd scolding as I needed it. Another friend and mentor in Royal Bank of Canada was Elisabetta Bigsby.  I first met Elisabetta when she was an economist working on the rescheduling of our Latin American sovereign debt portfolio following the 1980s LDC or Less Developed Country debt crisis. She offered me an opportunity to work on an integration plan following two major RBC acquisitions in quick succession, being coordinated by McKinsey Consultants.  I think she appreciated my ability to look across the silos that seem to inevitably crop up in large institutions. Elisabetta is now on the board of the innovative  Caisse De Depot which manages several public pension plans in the province of Quebec.

My friends and colleagues Suzanne Gaynor, who runs the largest Canadian governments mutual fund portfolio in Canada, Dagmara Fijalkowski, who quarterbacks our Global Fixed Income team , and my friend Wendy Smith who has been an economist, ran a sales desk at RBC on the sell side and is now in charge of the global diversity programs at Scotia Capital Markets are always both inspiring and just plain fun to be around.  The four of us are going to be on a panel together this coming November at Cass.

Find out more

Jane will speak at Cass on Monday 26th November as part of the Global Women's Leadership Programme event series.  Find out more here.

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